If These Walls Could Talk – Sweet Home Jacksonville

If These Walls Could Talk – Sweet Home Jacksonville
Ruth and Ed Brown

To look at the early 1900s graceful Prairie and Queen Anne architecture of Ed and Ruth Brown’s house nestled in a row of distinguished historic homes, you would not suspect the walls once rang with the rock ‘n roll reverberations of local bands Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers.

This sweet home is not in Alabama, but in Jacksonville’s historic Riverside. The unsuspecting Browns moved into the house 39 years ago, after arriving here from Chicago.

“I answered the door one day in 2000 and this young man from a magazine wanted to write about Lynyrd Skynyrd rehearsing here,” said Ruth. “I didn’t even know who they were. Supposedly they rehearsed in the upstairs bedroom and had mattresses against the walls, I guess, for the sound. He came back sometime later and left us a copy of the article in ‘Hittin’ the Note.’” The magazine was originally created for fans of the Allman Brothers band.

When Ruth fell in love with the house, she and Ed were living on the other side of town, running two successful businesses – Ed Brown Creative, an advertising firm, and the Flower Garden Children’s Preschool.

“It had large rooms and closets – rare in these old homes. We bought the house a week before Christmas in 1977,” she said.

In the ensuing four decades the Browns made their mark on Jacksonville. Members of St Paul’s Catholic Church, their volunteer and charitable work with St. Vincent’s de Paul – giving out food, working to have the organization aggregated to international status, helping the needy, delivering meals, assisting families in need – earned them a Citizens of the Year Award and a feature in River City News in 2001. 

“Everybody knows them,” said neighbor Alisa Kolenc. “They are the gems of the neighborhood. When we moved here four years ago, Ruth showed up at the door with a homemade pie. They are the kind of people you want to be examples for your children. They don’t even know they are special – it’s just their way.”

The walls in this house speak loudly of the love, laughter and affection of two creative and talented people. They also tell of joy, sad-ness, hardship, tenderness, and struggles.

In 1987 Ruth arrived home from work to find Ed’s stepfather had died in a fire that started in the garage. It also destroyed her beautiful house, including the letters from Ed during their courtship.

“Ed’s stepfather, who lived with us, died on the first landing of the staircase of smoke inhalation,” said Ruth. “When I found out he had died I just passed out. But, we rebuilt the house like it had been before and moved back in in 1988. Ed recreated the intricate woodwork; he redid the entire kitchen. If you see anything wood in this house, Ed made it.” 

Kolenc said the eight-month turnaround was done in “the true Brown spirit. Do it well and do it quick!” In less than a year it was on the Riverside Avondale Preservation Spring Home Tour.

The Browns joke about Ed submitting the home to a Most Beautiful Porch contest in 2006. In his application, Ed described his 30-foot by 13-foot wrap-around porch as “a haven, a sanctuary.” They won, but did not accept the prize since it involved more traveling than they wanted to do. Now Leigh Burdett brings people by on her historic e2Ride bicycle tours, and Ed greets them on his award-winning front porch.

Through the years, the couple have opened their home to special events, such as a wedding and a Catholic mass conducted for 40 people by a visiting priest from Ireland.

“We hosted a wedding here once – a young waitress that we barely knew wanted to get married here so we said okay,” Ruth said. “The wedding was lovely but the aftermath was a fiasco – they left the tables on the porch for months!”

The Browns celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on Oct. 26 with a gathering of friends organized by Kolenc and neighbor Margie Miller, who prepared fabulous food and cookies designed like wedding cakes (Ed’s favorites). “We haven’t change a bit,” said Ed about their wedding photo.

“We met on a Wednesday night at a USO dance in Miami a few days before Ed was discharged from the Navy in the spring of 1946,” Ruth reminisced. “He went back to Chicago and we corresponded, by mail, of course. Then he came down to Miami and gave me my engagement ring. Later he came down and spent a week before the wedding.”

This decisive couple had spent only 10 days together before they married but, as Ruth said, laughing, “It worked!”

When asked the secret to staying married for so long, Ed quipped, “Don’t get a divorce and be very kind to your husband!”

Indeed, Ruth has been very kind to her husband, who suffered a stroke in 2013. “My wife has done everything to make my life better,” said Ed.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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