Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

For Participating Institutions

John Nicholas Brown II papers (Ms.2007.012)

Brown University Library

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: Manuscripts: 401-863-3723; University Archives: 401-863-2148

Scope & content

This collection spans the lifetime of John Nicholas Brown, from his birth in February 1900 to his death in October 1979. While the bulk of the collection dates from the period 1960-1979, there are important materials from nearly every portion of Brown’s life. The collection is comprised of manuscripts, ledgers, notebooks, journals, photographs, postcards, pamphlets, film, artifacts, architectural plans, blueprints, and other similar materials.

The largest component of the collection documents John Nicholas Brown's activities in public life. As a wealthy man, he had no need to seek employment, yet Brown had a deep sense of duty towards the public good. In addition to government service (for the Rhode Island State Planning Board, the Rhode Island Civil Service Commission, the Monuments Fine Arts and Archives Commission and the United States Navy), he founded numerous groups dedicated to public projects and often appeared at non-profit board meetings. The collection reflects his profound investment in (among others) the Medieval Academy of America, the American School for Classical Studies at Athens, the Byzantine Institute of America and so forth.

John Nicholas Brown's passion for architecture is documented in many different portions of the collection. The Real Estate/Property series captures his major building projects, both new construction (e.g., Windshield and St. George's Chapel) and historic preservation (Brick Market). Material regarding his involvement in institutional construction will be found in the General Files series, under the files on the Brown University Building and Planning Committee, St. George's School, and the Smithsonian Institution. His additional contributions to historic preservation can also be found in the same series, under the files such as the Arcade, the East Side Renewal Project and the Heritage Foundation of Rhode Island. Similarly, his commitment to high church Anglicanism is widely dispersed throughout the collection, and can be found in the Real Property series, the General Files series, the Travel series and the Music series, as well as in his personal correspondence.

Like the father that he never had the opportunity to know, John Nicholas Brown was an avid traveler. The collection contains a rich and extensive variety of travel material dating from 1915 through the 1970s. These include many different types of items such as postcards, photographs, maps, correspondence, travel diaries, foreign currency, travel ephemera, passports. Brown traveled widely, to England and France, where he had family connections, and also to Italy, Japan, Germany, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. The collection also documents significant trips to North Africa (1955), Poland and the Middle East (1960), Mexico (1965), the U.S.S.R (1964), and Iran (1967), as well as a world cruise on the S.S. Caronia (1957).

In the last two decades of his life, Brown spent part of the winter months sailing in the Caribbean. Racing at top speed was as exciting in its own right as taking the scenic route. In a succession of yachts, whether chartered (S.Y. Iolanda and Sea Cloud), purchased (Saraband) or custom-built (Bolero, Volta, Mazurka, Malagueña), he was able to experience both. The collection includes much material on his yachting activities, from yacht design and performance, to membership in various yachting clubs (the New York Yacht Club in particular), to casual encounters on and with the sea. With so many activities, both personal and professional, it is no wonder that John Brown kept a series of calendars to documents his various appointments. These have been arranged here as a separate, chronological series.

Minor interests of John Nicholas Brown that are also reflected in the collection including his collecting activities (books, drawings and paintings, furnishings), his interest in Brown family genealogy, and a small portion of his investment activities. However, most of the documentation of his business activities can be found in the records of the various corporate enterprises operated by the family out of 50 South Main Street.