Photo: Wilder-Whitehead-Rainey-Crockett House, ca. 1870, 221 N. Washington Avenue, North Washington Historic District, Brownsville, TN. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. Photograph by Rebecca Hightower, 2013, for nomination document, North Washington Historic District, Haywood County, TN, NR# 14000448, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, accessed February, 2017.
The North Washington Historic District  was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
The primary transportation corridor through Brownsville is U.S. Highway 70, or East Main Street, which passes through the center of the Brownsville downtown commercial district, as well as through the center of the North Washington Historic District. This highway, also known as the Memphis-Bristol Highway, was constructed between 1922 and 1926 connecting Brownsville directly to Jackson, Tennessee approximately thirty miles east. Today this highway provides direct access from Brownsville to Interstate 40, which was completed in the mid-1960s as part of the national Dwight D. Eisenhower interstate development. Connecting Kentucky through Texas, State Highway 79 runs directly through the North Washington Historic District and was completed in 1944. Smaller cross streets through the district include North Lafayette Avenue, East Franklin Street, and East College Street.
A majority of homes within the North Washington Historic District were constructed at the turn of the twentieth century. These homes were designed in a variety of architectural styles ranging from high to modest. Many of the dwellings located in the district were home to Brownsville's prominent businessmen, merchants, doctors, and farmers. While it was commonplace for wealthy farmers of large plantations to have their main house on the land they cultivated, Haywood County farmers built their primary homes near the city center. Following the turn of the 20th century, residents of West Tennessee began to flock to Brownsville for employment opportunities. Improvements to road infrastructure, popularity of the automobile and the Great Depression created a change in the socioeconomic structure of Brownsville. Large landowners began to split and sell lots to the new influx of blue collar workers. These workers began to build modest style homes on these smaller lots. This residential development continued through the mid-1960s. A majority of these dwellings located in the district were built between 1870 and 1960. This group of dwellings displays an array of architectural styles, representative of popular building trends in West Tennessee, including: Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Folk Victorian, Queen Anne, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, International, Minimal Traditional, and Ranch.
Due to the proximity of the railroad, many industrial buildings, mills, and manufacturing warehouses were located to the south and east of the commercial business center and the town square. Between the industrial development and the natural boundary of Sugar Creek to the south and the railroad tracks to the south and east, Wealthy residents of Brownsville began settling to the north and west of the town square. Wealthy residents often settled in areas separate from the industrial or low lying areas to avoid noise, disease and pollution. The west section town at this time had been settled primarily by wealthy landowners and farmers of Haywood County. Therefore, while some prominent business owners and residents continued to settle to the west within the established residential development, a majority of these industrial and wealthy business owners found the north section of Brownsville to be more desirable for building their stately homes. At the turn of the century, development of a dense residential neighborhood along E. College and North Washington begin to appear.
By the early 1900s Brownsville was a prosperous county seat boasting brick commercial buildings surrounding the courthouse on the square and a series of industrial and agricultural companies along the railroad. The Haywood County Bank opened in 1902 later becoming the First National Bank. In 1909, Andrew Carnegie donated $7,500 for a free public library and the next year the city bought property on West Main Street for $800 and constructed a new library building. The city continued its improvements throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including sewers and sidewalks introduced in the 1930s through the Works Progress Administration. Brownsville also received a new brick U. S. Post Office in 1931 on S. Washington Street.
During the 1920s, road conditions across the south improved dramatically. In 1922, Tennessee maintained only 244 miles of road. By 1926, Governor Austin Peay's emphasis on funding road development resulted in the improvement of a 6000-mile system of state roads. One of these roads was the Memphis-Bristol Highway completed in 1926, directly connecting Brownsville to Memphis to the west and Jackson to the east. The Memphis-Bristol Highway is also named U.S. Highway 70 and runs directly through the center of downtown Brownsville and the College Hill Historic District. In 1944, U.S. Highway 79 was completed and its alignment is along Washington Street in Brownsville. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad continued to be an important means of transportation, carrying freight as well as passengers until 1968, when passenger trains ceased through Brownsville; the train depot was later razed in 1974.
Following the Great Depression, wealthy landowners began splitting and selling established residential plots. This change in property size, along with the vast changes in transportation between the 1920s and the 1960s, more middle class residents, including blue collar workers, factory works and city employees began to settle along the E. College farther east from N. Washington Avenue and along N. Lafayette Avenue to remain close to employment in the urban areas. The new infiltration of middle class residents began to build more modest size homes on the new smaller lots.
