Bernard A. Drew: The Browns of Briggsville
A Sunday newspaper comic strip has appeared in the Sunday Post published in Dundee, Scotland, since 1936. It’s called "The Broons." The Broons -- really, the Browns, but pronounced the way Scots pronounce it -- are an extended family of three generations who do relatively mundane things. But they’re happy.
And that’s how one might describe the Broons -- really, the Browns -- of the village of Briggsville, in western Clarksburg on the North Adams border. Ordinary people. And happy.
Isaac Brown (1869-1944), a native of Glasgow, was the first to leave Scotland, sailing two days after his August 1887 marriage to childhood sweetheart Jeanie Stewart (1868-1940) of Rutherglen. Isaac settled in Auburn, N.Y., and Jeanie joined him there two years later. Four years after that, Brown became assistant superintendent and designer for S.K. Wilson Woolen Co. in Trenton, N.J.
The Browns moved to Briggsville in 1901 so he could work as a machinist for Strong, Hewat & Co., known for its virgin wool fabrics. "There were few houses in the little settlement and there had been no buildings erected in the Halls Grounds section, which is now thickly populated," The Springfield Republican said in 1937.
Strong, Hewat was founded in 1898 by Richard Andrew James Hewat (ca 1860-1925), who oversaw mill operations, and Richard Anthony Strong, who ran the New York City office. Why did so many Scots gravitate to the mill? Perhaps because Hewat was a native Scotsman, and in fact he retired to his homeland with his second wife, Edith, in 1924. He died in Ayton, in the Borders region near Edinburgh.
In the 1930s the Strong, Hewat mill here employed 400 hands. Henry J. Hewat was president from 1927 to 1961, succeeded by H. Peter Pearson. The mill, on the Hoosac River, laid off its last 50 workers in 1966 when the plant was sold to Edward and Louis Kaplan. Years later the building came into the hands of Cascade School Supplies, a North Adams business started in 1931.
Back to the Browns. They had five children. The oldest died in infancy in Scotland. The others, all born in New Jersey, were Jeanie (1890-1938), who attended the House of Mercy Training School for Nurses in Pittsfield; James (1895-1969), a veteran of World War I and a longtime electrician and one-time superintendent of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown; George (1897-1954), foreman of the washing department at Strong, Hewat; and John (1900-1973), foreman of the finishing room at, of course, Strong, Hewat.
Isaac and Jeanie Brown were well thought of in the community and were honored on their 40th anniversary with a surprise party at their home. Their granddaughter, Dorothy, of Adams, sang for them. On their 50th wedding anniversary there was a big party at Baker’s Hall, arranged by members of the North Adams Kiltie Band, Clan McIntyre [Order of Scottish Clans] of North Adams and the Daughters of Scotia. Helen Horsfall, Gertrude Russell, George Bernard and William Ross sang, David Murray entertained with jokes and Sadie Carley played the piano.
Music kept Isaac Brown connected with the heather and thistle of his homeland. "Whenever the Kiltie Band appears [in a parade], it is generally conceded that it presents one of the most colorful outfits in the line of march," the Springfield Republican said in 1941. "It was at the close of the first World War in 1918 that the late Alex Renton became the first president of what was then known as the North Adams Highland Bagpipe band. William Deane, now dead, was the first vice president. Also among the "firsts’’ were Isaac Brown of Briggsville, who served long as pipe major, and Bob Neville, first pipe sergeant."
The newspaper explained further, "Gathering membership from among the members of the Scotch settlement in the Briggsville section in the town of Clarksburg, these descendants of the Scot held meetings for many years in the Briggsville schoolhouse. The band had a membership of 14."
The band entertained widely in north Berkshire, but went as far south as Stockbridge for the June 1932 George Washington Memorial Celebration at Laurel Hill. In the Fifers and Drummers Annual Field Day and Convention in Turners Falls in July 1924, the North Adams Kilties tied for second prize and Isaac Brown took first for individual piper, the North Adams Transcript noted.
These were skilled musicians. The Republican reported two former associates, James Nicol and William Denning, appeared in the "Scotch band" that played in the motion picture "Gungha Din."
Dear to Scottish hearts were celebrations of Rabbie Burns Night in honor of the Jan. 25 birthday of the poet and songwriter. The 1926 event, typically, was held at the North Adams high school and featured songs from the quartet of Beulah Whitney Orr, Mrs. J.J. Kennedy, Anthony Reese and James C. Moron. "Solos and duets by members of the quartet were also given and the Highland fling was danced by Miss Daisy Stalker. The Kiltie band played several selections and bagpipe solos by Messrs Brown and Neville were well rendered," the Republican said.
Mrs. Brown with Mrs. Amos Putmun sang a duet, "Blue Bells of Scotland," at the 1930 gathering.
And of course, after the music there was the traditional salute to the haggis.
Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.
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