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Brown, David Sr.

by Katherine A. Brown, great-granddaughter

David Brown was born in 1868, in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, in a small North Sea fishing village called Stromness. The potato famine had made their lives bitterly difficult, and David and his brother James S. resolved to seek a better life in Canada or America. David’s modern-day family believes the brothers departed Stromness early in 1893, and immigrated to Nova Scotia. They worked their way across Canada to Alberta, and then to British Columbia. David wanted to make his fortune in the Alaska gold fields. James sought a climate that would be warmer than the North Sea coastal village they had left behind, and David could not convince him to give Alaska a try.

Although very close, the brothers finally separated in British Columbia. James moved to California and started a grape vineyard. In 1895, David Brown arrived in Juneau where he started working for the Treadwell Mine. He later became a supervisor of the Treadwell mill and lived in the superintendent’s house near the entrance to Old Treadwell for many years. In later years, after his children had graduated from high school, he would move with his wife to a home on Starr Hill at Sixth and Park Streets.

Before leaving Scotland, David Brown had become engaged to Agnes Sinclair. She waited for him for five years before he felt he had had saved enough money to marry. He finally returned to Scotland to marry her in 1898, and returned to Juneau with his bride. They had two children, Harrietta (Etta), born in 1900, and Sinclair, born in 1902.

Etta Brown graduated from Douglas High School and eventually married Art Bringdale. They had no children. Etta was a beautiful woman, a talented musician and enjoyed hostessing parties, dinners and social events. She worked at the First National Bank in Juneau and died of breast cancer in 1950. Sinclair Brown also graduated from Douglas High School, and eventually married Daisy Lundstrom. Together they had one child who is my father, David Alfred Brown (Brownie). David Alfred was born on November 6, 1924. Sinclair was a championship boxer and a baseball and basketball player. Sadly, Brownie’s parents divorced when he was about four years old. His father moved to California and his mother remained in Juneau and raised their son.

Brownie was very special to David Senior and Agnes Brown. In fact, Grandpa Brown was more like a father to young Dave Alfred than was his own father. Grandpa Brown taught Brownie to play the bagpipes as he had taught his father Sinclair before him, and as Grandpa Brown himself had learned them in his native Scotland.

Dave Brown,Sr. wrote monthly letters to the Orkney newspaper describing the Alaska gold rush and especially the Alaska-Juneau mines. Grandpa Brown was an avid photographer and recorded much of the commercial, natural and social life of his Gastineau Channel Community.

As an adult, David Alfred donated his grandfather’s collection of photographs to Sim MacKinnon where it resides to this day in that family’s collection. Grandpa Brown used his supervisory position at the AJ to hire many people from Scotland who later became his lifelong friends: the Gairs and sons Angus and Alec, Mr. and Mrs. John Mills and their sons Jack and Gordon, and many others as well.

In 1950, on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Mills renewed their vows by conducting a “mock” wedding. A local news article recorded the event on February 12, 1950:

“With warm affection of a gathering of the clan, more than 200 friends joined in celebrating the golden wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. John Mills of Douglas. Forty-four of their 50 happily married years have been spent here, since arriving from Scotland in 1906. .. A miniature wedding party, all in Scottish costumes, repeated the ceremony of February 22, 1900, in Barr Head, Scotland. The ‘mock’ aspect of the ceremony was unwittingly carried out by the ‘bride;’ 3 year old Mikey Marshall, who declined to say, ‘I do,’ until after urgent promptings. Others in the ceremony were young Woody Poor as bridegroom with Glenna Franklin and Doug Wahto as attendants. David Gray served as minister, and Mrs. Peter Moe played the wedding marches ..Bagpipe numbers were the hit of the evening. Those scheduled on the program were played by Dave Alfred Brown, but his grandfather, Dave Brown, took a skirl at the pipes and brought the house down.”

Brownie was twenty-six years old at the time. Grandpa Brown was eighty-two.

David Brown, Sr. retired from the AJ mine on September 30, 1935, after forty years of service. This event is documented in a newsclipping of the same date.

“David Brown was presented yesterday with a beautiful gold Elgin watch by more than 100 of his mine associates for his 40 years of service here.” The news article states that “Brown is a 32nd degree Mason and formerly belonged to the Oddfellows. Mrs. Brown is affiliated with the Eastern Star” (She was the second Worthy Matron of the Douglas Island Order of Eastern Star), “and both are members of the Northern Light Presbyterian Church.” The news article goes on to state, “On Mr. Brown’s gold chain, which he bought in Alaska in the gold rush days of ’98, will hang his new gold watch on which is inscribed, ‘The compliments of the men of the Alaska Juneau Mill to David Brown, Sept. 30, 1935.’”

That watch and chain, along with Dave Brown’s bagpipes, kilt and Scottish military regalia, are now Brown family treasures. David Brown died on October 14, 1952, mere hours before the birth of his first great-grandson, David Park Brown.

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