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Sue Guinn Legg

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Community Heritage

Brown Milling: A city business ahead of its time

May 13th, 2013 4:52 pm by Sue Guinn Legg

Brown Milling: A city business ahead of its time

Brown Milling Co. in the 1930s. (Contributed/June Miller Gouge)

A forerunner of north Johnson City’s busy commercial district, Brown Milling Co. was built by in 1929 at the intersection of what would later become North Roan Street and Browns Mill Road.

  It was the first mill in the state to operate solely on electricity and a one-stop shop for farm families with a well-stocked grocery store and two gas pumps.

  The mill itself was a huge, three-story wooden building with a drive-under canopy with scales where loads of wheat, corn and oats were weighed and the market price applied to customer accounts on which families shopped and fueled their vehicles.

  With the adjoining store, a small block and stucco building, the business covered the area occupied today by the dental office at the corner and the nearby Days Inn and Ryan Motors. It remained in business through early May 1959, when it was destroyed in an explosive fire that was depicted in the first color photo published by the Johnson City Press-Chronicle.

  Joseph A. Brown was raised about a mile from the mill in the old Victorian house that still stands between I-26 and the intersection of Browns Mill Road and Swanee Drive. His father was Edmund M. Brown and his mother was Eliza Peoples Brown, for whom today’s Peoples Street is named.

  Brown was managing Star Mill in the Kings Springs community when he inherited a portion of his parents’ farm and moved there with his wife, the former Nellie Grace Pierce, and their four children.

  Nellie was 17 years old when they married in 1912. When they moved to Brown’s childhood home in the late 1920s, he purchased adjoining land in what is now Towne Acres and named and registered the place as JoNell Farm.

  He built their house at the corner of Browns Mill and Ferndale roads a year after he built the mill. A four-square brick, the house was built from a $3,500 kit ordered from Sears, Roebuck and Co. that arrived in Johnson City on a train from Chicago.

  Today the home is owned by his granddaughter, June Miller Gouge, and her husband, Ed, who raise llamas and alpacas on the farm and operate a small shop in the house known as Alpaca at JoNell Farm.

  His only daughter, Grace, who was Gouge’s mother, was 13 years old when the family moved into the house and went to work in the mill office when she turned 18.

  Brown’s brother, Alfred, worked as the mill’s salesman and did business with general stores as far away as Spruce Pine, N.C., that sold the mill’s signature Briar Rose finely sifted cake flour, Break of Day biscuit flour and Sun Rise corn meal.

  His oldest son, J.A., delivered the orders and helped Brown run the mill.

  Gouge recalls dresses her mother made for her from flour sacks printed with delicate floral patterns, as was the custom in the days when locally milled flour, meal and animal feed were common.

  While the mill’s operation was a large family affair, the store was managed by Pleny Brown, who was not related to the family.

  Gouge remembers going to store with a dime with which she would purchase a six-ounce Coke for five cents and big bag of her choice of candy from a counter where several pieces were sold for a penny.

  The store also sold pickles from a barrel and cheese sliced to order from large blocks.

Additional Photos

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