Charles Wilson Brown (1874-1974), professor of geology, was born in what is now Overton, Nebraska, on August 11, 1874. His birthplace was on the Overland Trail, where his New England born parents had moved as homesteaders. The family was driven back toward the East by grasshoppers and drought in 1883, and his father, the Reverend Henry Wheaton Brown, served as a Methodist pastor in Wisconsin. Charles attended the preparatory school of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. After another move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1891, at the age of 17, he went to work for an insurance, building and loan, and trust company where he learned stenography and bookkeeping. Before the next move in 1895 he had become assistant secretary-treasurer of the Sioux Falls Linen Mills. In 1895, now settled in Stoughton, Massachusetts, he went back to school at Wilbraham Academy. He went to Boston University for a year, transferred to Brown in 1897, and received a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1900. He had an early interest in geology and planned to be a mining engineer. After graduation he worked with Professor Alpheus S. Packard, while he earned a master’s degree. He was for a short time principal of the high school in Warren before resigning to do graduate work at Harvard. This led him into volunteer work with the United States Geological Survey. He applied for an appointment with the Survey, which would have allowed him to continue to study for his doctorate at Harvard. When he was offered an instructorship at Lehigh University, not daring to delay, he accepted two days before his appointment to the Geological Survey came through, and turned his life plans into a new direction. In January 1905 Professor Packard, who was ill, was planning to be on leave from Brown and asked that Charles Brown take over the work. When Packard died, he was chosen to fill the position permanently. In September 1905, only five years after his graduation, Charles Brown was installed in the basement of Sayles Hall, in charge of the Geology Department, which had formerly been affiliated with zoology and other subjects. That is when he acquired his nickname, “Brickyard Charlie,” because he took students on field trips to study the clay at the Nayatt Brickyard in Barrington.
During the World War he lectured at the Newport Naval Officers’ Training School, the Yale-Brown Naval Unit at Camp Madison, Connecticut, and for the SATC and ROTC at Brown. He learned to drive in 1906 and took many geological trips about the country, including a 22,000 mile excursion, much of it on gravel roads, during his 1921 sabbatical leave. On his travels he visited every state except Oklahoma, Kentucky and Alaska. He stopped in Hawaii in 1929 on his way to Tokyo to attend a World Power Conference and a World Engineering Congress.
He was chairman of the Geology Department for thirty-five years, was a consultant on the construction of the Cape Cod Canal and the Biltmore Hotel, and after retirement remained active into his nineties, still driving around and playing golf. In 1968 he donated to the Boy Scouts a rescue boat which was named “Charlie Brown,” and decorated with a likeness of the comic strip character of that name. Charlie Brown died in Providence on August 11, 1974, just three weeks short of his one hundredth birthday.