Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Henry Cordes Brown; Pioneer, Hotelier, Mild Curmudgeon

Henry Cordes Brown became a Colorado resident on his second attempt to strike it rich. An earlier move to California to try and make a fortune in the gold rush there failed and he had moved back to his home state of Ohio. In 1860 Brown moved to Colorado to try his luck in the Rockies.  A carpenter by trade, he opened a shop in Denver and staked a claim on a 160-acre plot near the edge of the town.

Brown's initial property investment turned out to be the smartest move of his life. He donated ten acres of his land to the city to be used as the eventual site of the state capitol. In response to this, other wealthy citizens began to buy pieces of his land to build mansions near what would become the center of state power.

Even a setback during the economic panic of 1877, when many Colorado millionaire's fortunes were lost due to the devaluation of the silver market, didn't slow Brown all that much. Though forced to sell his Capitol Hill mansion he was able to use the funds to continue investing in and developing property in Denver and within five years was one of Colorado's wealthiest men once again.

In 1879, nearly a decade after Brown had donated the land to build the new state capitol, he was still waiting for the groundbreaking to occur. In a fit of pique at the state's inability to take advantage of his generosity Brown attempted to take back the land that he had donated to the state. He built a fence around the ten-acre plot and sued the state to get possession of the land back. He lost the case in 1886 and was so upset by it that he refused to attend the official dedication of the new building.

Brown's best known legacy in Denver was the construction of the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa. In 1892 he began construction off what would become Denver's leading luxury hotel. He spared no expense in its construction, spending what was then the astronomical amount of $1.6 million. In what is most likely an apocryphal story, Brown is said to have built the hotel because Denver's most luxurious hotel at the time, the Windsor, wouldn't let him in while he was wearing his ranching clothes. Brown also served on the Colorado Board of Trade and was instrumental in getting the railroad spur from Denver to Laramie built, and he helped to found the Denver Tramway Company, the Bank of Denver, and the Denver Public Library.

Henry COrdes Brown died in 1906 after moving back to California to retire. His body was brought back to Colorado and he was placed in the rotunda of the state capitol for public viewing in return for his services to the city if Denver. He was buried in Fairmount Cemetery.

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