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Early Sugar Grove resident was once the town’s namesake

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton The grave of David Brown at the Cherry Hill Cemetery. For a time, Sugar Grove was known as Brownsville, named after one of the first settlers of the area and the first county resident to represent in the General Assembly.

If Sugar Grove was named for an early settler, its name would certainly be different today.

It’d be Brownsville.

How do I know? Because for several years it was.

It ties back to one of the first people to live in the area — a man who also doubled as the county’s first resident to serve in the state’s General Assembly.

J.S. Schenck in History of Warren County said Brown deserved recognition for “the fact that he probably did more to build up the village of Sugar Grove than any other man.”

He was born in Belfast, Ireland in Sept. 1777 and came to the United States in 1802 when his family settled in Venango County. He married the next year in 1803 to Jennet Broadfoot and the young couple moved to Warren County.

He first worked here for the Holland Land Company and lived on a block house the company owned next to the Conewango Creek and bought up many of the original town lots in Warren. Ultimately, he didn’t keep them or settle in town and was living in Sugar Grove by 1810, building what was one of the first framed houses in the county “on the north side of the road from the village to Lottsville, a few rods west of Stillwater Creek,” according to Schenck.

One source indicates he served in the War of 1812 but Schenck makes no mention of that.

Schenck does add that the “first regularly organized church in Sugar Grove township was the Presbyterian, which was formed in the parlor of David Brown’s dwelling house by Rev. Amos Chase,” though informal religious meetings were held periodically prior to that.

Brown’s professional life appears to have centered around his tannery, quite possibly the first one created in the county.

In 1822, he became the first Warren County resident to serve in the General Assembly. The county at that point as its own political entity was just three years old.

It’s unclear what his political affiliation was the parties of the day look a fair bit different than today. At the national level, the major parties were the Federalists, Democratic-Republicans (I’ve always loved that one for it’s current age irony) and the Jacksonian Democratic-Republicans.

Brown died in Nov. 1825 and is buried at the Cherry Hill Cemetery. A friend of his once gave a lecture about Brown that Schenck included in his text.

“He was well educated, wrote an elegant hand, and had an easy and flowing style of composition. He possessed the impulsive feelings peculiar to his nation; was hospitable and generous to a fault. The needy never sought aid of him in vain when it was in his power to relieve them, and he frequently did so to his own pecuniary injury. These estimable qualities were concealed beneath a stern, sedate exterior. He was retiring and diffident, and seldom smiled.”

His wife, that friend remarked, “had the solidity of character, the energy, the quiet resoluteness of purpose, and the tenacious adherence to religious convictions that characterize Scotch Presbyterianism. Attacked by disease that baffled the skill of local physicians, she sought medical treatment at Philadelphia, going the entire distance on horseback, and returning to her home after a few months restored to health.”

He was involved in early road development.

“At this period, about 1820, the roads in this part of the country were in a rough, unfinished condition, mere bridle-paths. The face of the country was still covered for the most part with thick forests,” Schenck wrote.

He was part of a group tasked with developing a road from the “town of Warren to New York State line near the two hundred and fourth mile-stone” in Nov. 1811.

The couple’s friend wrote that Brown’s death left his wife with “limited means to care for a family of several children.

“With Christian fidelity, with patient, self-denying love, she met the responsibilities cast upon her,” the friend said. “She gave her children such education as was possible with the scanty means at her command, and by precept and example she sought to lead them in the way of Christian living. She was a friend to the poor, she sympathized with the sorrowing, and her ministrations of love to the sick and the dying were so universal, so constant, and so cheerfully rendered, that the benediction of all who knew her rested upon her.”

One of their children — William D. — rose through the private and public schools of Sugar Grove through the Warren Academy and studied law in the office of Johnson & Brown in 1847.

He was justice of the peace and electedidistrict attorney as well as a county commissioner during the Civil War, where he had to oversee the draft process.

He served in the General Assembly as well as a representative in the state House between 1863 and 1865.

Fifteen years later, he was elected president judge of the 37th Judicial District.

“His youthful days having been passed in Sugar Grove, and the remainder, since his admission to the bar, in the town of Warren,” Schenck wrote. From a previous posting to until his election of his election “he was actively and quite successfully engaged in the practice of his profession, and gained an enviable reputation as a jurist.”

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