The 65 members and friends attending the 94th annual reunion of the Brown-Fisher Association were asked to imagine the past, with sweeping fields of wheat, cotton and corn covering the hills surrounding Michael Brown’s Old Stone House. There, you’d find 16 indentured servants, and, in later years, a mix of laborers working the land.
Since the Old Stone House was built in 1766, Michael Brown’s House and Grounds fell into neglect, being vandalized over the years to the point where the rock walls of the house were the only remnants of the once grand estate. The grounds, too, fell into disrepair, with the fields being overtaken by the woods, leaving the incorrect impression that the house was originally nestled in the forest.
With the help of recent grading and tree removal, attendees were then asked to imagine a brand-new Visitors and Event Center situated on the hill above the house, offering a grand view of the Old Stone House below, surrounded by a working farm, complete with quarters for the indentured servants and the crops from long ago.
Members were informed that that vision is now one step closer, thanks to a gracious bequeath from the estate of Juanita Fisher Lagg. She had dreamed for years of just such a building to house the extensive archives and heirlooms of both families, as well as to house modern, handicapped-accessible restrooms, along with a gift shop/office and other amenities.
President Stephen Brown of Durham explained the progress on the project over the past year, including the removal of the 1950’s caretaker’s house and taking control of a log cabin, gifted to them by the estates of the late Rep. Eugene and Jean Fisher McCombs. Remnants of the cabin have been moved to the grounds and will be used to reconstruct the quarters of the indentured servants. Brown reported that Rowan Museum is in the planning stages of a capital campaign and asked everyone to contribute so that the vision will become a reality.
Brown welcomed everyone attending and called on Vice President Deane Brown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, to give the luncheon invocation. The meal consisted of all-you-can-eat hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans and all the trimmings, as prepared by board of directors members Norman Ribelin of Granite Quarry and Larry Brown of China Grove, among others. Brown then called the business meeting to order and opened his comments by discussing the relationship between the Browns and Fishers and how the two families have supported the renewal and continued upkeep of the Old Store House.
Having been separate organizations previously, the two families joined into one association in 1925 due to the numerous marriages between the two. The association includes descendants of German immigrants who migrated to Rowan and Cabarrus counties from Philadelphia and other ports of call. Original ancestors were brothers Abraham, Andrew, Jacob and Michael Brown (Braun) and Frederick, George Jr. and Sybilla Fisher (Fischer). In closing, he reminded attendees that it is now up to us to carry on the examples set by these ancestors.
Coordinator Doug Robinson distributed minutes of the 2018 meeting, which were approved unanimously. Treasurer Larry Brown reported total assets on hand as of Sept. 20 as $286,301.62. A significant portion of those assets was the bequeath of Lagg’s estate.
One-dollar-gold coins were awarded to the following: oldest people attending — Jack Taylor of Salisbury, age 91, and Shirley Brown of Salisbury, age 87; youngest person attending — Brooks Brown, son of Ben and Candace Brown of China Grove, age 4; person who traveled the farthest — Melissa Brown Hayes of Nashville, Tennessee; person with most descendants attending — Grace Brown Marlatt, who represented 10 first cousins of Juanita Fisher Lagg.
Coordinator Doug Robinson noted that the 2019 membership drive had been disappointing due to the late kickoff after the death of newsletter writer Cathy Kirchin. New board member Brenda Zimmerman has assumed the editor’s tasks. Robinson closed his remarks by stating that the association had not increased membership dues in 25 years since it was formed in 1994. He noted that after considering expenses, the board recommended, and the membership approved, that the dues be increased in 2020 as follows: Annual — from $10 to $15; donor — from $20 to $25; and sustaining — from $50 to $75.
Brown then thanked Debbie Brown Taylor of Salisbury, Norman Ribelin of Granite Quarry and Keith Wolf of Albemarle for their service on the board over the last four years. Each agreed to serve another term, and they were duly elected.
In closing, Brown asked members to think back to that vision of growing fields of wheat, corn and cotton surrounding the Old Stone House, cabins to tell the stories of indentured servants and perhaps even a shed where Michael perfected his printing process before opening shop in Salisbury. It’s a vision of Michael Brown’s farm once again coming to life.