Frank Chouteau Brown

Frank Chouteau Brown (1876-1947) was born in Minneapolis and trained as an architect, working as a draughtsman there for several years and touring Europe before moving to Boston in 1902. Brown began in the Boston office of architect James T. Kelley before establishing his own practice, specializing in domestic architecture—from restorations to large estates[1] He wrote and published throughout his career, beginning with an influential book on calligraphy, Letters and Lettering (1902), and an album of bookplate designs published in 1905. These early works were important in bringing a unique artistic sensibility to his measured drawings of historic houses. His later architectural books included The Orders of Architecture (1904-06), New England Houses (1915), Modern English Churches (1917), and Modern English Country Houses (1923). Brown served as editor of the journal Architectural Review from 1907 to 1919. He contributed numerous articles and measured drawings to the influential White Pine monograph series, which he co-edited for a time with Russell F. Whitehead. Toward the end of his life he worked for the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA) and edited its periodical Old-Time New England.

Frank Chouteau Brown knew about and valued the Abigail Adams Birthplace as early as 1941. Beginning in 1934, Brown served as Boston’s District Officer for the WPA-funded Historic American Building Survey (HABS), processing the documentary drawings and images that the Boston office sent to Washington. Two of the photographs currently archived on the Library of Congress’s American Memory HABS website have connections with the Meeting House District, although in unique ways. The “Abigail (Smith) Adams House” depicts the Birthplace ell, but at its former site, a mile north of the district, on Bridge Street. The accompanying card notes “Built 1635?” The dislocation of the ell may have disoriented the photographer, Frank O. Branzetti, who took a second North Weymouth photograph, also on May 23, 1941. The image is labeled “First Church, Weymouth, Norfolk County, MA,” but an examination of the steeple reveals that the image actually depicts another Greek Revival house of worship, the Pilgrim Congregational Church founded in 1851 in North Weymouth. Brown forwarded both images to Washington for archiving.

Brown also taught, joining the faculty of Boston University in 1916 and becoming chair of its department of art and architecture in 1919. By the mid 1940s, he was teaching at the Massachusetts School of Art, a state college where he shared an office with Edwin A. Hoadley of Weymouth. Brown’s passion for historic architecture inspired his office mate, and when the Abigail Adams Birthplace was endangered, Hoadley signed on as Restoration Chairman and hired his friend to help out. Together in July of 1947 they measured and investigated the house, cutting small ports into the building fabric where necessary to examine its structure. Brown produced a handsome pair of blueprints for the house based on these measurements and investigations, conforming to the HABS standards. They are in the possession of the association, but they do not appear to have been officially filed in Washington. The house was moved to its new site in October; but on November 18, 1947, Brown died. Besides the blueprints and his site visits and consultations, Brown left behind drafts of an article for Old-Time New England and a sketch of how the building and its site might look when completely restored. Brown’s widow sent the unfinished drafts to the association. In the article drafts, Brown ruminates on the special problems presented in investigating and restoring a building with such a complicated history.

[1] Withey, Henry F., and Elsie Rathburn Withey. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects

            (Deceased). Los Angeles: New Age, 1970.

[2] Kevitt, Chester B. Weymouth, Massachusetts, a New England Town. Weymouth: N. p., 1981. p.123

[3] Kevitt, 123

[4] Ask Art Online