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Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd. ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 202-204

NATHANIEL J. BROWN is one of the noted pioneers of Illinois, for many years having been prominently identified with the business interests and leading enterprises of Cook County. During his boyhood he took up his residence on the frontier, living in Michigan. He was born in Windsor, Vermont, in 1812, and at the age of three was taken by his parents to New York, living in the neighborhood of Rochester and Lockport until 1826, when, with the family, he emigrated to Ann Arbor, Michigan. The public schools of the Empire State afforded him the greater part of his educational privileges. Early in life he embarked in small business ventures, and later became associated with his brother, who was the owner of flouring-mills at Ann Arbor. His brother also established a stage line, and he became one of its agents. While thus engaged he became familiar with a large amount of territory, and when a favorable opening presented itself, he made good investments in real estate, purchasing land in Kent, Ionia and Clinton Counties, which afterward yielded him rich returns. His land in Kent County was covered with pine timber, and, with his usual sagacity, Mr. Brown saw that it would one day become very valuable. He resolved to place it on the market in Chicago, and to this end chartered the schooner "White Pigeon."

Mr. Brown built a mill upon his land, and as soon as possible in the spring of 1835, a raft of lumber, which contained six schooner loads, was launched at what is now Granville. With a big lumberman from Maine to assist him, Mr. Brown cut the craft loose from its moorings. No such attempt as this to carry lumber down the stream had been made before, or since, but the journey was safely accomplished. Arriving in Chicago, he found that objections were made by the local dealers to him selling lumber there, but he finally obtained permission, and disposed of his cargo at a handsome profit. For some time he continued his lumber shipments to Chicago with excellent success.

While in this city, Mr. Brown formed the acquaintance of Augustus Garrett, who afterward founded the Biblical Institute of Evanston. Mr. Garrett proposed that they form a partnership, and they finally agreed to form a combination which should not interfere with Mr. Brown's land speculations in Michigan. He owned a section of land in the center of Ionia County, Michigan, and a town was platted upon it. Mr. Garrett was to have charge of the sale of the lots, and Mr. Brown proceeded to the new town of Ionia and proposed to erect a sawmill there. Lots sold rapidly, and the following winter Senator Ewing succeeded in having the Grand River district land-office located there. Through some trickery, however, this was not done, but Mr. Brown managed to sell his lots and realized therefrom a small fortune. This was invested in Chicago land, and Garrett & Brown became the owners of three thousand acres in the Chicago land district. They became the owners of the most famous auction house in the West, and it was soon filled with goods of every kind from the East, to be sold at auction or traded for town lots, for settlers were rapidly coining in and there was a wild scramble for property. The business done at the first house increased so rapidly that two branch houses were established. They not only sold all kinds of commodities and town lots, but also disposed of Illinois and Wisconsin property. At one time they owned nine thousand acres in and near Chicago. In 1837 the partnership was dissolved.

Mr. Brown is a keen, far-sighted business man, and this characteristic was shown by his investment in lands at Madison, Wisconsin, at the time the State Capitol was located there. Knowing that the location would cause a boom, he made arrangements whereby he received the news of the location eighteen hours in advance of any official report; thus he had ample opportunity for securing the property, and within a day he had sold land until he had realized in cash more than half as much money as he had invested. His later sales also added materially to his income. Mr. Brown became interested in banking with Lyman A. Spaulding, of Lockport, New York, establishing a bank at Ann Arbor, Michigan. In later years he was engaged in the construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, taking a contract to complete two sections, running through what is now the village of Lemont. The financial panic caused by the suspension of the National Bank about that time caused the canal contractors to receive no pay, and Mr. Brown suffered an enormous loss. During his work on the canal, however, he obtained a knowledge of the geology of the neighborhood and noted the immense deposits of limestone. Afterward investing in these, he developed an important industry, and became the owner of a valuable property. He removed to Lemont and was soon recognized as its leading citizen, and now has a larger property interest in the city than any other citizen.

Mr. Brown has ever been a friend to the laboring classes, in fact his own life has been one of labor. The cause of temperance has found in him a warm friend and he has done much to promote sobriety among working men. In politics, he was a Democrat, and supported that party until its members in the South fired on Ft. Sumter, when he espoused the cause of the Union and joined the ranks of the Republican party, with which he has since affiliated.

— Submitted by Sherri Hessick on September 27, 2003

DISCLAIMER:  The submitter is not related to the subject of this biography nor is she related to anyone mentioned in the biography.