The Brown family in Columbus is synonymous with two things: newspapers and community involvement.
What is now The Republic began as a weekly, The Republican, in 1872 when it was founded by Isaac T. Brown. That was the genesis of the newspaper’s mission to serve its community, which states in part: “We shall endeavor to make our paper the champion of the people of Bartholomew County and we shall advocate, irrespective of political considerations, all measures that have for their object the good of the community.”
The Browns applied that mission by supporting Columbus projects, and by increasing the journalism footprint in the state during a 143-year history as a family owned company.
Isaac T. Brown came to Columbus from Sullivan, Indiana, to start a newspaper. Until that point, nine newspapers had started and failed in the city.A year after Brown arrived, his father, Col. Isaac M. Brown, joined him in Columbus to help run the newspaper. The father already had newspaper experience, having founded the Sullivan Union in 1866. In 1877, they changed the Columbus paper to daily publication and renamed it the Daily Evening Republican.
Isaac M. Brown made a considerable contribution to journalism in Indiana.
When he died in 1891, he was recognized for being the oldest editor in the state, having served as editor of the Republican for 42 years, and founding Indiana’s first editorial association. His impact extended to multiple family members.
Besides Isaac T. Brown, who started the forerunner of The Republic, another son, Chalmer Brown, established the Edinburgh Courier and New Albany Tribune. Also, grandson Raymond Brown operated the family’s Columbus newspaper with his wife, Anna, until a larger family partnership was formed in 1953.
The larger family partnership consisted of Raymond and Anna Brown, and their adult children Robert N. Brown, Dr. Richard Brown and Elizabeth B. Marshall.
Robert N. Brown took over decision-making duties from his father in the early 1960s, and spearheaded growth for the company. He launched a daily newspaper in Johnson County, the Daily Journal, because he saw future growth in and around the community. The first edition published July 22, 1963. Home News Enterprises, the parent company of The Republic and its sister papers and products, was launched at the same time.
In 1967, Robert N. Brown changed the name of the Columbus newspaper from The Evening Republican to The Republic to affirm that it was an independent political entity.
Robert N. Brown was inducted into the Indiana Newspaper Hall of Fame in 1976. During his career, he served as president of the Hoosier State Press Association and the Inland Daily Press Association, and director of the American Newspaper Publishers Association and American Press Institute.
Jeffrey N. Brown joined his father, Robert N. Brown, at The Republic in 1985, the same year The Republic added a Sunday edition for seven-day-a-week service. Jeffrey N. Brown later took over as president and chief executive officer of Home News Enterprises in 1998.
Growth continued by moving printing operation from The Republic’s downtown location to the Woodside facility off Interstate 65 in 1998, and launching a website, therepublic.com, the following year.
Home News Enterprises has operated daily newspapers in Columbus (The Republic), Franklin (Daily Journal), Seymour (The Tribune) and Greenfield (Daily Reporter).
Its lineup of weekly newspapers included the Brown County Democrat in Nashville; Times-Post in Pendleton; New Palestine Press; Fortville-McCordsville Reporter; and the Brownstown Times. The company also published Travel Indiana and special-interest publications, while also operating commercial printing and digital services.
The Brown family has been a fixture in the Columbus community for generations because of the newspaper, but Robert N. Brown forged a strong legacy of community involvement.In the early 1970s, he supported the idea that the city needed downtown redevelopment in order to thrive. Brown put his beliefs into action by electing to be the first tenant in a controversial downtown redevelopment project.
The Republic’s current office location, at 333 Second St., opened in 1972 with an ultra-modern look. Designed by renowned architect Myron Goldsmith, it featured an open interior design and offered full views of the building from the outside. Brown’s decision to build was considered a milestone in the remaking of Columbus’ downtown in the early 1970s.
In 2012, The Republic building was designated a National Historic Landmark, the seventh structure — and newest — in Columbus to receive the honor.
Robert N. Brown influenced the community in other ways, too. He was among a group of leaders who established the Heritage Fund of Bartholomew County in 1976. The organization administers grants that are awarded to community organizations.
In 1984, Brown and his wife, Betty, created what is known as the annual Brown Music Competition, which provides scholarships to students for vocal and instrumental excellence, in an effort to encourage local students to continue higher education in the field of music. The awards have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships for young people.
Robert N. Brown served on many local committees and boards, and his legacy of involvement continued with Jeffrey N. Brown and The Republic. For example, the newspaper has been a significant sponsor of community events such as Rock the Park and Mill Race Marathon.
This report was compiled by Kirk Johannesen, assistant managing editor of The Republic.