Haywood County prospered during its first century of settlement due primarily to the development of agricultural business and services throughout the area. Many of the individuals involved is this development were prominent Brownsville merchants, doctors, lawyers, farmers, and, eventually, factory workers, all of whom built homes and lived within and around the North Washington Historic District. The homes within the district are excellent examples of nineteenth and twentieth century architecture and exhibit the affluence of Brownsville settlers and their families. A majority of the buildings originally built and owned by some of Brownsville's most influential business men and women and the blue collar residents remain extant within this residential development along N. Washington Ave., N. Lafayette Ave., and E. College St. While many have undergone alterations to include new roofing materials and exterior siding materials, these properties maintain their original form and feel of a residential neighborhood developed during 1830-1964.
The North Washington Historic District of Brownsville contains a century old collection of architectural styles including: Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Folk Victorian, Queen Anne, Folk Vernacular, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, International, Minimal Traditional, and Ranch. This variety in styles represent the popular building trends from the time of West Tennessee's settlement to the mid-twentieth century.
A few dwellings date from the 1830s and 1840s in Brownsville and these were built with influences of the Greek Revival and Gothic Revival styles. Popular during the early to mid-nineteenth century, the Greek Revival style reflects the symmetrical forms and classicism of ancient Greek culture. Prominent features of the style include central entrance porticos, often two-story, with classical columns, plain window lintels, and entrances with sidelights and transoms. This style became so popular from 1830 through 1850 that it was termed the "National Style." Several of these dwellings were built following a two-story, central hall plan, such as the Hotchkiss-Cannon-Smith House at 105 E. College Street. Mrs. Steve Hotchkiss built this house in 1830 when the property outside of Brownsville's city limits. The house soon sold to Mr. Talley, who was the owner of a clock business in the Brownsville town square and later became a cotton merchant.
Originating from England, the Gothic Revival style reflects the romantic and decorative forms of the medieval period. This style became popular in the United States between 1840 through 1870. Prominent features of the style include steep pitched gable roofs, decorative wooden balustrades along a full or partial width porch, ornamental vergeboard along the eaves, and lancet style arched windows. This style is represented in several residences in the College Hill Historic District and in the churches built on N. Washington and side streets. The Zion Church (Christ Episcopal listed in the National Register in 1979) at 140 N. Washington Avenue is an example of this style and features Gothic Revival style elements such as the central tower with battlements and wall buttresses. The First United Methodist Church at 117 E. Franklin Street is also built in the Gothic Revival style. This church originally built in 1824 as the first brick building erected in Brownsville. The church burned in 1897 by a cotton gin fire across the road. The church was rebuilt in 1899. Both the Zion Church and the First United Methodist Church were cornerstones of the residential community of the North Washington and E. College. Several prominent business owners and landowners attended these two congregations.
The Italianate style was widely built in the city in the 1870s and 1880s. This style arose in England as part of the Picturesque movement, which emphasized rambling, informal Italian farmhouses and villas. The style was popularized in America through the pattern books such as those by Andrew Jackson Downing. The principal features of the Italianate style are roofs with wide, overhanging eaves with decorative brackets, and tall, narrow windows often with arched hood molding and with elaborate cornices. The style may also feature a square cupola or tower. The Wilder-Whitehead-Rainey-Crockett House at 221 N. Washington Avenue has a low pitched gable roof, wide overhangs and decorative brackets and is built in a two-story, central hall plan typical characteristics of Italianate style homes. This home was built by Major Wilder, who was the first president of First State Bank. The house was later owned by Robert Rainey, owner of Rainey and Rose Grocery located within the commercial business district. Rainey's grandfather was William Moore, considered a pioneer settler in Haywood County.
By the mid-1880s, the Queen Anne style became popular and lasted into the early-twentieth century. This style is characterized by asymmetrical floor plans and often features wrap-around porches and corner towers, which can be polygonal, rounded, or square. Details can include wood shingles, dentils, spindle-work, half- timbering, and oriel or bay windows. Balloon framing and mass production of building components such as windows, doors, and decorative details allowed for the extensive decorative trim found on Queen Anne dwellings. The Queen Anne style was the preferred residential architectural style favored by Brownsville's prominent citizens in the 1880s and through the early twentieth century and the city contains several outstanding examples including 303 N. Washington Avenue, 526 N. Lafayette Avenue, and the Brockway-Thornton-Douglas House at 211 E. College Street. This house built by Mr. Brockway, president of Brownsville Savings Bank, in 1870. The house later sold to Dr. John Claiborne Thornton Sr., a prominent doctor in Brownsville.
