James & Urath Lawrence Brown – the Beginnings of a Well-Known Louisville Name

Many weeks ago, I stumbled upon the Brown Family Cemetery located in Brown Park in Louisville. If you follow my blog, you know all too well how excited I get to find an old cemetery. I took my pictures and returned home to do the research. While I fell down a rabbit hole that took me to other places and times, I am now returning to the Browns. The history is very much intertwined, however, which I find so very interesting. So, let’s jump in and learn a little about the Brown family and their influence on the city of Louisville.

From Maryland to Kentucky

Image of James Brown hung in the Stairwell of the James Brown House / Personal Photo

James O. Brown was born in Maryland on October 10, 1780 to James and Elizabeth Clarkson Brown. Urath Owings Lawrence was also born in Maryland. She was born to Samuel and Sarah Owings Lawrence on June 27, 1791.

James and Urath married in Louisville, Kentucky on September 21, 1809. In 1810, James purchased 480 acres of land (of what had been Dutch Station) on the Middle Fork of Beargrass Creek in Jefferson County, KY. He purchased the land from the descendants of John Floyd who has leased the land for the fort to Hedrick Banta and a large group of Dutch pioneers.

James was working in the saltworks trade at Mann’s Lick, allowing him to build his wealth.

In the early days of Kentucky, there were two important factors when deciding to settle an area; the availability of water and salt.

Salt was the main ingredient to preserve food, as it draws water out of bacteria, causing it to shrivel and die. The vast majority of meat, and fish was salted. Even butter was heavily salted.

Without salt, the early settlers would have needed to spend most of their time obtaining fresh food, leaving little time to clear land, build homes, and plant crops. Without crops their diet would have consisted only of fresh meat and fish, and whatever naturally growing fruits and plants available. Much of the meat would have been wasted due to spoiling before it could be consumed. Having salt changed all that.

Bullitt County History

Because of our rock layers beneath our soil, Kentucky has the largest number of natural springs in America! At these springs, brine would seep through the many rock fissures, creating salt licks. Several of the salt licks in Kentucky had a high salt content. This was true at Lower and Upper Blue Licks, Big Bone Lick, Mann’s Lick* (near Fairdale in Jefferson County), and Bullitt’s Lick (in Bullitt County).

The process by which salt was extracted from brine was by
evaporating the water, leaving the saline particles adhering to the
sides of the kettles, pans, or boilers. Ordinarily saltmakers
estimated one bushel of salt from 400 gallons of water.

Filson Historical Society

All too quickly, the early Kentucky settlers began manufacturing salt at these licks for trade and/or profit.

A Family Home

The James Brown House / Personal Photo

After purchasing the land along Beargrass Creek, Brown began building his family home. It is believed that the original section of the home was built between 1810 and 1820 showcasing Federal style architecture with Flemish bond brickwork on the front facade. The home was built with a one-room deep, center passage plan that was typical of many farmhouses in Kentucky during that time, and includes a spiral staircase traveling up three stories. In addition, the original section boasts detailed woodwork with reeded and paneled doors and window reveals.

Expanding Family & Farm

James and Urath would raise a very large family together. According to Genealogy.com, the Browns had eleven children, although they would not all live to adulthood. Their children were Sarah Lawrence Brown Pope, Elizabeth Clarkson Brown, Caroline Brown Anderson, Mary Ann Brown Forman, Alfred C. Brown, Theodore Brown, Emeline C, Brown, Samuel Lawrence Brown, James Lawrence Brown, Francis Clarkson Brown, and Arthur Brown. (Several of the Brown children are buried in the Brown/Lawrence Family Cemetery that I mentioned earlier.)

In addition to a growing family, James also had a growing farm. By 1824, he owned more than 1,000 acres of land. (He had purchased land adjoining his original 480 acres.) His lands reached north to Shelbyville Road and also included the areas of Kresge Way, Browns Lane, Bowling Parkway, and Dutchmans Lane.

Exchanging Hands

An Image of the Original Land located on Signage in Brown Park / Personal Photo

James Brown died in 1853 and was buried in the family cemetery on the property. His son, Arthur, was willed the home and part of the farm. His son, Theodore, was willed a 250-acre section of the original farm.

In the late 1860s, a gentleman by the name of John Monohan purchased several tracts of the original Brown land which he then willed to his nephew, Edward S. Monohan. In 1882, Edward purchased more Brown land, including the James Brown House and the remaining acreage of the home farm.

The Monohan family named the farm “Wildwood” and then modified the original Federal style home. They added the two-story west wing and the large front porch. Sometime in the late 1800s, the home was expanded with a rear ell-addition, but whether this was added by the Monohans or the Browns, I am not sure. The Monohans lived in the home until the late 1970s. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July of 1983.

The Additions to the Home / All Personal Photos Above

Today, another addition has been placed onto the back of the home and it functions as the Clubhouse and Registration Office for Mallard Creek Apartments in St. Matthews.

