Florence Crowder said she was inspired to research the building housing Crowder Antiques in the Old Hotel, her family’s antique shop, about a decade ago.
She’d always heard stories about the old Brown Hotel being an important place for the community — from the year it was built until it closed in 1955 — she said, but in order to apply for consideration on the National Register of Historic Places, the history of the building, constructed in 1927 at 114 N. Range Ave., Denham Springs, had to be documented.
“I had the research all those years ago, but got sidetracked with one thing and then another,” Crowder said, joking that rules have changed in the past decade, and that taught her a lesson about procrastination.
“The application process was a lot easier 10 years ago,” she added. A determination is expected by October.
The building first housed the Brown Hotel and Cafe, which, in 1927, was the only hotel in Denham Springs, according to Crowder’s research.
William F. Brown, an Arkansas native who made his wealth in an oar manufacturing company founded around the turn of the 20th century, invested his money in the hotel and cafe, which he had built on the lot adjacent to W.F. Brown & Sons Oar Company, according to Crowder’s application.
The adjacent railroad line spurred the success of Brown’s oar company, which, according to Crowder’s research, was among the largest of its kind in the state. Brown floated the raw logs to a mill pond located between the oar factory and the hotel, and this proximity — within eyesight of the railroad depot — made the hotel a mainstay for business travelers and others passing through, but it was also a center of social life for locals, according to Crowder’s research:
“Mrs. Tee Watson, who along with her husband Elgene, ran the café and tended to the 11 rooms upstairs during World War II, stating that the hotel was more like a boarding house than a hotel,” she discovered. The café inside the hotel was popular with those staying at the hotel, locals and the business community, as it was open for three meals a day.
Each morning, Watson made biscuits to feed hotel guests and customers of the café. Foster Couvillon, president of the Livingston State Bank, was known to come to the café every morning for his two strips of bacon, two biscuits and a cup of coffee. Some hotel patrons during the period of significance were groups who worked at Sharp Station, a federal deposit area where bauxite and other goods were stored during World War II. Those passing through town and those staying overnight who had come by train were well received, as the Illinois Central Gulf railroad depot was located a half block from the hotel. Not only was the Brown Hotel a regular hotel for visitors to Denham Springs, but it also served as a “railroad hotel.”
“Soldiers in transit, honeymooners and some locals also stayed overnight,” Crowder said. B”uyers of oars and other goods manufactured by the Brown family at the oar factory next door, as well as sales representatives, were frequent customers.”
A shipping shed for farm goods was adjacent to the train tracks. As Denham Springs grew, crop farmers brought their merchandise to the town to sell to buyers, both of which often stayed overnight at the hotel,” Crowder’s research found.
The hotel featured a wooden framed telephone booth between the two front doors, which during World War II, was where news came to Denham Springs about local casualties or injuries. Names were listed in a display window at the hotel of those called to duty during the war.
With a partial grant from Louisiana’s historic preservation group, the Crowders worked to restore the storefront’s appearance to resemble how it would have looked in 1927, Crowder said, and in the process, uncovered the original doors, still intact, which had been covered with plywood.
The building is one of many breathing new life into downtown Denham Springs’ historic district, Crowder said, and, as such, is part of a second wave of economic development in the city.
For more detailed information about Crowder’s research, the application, along with photographs, is available online at http://www.crt.state.la.us/Assets/OCD/hp/nationalregister/LA_LivingstonParish_BrownHotelandCafe_ReviewCommittee.pdf