National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Molly Brown House
Denver, Colorado

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

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Molly Brown giving Captain Arthur Henry Rostron an award for his service in the rescue of Titanic's surviving passengers
Photograph from Wikipedia

She survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912 and was known afterwards as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown.  Her house, called “the House of Lions” but historically known as the Molly Brown House, welcomed visiting royalty and international figures. A musical and movie were made about her life, and she was portrayed by actress Kathy Bates in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic.  Her rags to riches story, and her unsuccessful attempts to break into Denver society, as well as her taking charge of one of the lifeboats of the Titanic, have made her a memorable figure as one of Colorado’s most colorful women.

The Molly Brown House remains an emotional as well as historical landmark. The Broadway musical based on her life, first performed in 1960, entitled “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” captured many of the significant elements that made Molly Brown a sentimental favorite of Coloradoans: a young, illiterate girl suddenly finding herself one of the richest women in the state, followed by her unsuccessful attempts to bulldoze her way into Denver society (partially by her ostentatious residence). Molly Brown’s eventual success in becoming a favorite in international society through polishing herself by travel and studying at the cultural centers of the world, and her many contributions to many charitable causes help round out the story.

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Molly Brown House
Photograph by WallyG via Flickr

Margaret Tobin (she was called both Maggie as well as Molly during her life) was born in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri, also the childhood home of American author Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain).  The daughter of Irish immigrants John and Johanna Tobin, she came to Leadville, Colorado with her two brothers when she was 15. Within a year of the move she married James J. Brown (1854-1922), a man twice her age. James J. Brown came to Colorado with little or no money and no prior knowledge of minerals or mining, but through industry and self-perseverance became a millionaire. Known as “Johnny” Brown, his success was mainly due to his extraordinary ability in finding and evaluating mineral lodes. It was this ability which made his fortune. When Molly Tobin met James J. Brown, he was involved with many mining properties in Leadville, and later would become involved in mining enterprises elsewhere in Colorado and the West.  Brown’s most famous mining discovery was the Little Johnny Mine in Leadville.

At Molly’s insistence, the couple moved to Denver.  They were not the first residents of 1340 Pennsylvania Street. Construction on the house is thought to have started in 1887 by George W. Clayton or Isaac N. Large, but was not completed due to financial problems. The Browns purchased the house in 1890 and completed construction around 1892. It was Molly herself who selected the lavish, even ostentatious, furnishings and decorations. She was hoping to work her way into Denver society, but her attempts backfired, and the so-called “Sacred Thirty-Six” of Denver completely bypassed her. Snubbed, Molly began a series of journeys to the cultural capitals of the world, primarily Paris, London and New York, to study art, music, design, fashion, languages and other areas of interest. Some of these early trips she made with her husband, but gradually he stayed home more to mind his financial empire, and she went off by herself.  They were legally separated in 1909. They had two children, Franklin and Kathy Brown.

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Molly Brown
Photograph from Wikipedia

Due to these trips, Molly became well-known in international society. She also became famous for her many charities, including contributing to and leading the relief effort for workers and their families after the “Ludlow Massacre” in 1914 when the Colorado National Guard attacked protesting mineworkers and their families at Ludlow. Molly Brown was cited for her hospital work as well as for entertaining the troops during World War I, and she erected the Mark Twain Memorial in her hometown of Hannibal, Missouri.  Her efforts also lead to the preservation of Denver poet Eugene Field’s home.  Her interest in politics put her on the forefront of the women’s movement.  Her true fame, however, was linked with the greatest shipping disaster known up to that point in history---the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

In 1912, on a return trip from Europe, Molly became a heroine during the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, when the passenger liner struck an iceberg during her first voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. Molly Brown took charge of one of the lifeboats, the famous “Life Boat No. 6,” at first helping people aboard, and then keeping up the courage of the survivors with her humor, tough personality, and leading them in song.  In an interview given after the lifeboat crew was rescued she shrugged off her efforts by saying “I’m unsinkable,” thus coining the nickname associated with her.

James J. Brown died in 1922 and Molly died in 1932 (at age 63). They were buried side by side in their daughter’s family plot in Westbury, Long Island.  Molly had attempted to turn the Denver residence over to the city of Denver as an art museum, but her two children prevented her from doing so. Having gone through changes of ownership, the Molly Brown House now stands as a museum dedicated to her life and pioneering efforts in many fields. The House of Lions stands as a 21/2 story stone structure (with basement) built in the Italian Villa style. The basic stone wall material is evenly coursed, with emphasis on lintels, arched with sills, which are of a different stone from the walls. The visual weight of the stone construction is off-set by the use of wood decorative elements. The internal arrangement of the house included, on the first floor, an entry hall: two parlors; a sitting room, a dining hall and kitchen. The second floor contained a sun room and four bedrooms, and the front section of the third floor was originally used as a ballroom. The carriage house to the rear of the property is distinguished by a cupola which straddles the ridge at the center of the roof. The Molly Brown House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 1, 1972.

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Molly Brown House
Photograph by WallyG via Flickr

The house had fallen into disrepair, but in 1970 through extraordinary citizen effort, Historic Denver, Inc. was founded to save the 1889 home. The organization saved the property and it continues to operate as the Molly Brown House Museum.  This project became a catalyst for preservation throughout the city.

Largely excerpted from the National Register documentation written and prepared by Susan A. Niemann and Perry Eberhart  for the State Historical Society of Colorado.

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