Theodore would go on to build a Gothic Revival Mansion on his 250 acres that he inherited from his father. He called his home Woodview. The home still stands today on Hubbards Lane and functions as a Bed and Breakfast. You may read more about the history of that home here.

Photo Credit: Personal Photos

The Brown / Lawrence Family Cemetery

Located in the Southeast corner of Brown Park close to Beargrass Creek, the cemetery is surrounded by brick walls and closed with an iron gate. It is quite clear that many of the stones are in bad shape and the walls are in need of repair. The final photo is looking toward the intersection of Browns Lane (named for the family) and Bowling Blvd. The family home is just about a mile up Bowling Blvd.

Our Visit

As I stated in a prior post, on this day I was out with my dad purposefully looking for Floyd’s Station, the Brown House, and Woodhaven. We had finished our exploration of the Floyd/Breckinridge Cemetery and the Floyd’s Station Springhouse and drove just a few streets over (but about 100 years in history) to the James Brown House. I knew that the house was the registration office for Mallard Creek Apartments. I hoped that if I explained my blog and search for history to the employees, that I would be able to take a few pictures. As my luck would have it, it worked! The ladies at the front desk were very welcoming and allowed me to wander through the first floor of the home. Most of the first floor functions as their clubhouse, so it wasn’t too far of a stretch to allow me to take a look around. (Out beyond the car portico is the complex’s in-ground pool.)

I walked through what I knew to be the oldest section of the home due to the deep window casings and door ways. I imagine those walls are 4 or 5 bricks thick. I could see where the doors were cut into the outside walls to create the expansion.

I walked through a small section of the west wing. The woodwork there was just as beautiful with built-in shelves and doorways.

I walked up the stairway, only a half flight to the landing. It seemed the second floor was being used for offices and I didn’t want to intrude on their work day. I snapped a few pictures of the staircase as well as the photographs and historical information hanging on the walls, and politely thanked the ladies and made my way back out the front door.

Following that, we headed over to Woodhaven Bed and Breakfast which is tucked in between Hubbards Lane and an apartment complex, just across Bowling Blvd. This time, I only took pictures from outside. I wasn’t sure I’d be so lucky about interior photos of a B&B, so I didn’t try. The home is absolutely stunning from the outside though!

With that, we wrapped up our day of history hunting in St. Matthews, and I headed home to start my research!


While the signage at Brown Park states that the land belonged to the philanthropist James Graham Brown, of the famed Brown Hotel, my research shows that the James Brown of the Brown House is NOT the same James Brown of the Brown Hotel. I find it frustrating that the city of St. Matthews would post information so historically inaccurate.

James Graham Brown was born in Madison, Indiana on August 18, 1881. He moved to Louisville in 1903. He is known for the development of the Brown Hotel, Brown Theater, Brown Garage, the Commonwealth Building, the Kentucky Tower, and many other endeavors. He died on March 20, 1969. The James Graham Brown Foundation has gone on to do many outstanding things for the city of Louisville.

The original James Brown, of course, was born in Maryland in 1780, married in 1809, and passed away in 1853; all before James Graham Brown was born. I’d love to see the city correct the information they have incorrectly posted at Brown Park.

Now, I did some research to see if the two men where in any way related. I personally could not find any information to prove or disprove their relation. One would like to think they were related, since they ended up in the same city, but let’s been real. Their last name is Brown. It’s just as likely that they are NOT related as to say that they ARE related.

During my research, I did however, find these family connections to our 1780 James Brown that could be proven and they do connect to a few very well-known Louisville names.

Family Connections

The Galt House Hotel was named for Dr. William Craig Galt. Galt’s granddaughter, Matilda Elizabeth Galt, married Arthur Brown. Arthur was the last child born to James and Urath Brown.

James and Urath’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Thruston Pope, also married into the Galt Family. She married William Henry Galt, grandson of Dr. William Craig Galt.

Brown-Forman Distillery and Corporation was established in 1890 by George Forman, grandson of James and Urath Brown, and George Garvin Brown. Forman was Brown’s accountant and friend. I could not find any proof that these two men were related to one another. I also did not look into whether George Garvin Brown was related to James Graham Brown.

The other familiar Louisvillian names:

* Owsley Brown – son of George Gavin Brown

*Owsley Brown Frazier – founder of the Frazier History Museum was the 4th generation descendent of George Gavin Brown

As you can see, the Brown name is very well-known in the Louisville area (and parts of Kentucky), but it would be wrong to assume they ALL belong to the same family, or at least to the same branch. Maybe they are related, in some far distant 5th cousin twice removed sort of way, but it is my goal to provide you with factual information. So, I’ll simply say I’m not sure they are related, and I’ll will leave the rest of the relations to the Brown family to figure out.

Happy Travels!

One thought on “James & Urath Lawrence Brown – the Beginnings of a Well-Known Louisville Name

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: