Date August 7, 2023
Media Contact

Photos: Annmary Brown Memorial holds a hidden history behind its colossal bronze doors

Unbeknownst to some passersby, the Brown University building is a unique mausoleum, museum and memorial that opened in 1907 — an in-progress restoration will enable public access again in 2025.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Students, employees and visitors alike often make their way to Brown University’s College Green by walking along Brown Street — a familiar corridor with a campus building that may be unfamiliar to many: the Annmary Brown Memorial.

The imposing windowless structure with its crisp granite façade houses far more than the eye can see. Part museum, part memorial and part mausoleum, it is named in honor of Annmary Brown, the granddaughter of University namesake Nicholas Brown Jr. and sister of Carrie Mathilde Brown, for whom Carrie Tower is named.

Currently closed to the public while it undergoes renovations, the Annmary Brown Memorial contains an art gallery and is home to curated collections and other artifacts and artwork gleaned through Annmary Brown’s European travels with her husband, Rush Christopher Hawkins.

Hawkins, who was a New York politician and a commander of the 9th New York Zouaves during the Civil War, was also a distinguished art and book collector who admired private museums, including those of Henry Frick in New York and Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston. He hoped that by creating his own private museum, he would achieve the same level of prominence and permanence, according to Brown University Library archives.

In the wake of Annmary Brown’s death from pneumonia in 1903 when she was in her 60s, Hawkins altered his plans and created a space that both displayed their collections and memorialized his late wife.

Designed by Rhode Island architect Norman Isham, the building opened in July 1907, festooned with distinctive doors made of bronze that feature elaborate etched allegorical representations of art and learning. Annmary Brown’s remains were laid to rest in a crypt at the rear of the structure, joined by her husband’s remains when he died in 1920.

A unique asset to teaching and learning

In addition to the couple’s personal art collection, the Annmary Brown Memorial contains Revolutionary War and Civil War manuscripts and documents; books about people named Hawkins or authors with the same name; and additional European and American paintings that span the 17th to 20th centuries. The personal book and manuscript collections were moved to the University’s John Hay Library in 1990 for preservation purposes.

The first librarian of Annmary Brown was Margaret Bingham Stillwell, who began her career at the John Carter Brown Library, an independent research library on the Brown University campus. During her tenure at the Annmary Brown Memorial, from 1917 to 1953, she became an international authority on early printed books whose work is still referenced today, according to Amanda Strauss, Brown’s current associate university librarian for special collections and director of the John Hay Library. The museum and memorial was independent until 1948, when the building and its holdings were transferred to Brown University.

The University is currently working to upgrade and restore the Annmary Brown Memorial, with a target completion date of 2025, according to Strauss.

“The collections and architecture of the Annmary Brown Memorial give insight into a wide range of topics including memory and grief rituals, cultural exchange and the history of early printing,” Strauss said. “Upon its restoration and reopening, the Annmary Brown Memorial will be a unique asset to teaching and learning at Brown.”