Hilton Ultimus Brown · 1966
By Frederick C. Bagg
Hilton Ultimus Brown was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on February 20, 1859. Brown was the son of Philip Andrew and Julia A. Troster Brown. His father had come to Indianapolis seven years earlier in 1852 and operated a lumber business near what is now the Massachusetts Avenue railroad station, which was then known as Brown’s Switch. His father was something of a Latin scholar and supposing that Hilton would be the “last,” called him Ultimus.
Both of Mr. Brown’s parents died while he was a child. He was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Joshua R. McKibben, close friends and relatives of his parents. Hilton U. Brown had only one brother Demarchus, late State Librarian.
Mr. Brown attended school through the grammar grades in old No. 1 and No. 9 schools in Indianapolis and then took a preparatory course in old Northwestern Christian University. He was graduated from Butler College (now University) with a B.A. degree in 1880. He received his M.A. degree from the same institution two years later in 1882.
From 1880 to 1882, while he was working for his M.A. degree, he was principal of Oaktown Seminary in Knox County, Indiana.
Mr. Brown became a reporter for the Indianapolis News early in 1882 on a trial basis for six dollars per week. The particular incident that gave him this opportunity was the assassination of President Garfield. One of the regular reporters was ill and the News needed help. He served first as market and railroad reporter. He enlivened the subject of food market news by inventing the mythical “Pea Green Grocery” which served to illustrate trends in the market.
On October 30, 1883, Mr. Brown married Jennie Hannah in Paris, Illinois. Mr. Brown met his wife as a fellow student in Butler College. For eight years, the young couple lived in his father’s home on Massachusetts Avenue. In 1891 they bought five acres at the southwest corner of what is now Emerson Avenue and Washington Street in Indianapolis. The next year they moved into the big stone house that became an Irvington landmark in Indianapolis and Mr. Brown’s home the rest of his life. The couple had ten children; Mark A., Louise, Philip, Mary, Hilton U. Jr., Archibald, Jean, Paul, Jessie and Julia. Mrs. Jennie Brown died in 1939.
In 1890, Mr. Brown became city editor of the Indianapolis News and held that position for eight years. Early in 1898, he was appointed receiver in the dissolution of partnership proceedings. The following year, he became general manager of the News.
When the News was purchased in 1948 and became part of Indianapolis Newspapers, Inc., Mr. Brown became vice president of the new corporation. He held that position until the time of his death.
Always a friend and promoter of his alma mater, Mr. Brown became a director of Butler College in 1885. In 1903 he became president of the board of directors and he held that position until 1955.
On Mr. Brown’s 99th birthday, Mayor Phillip L. Bayt proclaimed a “Hilton U. Brown Day” for Indianapolis.
During the last month of Mr. Brown’s life, he had pushed the starter to begin operation of seven new presses in the pressroom of the News. He also attended dedicatory ceremonies for the opening of the new Indianapolis Press Club, of which he was the senior member.
Hilton U. Brown died in his sleep in the family house at 5087 East Washington Street in Indianapolis on Sunday, September 21, 1958. Mr. Brown died just five months before his 100th birthday. He was dean of Indiana newspapermen at the time of his death. Mr. Brown is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Hilton U. Brown was one of the early members of the American Newspaper Publishers Association and was a director of that association for ten years. While a member of the A.N.P.A., he served on many committees which dealt with newsprint, relations to the press to public service, equipment of modern newspapers, arbitration between printing trade unions and the publishers, and other such topics.
For many years he was a member for the Indianapolis News of the Associated Press. At the time of the Armistice, closing World War I, Mr. Brown attended the Peace Conference in Paris and Versailles as a correspondent for A.P., and wrote voluminously on this subject, and on the battlefields and industrial conditions in Europe. In 1926 he again went to Europe as a correspondent, comparing conditions with 1919. He spent six months in Russia, where he became acquainted with many of the survivors of the Revolution and directors of the Soviet government.
Mr. Brown’s Permanent Publications include, “Fifty-four Forty or Fight,” which was published in 1912 and “A Book of Memories” published in 1951. He edited the letters and verse of his deceased son in a volume titled, “Hilton U. Brown Jr., One of Three Brothers in Artillery,” published in 1920. These brothers were his sons Hilton, Archibald, and Paul, all of whom served as lieutenants in Field Artillery in World War I.
During his early days as a reporter on the Indianapolis News, Mr. Brown covered two major local stories which started him on his way to finally becoming general manager of the News. These two stories were the collapse of the Pogue’s bridge near Meridian Street, in which ten persons drowned in the flood-swollen creek, and the Broad Ripple train wreck, when a Monon Railroad train went through the White River bridge carrying dozens to their deaths.
Mr. Brown is believed to have been the first reporter to have a signed column in a Midwestern newspaper, with the “Pea Green Grocery.”
Mr. Brown served successfully as city editor, managing editor, acting editor, receiver, board member, general manager, and secretary-treasurer of the Indianapolis News, before becoming vice president of Indianapolis Newspaper, Inc. in 1948.
Other activities in which Mr. Brown was engaged in include the presidency of the Town and School Boards of Irvington, when that suburb was a separate corporation; president of the Phi Delta Theta college fraternity from 1882 to 1886 and president of the Christian Foundation, a holding company.
He was constantly active in the affairs of his alma mater, Butler University, up until his death, serving as president emeritus of the board of directors.
Mr. Brown was a director of the Disciples of Christ Board of Publications, chairman of the Butler Foundation and the Arthur Jordan Foundation.
He has been a member of the Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis Literary Club, and the Columbia and Portfolio clubs.
In 1939, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce awarded him the coveted Staff of Honor for his civic leadership.
Mr. Brown’s political affiliation was with the Republican party and he was an elder of the Downey Avenue Christian Church.
Mr. Brown was also a member of the Meridian Hills Country Club, treasurer of the Cornelia Cole Fairbanks Memorial Fund, the Indianapolis Athletic Club, director of the Indianapolis Art Association, and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.
He found his chief recreation in the cultivation of apples and peaches. Among Mr. Brown’s other interests were athletics and history. A student of the Civil War, he had visited most of the famous battle fields, and relished conversation with Civil War veterans. He also was greatly interested in Russian history.