In addition to the formal architectural styles, a portion of the houses in Brownsville can be identified as Folk Vernacular forms. These are dwellings identified more by their form than by style as described in Virginia and Lee McAlester's A Field Guide to American Houses. Vernacular houses are generally characterized by their basic house forms with a combination of architectural stylistic details. The most common dwelling forms in Brownsville from the late nineteenth century are gable-front, gable-front-and-wing and cross-gable forms and equally vary from one to two stories. In Brownsville, most of these dwellings are of frame construction, have gable roof forms, central brick chimneys and foundations of brick or concrete block. Decorative features may include wood shingles in the gable fields, porches with Tuscan or milled columns, and eave vergeboard. 1005 N. Lafayette Avenue is an excellent example of the Folk Vernacular style. Another example is the Estes Coppedge Reid Mann House at 214 N. Washington Avenue. The house was built in 1873 by Mr. Albert Carey Estes and later sold to Mr. G.J. Coppedge who was a Circuit Court clerk. A variation of the Folk Victorian is the pyramid square plan. This house plan is characterized by its irregular shape, gable and pyramid roof, and detailing similar to that of the Queen Anne style with its wide or wrap around porches and bay or decorative windows. The houses located at 17 W. College Street and at 127 N. Jackson Avenue are examples of the pyramid square plan.
The Colonial Revival style was a prevalent architectural style of dwellings throughout the early twentieth century. This style was a return to earlier architectural styles such as the Federal or Georgian style or interest in the English or Dutch styles found along the Atlantic seaboard. The style is characterized by its symmetrical form, accentuated front door sometimes with a broken pediment and various sizes and bays of porches. An example of the Colonial Revival style is the Taylor-King-Gruenewald-Watts House at 324 N. Washington Avenue. This house was built in 1867 by Dr. E. A Taylor, a Confederate Army surgeon. With Dr. Taylor's passing, the house sold to Mr. T.B. King, a cotton farmer turned Brownsville merchant. Mr. King's wife was head of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Daughters of the Confederacy chapter in Brownsville. The windows on these dwellings were often wooden sash, double hung windows with multi-panes. The second floor facades usually contain gable dormers and the roof lines are usually a side facing gable roof or a hipped roof. A variation of the Colonial Revival style is the American Foursquare plan. This house plan was characterized by its boxed or rectangular shape, hipped roof and detailing such as classical porch columns and dentils. The house located at 113 E. College Street is a good example of the American Foursquare plan.
Another variation of the Colonial Revival style is the Neoclassical style which was built in two separate periods in the United States, the first from 1890 to ca. 1920 and the second from 1930 to 1955. The style is also referred to as Neoclassical Revival. This style was generally symmetrical in form and varied from one to two stories. Details characteristic of the style include a prominent full or partial-width entry porch on the central bay of the facade, pediments or balconets supported by Doric or Corinthian style columns, hipped or gable roofs, dentils, and decorative entry surrounds such as the broken pediment. Examples of the Neoclassical style in the district include 412 E. College Street and 406 E. College Street.
Tudor Revival was another common dwelling architectural style of the early twentieth century mimicking characteristics from Tudor England of the sixteenth century. The style is popular on small cottages as well as large mansion-like homes characterized by gable front, wood frame structures. Architectural details include steep pitched gable front and cross gable roofs, exterior end or front chimneys with decorative chimney pots, half-timbering or stucco in the gable faces and tall, multiple glaze wood windows. Brownsville has a large collection of Tudor Revival dwellings, including 321 and 532 N. Washington Avenue. 321 N. Washington Avenue was built in 1936 by Mr. Solomon, who owned a men's apparel store on the north side of Brownsville's town square and was a prominent leader in Brownsville's Jewish community. His son, Milton Solomon, continued ownership of the Solomon and Songs store until it collapsed in 1952.
Originating from California, by the turn of the twentieth century, the Craftsman style became a dominant dwelling style that continued through the 1930s. The style is characterized by bungalow style floor plans and constructed of brick or wood frame construction. Architectural features include low-pitched gabled roofs with wide open eave overhangs with exposed roof purlins or decorative beams, full or partial width porches supported by tapered or square columns, and shed or gable dormers. Other details can include decorative wood sash windows with horizontal and vertical designs similar to the Prairie Style or decorative doors and transoms. Common materials used can vary from wood shingles and weatherboard siding to stone or brick attached to the porch columns and foundation. The Craftsman style was a preferred residential architectural style favored by Brownsville's citizens in the 1910s and 1920s. Examples in the district include the dwellings at 505 N. Washington Avenue, 321 E. College Street, and 525 N. Lafayette Avenue. 321 E. College Street was built by Robert Davis in 1942. Mr. Davis was a blue collar industrial worker in Brownsville.
