If you get on Earle Brown Drive in Brooklyn Center, it’ll take you past the Earle Brown Heritage Center. You’ll stay a little west of Earle Brown Elementary School and a little south of the Earle Brown Farm apartments.
You get the picture: Earle Brown is a major name in this north metro suburb, the “gentleman farmer’s” hometown and a place he had a profound impact.
Brown died in 1963 at the age of 83, but the 33rd annual Earle Brown Days Festival coming up Thursday through Saturday also carries on the memory of “one of the best-known former Brooklyn Center residents,” in the words of Sue LaCrosse, who works for the city.
Brown owned a “huge, prestigious farm,” which served as a hub for all kinds of community activities, LaCrosse said, including a gathering that literally helped put Brooklyn Center on the map.
Brown inherited Brooklyn Farm, as it was known then, from his grandfather, Capt. John Martin, a Vermont native who arrived in the area around 1880, according to city materials.
Martin, who fared well in the California Gold Rush, was a savvy businessman who was interested in the logging industry in Minnesota. He eventually settled in the state with his family.
Earle Brown was Martin’s only grandchild, and Martin helped raise him after Brown’s parents separated, according to the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Brown learned plenty from his grandfather, and at one point, the farm grew to 1,000 acres under Brown’s stewardship, says the historical society.
Today, the site is home to the Earle Brown Heritage Center, a meeting and convention center. Nearby is the Earle Brown Terrace, which houses a senior high-rise. The Brooklyn Center City Hall and Community Center also occupy part of the land that once belonged to the farm.
Brown, who was a banker and lumberman in addition to farming, owned lodges in Lutsen and on Lake Mille Lacs, plus the Burklyn Farm in Lyndonville, Vt., according to the historical society.
By 1920, he had entered public life as Hennepin County sheriff and tackled corruption there, historical society materials say. He went on to become the first chief of the Minnesota Highway Patrol in 1929.
Brown is quoted in historical society materials as saying of the patrol: “It will be a first-class organization, or we’ll break something trying to make one.”
In 1932, Brown, a Republican, ran for governor against Floyd B. Olson. It was a rocky year for Republicans across the country, amid the Great Depression, and Brown was no exception. He didn’t even secure a majority in Brooklyn Center, according to Diane Sannes, a historical society member.
A rich history
Brown was generous with Brooklyn Farm. It was a venue for all kinds of local and state affairs. For example, a bunch of residents gathered there in 1911 to begin the legal process of establishing the Village of Brooklyn Center.
In 1918, it was home to the state’s first airfield and it produced 50 new naval fliers for World War I every month, according to Rod Olsen, a representative of Meridian Senior Living, the company currently overseeing the Earle Brown Terrace.
At one point, a one-room schoolhouse, called the Cap Martin school back then, was located at the farm, Olsen said. Later, it was moved to the site of the present-day Earle Brown Elementary School.
In the aftermath of a tornado in 1929, the school was run out of Brown’s house, which he and his wife, Gwendoline, called the “cottage.”
Likewise, the farm grounds were used for training the State Patrol. The second story of the office building had a shooting range while the basement was probably a holding cell, according to Olsen.
A member of multiple clubs and active with the State Fair, Brown also fed and took care of the homeless.
‘A gentleman farmer’
Brown had told his grandfather that he’d never sell the farm, and he kept his word. In 1949, he donated a portion of it to the University of Minnesota, negotiating for himself and his employees the right to continue living there, according to city information.
Several decades later, the city acquired 14 acres of the farm, with the intention of preserving the handful of historic buildings that can still be found on the site. After a renovation, the place was re-imagined as the Earle Brown Heritage Center. It opened in 1990.
The city-owned center hosts conferences, weddings, corporate meetings and other special events, and has a bed-and-breakfast.
Brown “was a gentleman farmer. He was a farmer at heart. He loved to cook for his staff,” said Bruce Ballanger, the center’s general manager. “He treated his staff well, to the point where he had them live on-site.”
Brown led in the same way when he was the county sheriff. “He was a fair and honest man. He could talk to criminals and get them to confess their crimes. They knew they’d get a square deal,” Ballanger said.
When Brown was offered the State Highway Patrol job, “They let him run it. There wasn’t a lot of interference for how it would be set up. They thought that would be the only way it could be done honestly. People respected him,” he said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.