The Minimal Traditional style was a popular modern style dwelling following World War II in the mid to late 1940s in response to a GI Bill promising all military individuals with the ability to purchase or build a home after returning home from war. The Minimal Traditional style is identified for its loose form following previously popular architectural style such as Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival. The style is characterized by its limited architectural detailing and functional layout. Minimal Traditional was the dwelling style of choice through the 1950s, until the Ranch style became the modern style in the 1960s. Excellent examples of the Minimal Traditional style house can be seen along N Lafayette Avenue at 330 N Lafayette Avenue and 1011 N Lafayette Avenue and along E College Street at 505 E College Street and 418 E College Street. 505 E. College Street was built by Mr. William Floyd Powell in 1949. Mr. Powell worked in a local lumber yard and was a local Brownsville contractor.
The Ranch style originated in California and became popular throughout the country due to its simple forms, minimal decoration and ease of construction. The style is characterized by its asymmetrical form, low pitched roof line, and minimal architectural detailing. These houses are also almost exclusively one-story dwellings. An example of the Ranch style is at 621 N. Washington Avenue. This house was built in 1953 by a Memphis architect hired by Elaine Russell.
The International style originated in France in the 1920s in an effort to make buildings and homes more streamlined and functional. Characteristics of the style include flat rooflines, multi-dimensional facades, smooth or stucco walls, irregular shape, large window groupings and linear components through the use of materials or fenestrations. Buildings designed in this style usually had little to no ornamentation. Another popular element used in this style were glass block or glass brick windows. This lightweight material allowed light into the building while also providing structural support. An example of the International style in Brownsville is the Spencer Medical Clinic at 107 N. Lafayette Avenue. Built in 1938 by Dr. Hayes and owned and operated as a doctor's clinic throughout its use. Dr. Welch of Savannah, GA held a practice until 1970 when it sold to Dr. Spencer.
Almost all of the residential buildings constructed in Brownsville from ca. 1830 to ca. 1900 were single-family dwellings and there are few examples of apartment buildings, flats or other multi-family dwellings from this period. A majority of the multi-family dwellings or duplexes located in the North Washington Historic District were built in early to mid-twentieth century in the Tudor Revival and Minimal Traditional architectural style such as the duplex located at 220-222 N. Lafayette Avenue.
Also associated with the residential dwellings in the district are outbuildings such as sheds or servant's quarters. These buildings were generally built at the rear of dwellings or adjacent to alleys. Sheds were built to hold garden implements or to provide additional storage for residents. These were generally small, rectangular plan buildings with hipped or gable roofs and weatherboard or vertical board siding. There are a few servants' quarters which remain and these buildings were usually much smaller in size compared to the main house, one story, plain in design with a gabled roof, and limited architectural features. Examples of sheds and former servants' quarters can be seen on the property at 1007 W. Main Street.
Since the 1960s, there have been few new houses built within the North Washington Historic District. A few townhouse developments of the 1970s are within the district which are attached to one another or arranged around a courtyard. These developments are included as non-contributing to the district such as the townhouses at 405 N. Lafayette Avenue and 314 N. Washington Avenue.
The area now designated the North Washington Historic District was created in the nineteenth century by Brownsville's pioneers and merchants who wanted their residences to be in close proximity to their places of business. The period of significance for this district extends from ca. 1830 to 1964, illustrating the residential development of Brownsville and telling the story of Brownsville's settlement over the decades. The progression of residential development in Brownsville reflects changes that took place throughout the United States as modes of transportation evolved and the introduction of the automobile enabled the development of suburban enclaves. Over time this district evolved from a neighborhood of wealthy Brownsville merchants in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, into a community of blue-collar workers during the mid-twentieth century. Following World War II, many Brownsville natives returned to work in Brownsville's expanding agricultural and manufacturing industry. With the financial aid provided by the GI Bill many veterans were able to move to Brownsville, find middle-class employment, and build modest homes. The North Washington Historic District contains a significant collection of houses of varying architectural styles, demonstrating a century long progression of architectural trends.
‡ Adapted from: Rebecca Hightower, Thomason and Associates, North Washington Historic District, Haywood County, TN, nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Cherry Street East • Cherry Street West • Church Avenue North • College Street East • College Street West • Jackson Avenue North • Key Corner Street • Lafayette Avenue North • Washington Avenue North • Wilson Avenue North