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Walter P. Brownlow served Tennesseemarker's First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1896 until 1910. Amazingly, a century after his service, the legacy established by Brownlow's Congressional work remains important in the First District. At the time of his death in 1910, the total of federal appropriations secured by Brownlow for his District was estimated at $8 million. No member of Congress, particularly from the South, had previously matched this level of influence over federal appropriations.

Legendary Congressman Walter P.

Brownlow was born in Abingdon, Virginiamarker, March 27, 1851 and attended the common schools. He was employed as a telegraph messenger boy when only ten years of age and became an apprentice in the tinning business at the age of fourteen. Later he became a locomotive engineer. Brownlow entered upon newspaper work as a reporter for the Knoxville Whig and Chronicle in 1876. Later in the same year he purchased the Herald and Tribune in Jonesborough, Tennesseemarker and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880, 1884, 1896, 1900, and 1904. He became a Member of the United States House of Representatives elected as a Republican to the Fifty-fifth and to the six succeeding Congresses and served from March 4, 1897, until his death. He was a member of the Board of Managers for the (1902-1910) and died at the National Soldiers’ Home, Johnson City, Tennesseemarker, July 8, 1910. Walter P. Brownlow is buried at the Mountain Home National Cemeterymarker in Johnson City, Tennesseemarker.

Family Relations

Nephew of a former Tennessee Governor William Gannaway Brownlow, Walter P. Brownlow was a leader who keenly understood the value of constituent services and his career reflects the often wild and wooly political era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Federal Highway Administration

Prior to being elected to Congress, Brownlow served as Doorkeeper of the United States House of Representatives, a post which controlled entry and exit to the House floor, supervised publishing of government documents, and had direct contact with the President as well as Members of Congress. This unique experience allowed him to "hit the ground running" as a Congressman and have extraordinary influence as well as advance his ideas almost immediately upon taking office in 1896. An example of Brownlow's vision was his proposal for a Bureau of Public Roads which was the first bill initiated in Congress for a unified system of national, state and local roads. Congressman Brownlow's concepts helped lay the groundwork for the Veterans Administrationmarker hospital system (established in 1930) and the Bureau of Public Roads (now the Federal Highway Administration) which was established six years after his death with the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916.

Career Pinnacle

The pinnacle of Brownlow's career was the establishment of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers near Johnson City, Tennesseemarker by an Act of Congress dated January 28, 1901. Forty years after the Civil War, the "Soldiers Home" was developed on an unprecedented scale and modeled after the European tradition of institutions providing care for disabled soldiers of Europe's numerous wars during the 1700s and 1800s. Remarkably, Brownlow secured the "biggest project that ever came south" somewhat as an act of post-war reconciliation between North and South.

In securing passage of his proposal for the Soldiers Home, Brownlow encountered numerous difficulties. At first the Congressionally-appointed Board governing veterans benefits refused to hear him, stating that the policy was to discourage homes established by the federal government and supporting only those developed by the states. Brownlow asked to appear before the Veterans Board for five minutes to present his proposal. He told the Board members of the thousands of men in the South and particularly in the First District of Tennessee that risked their lives and fortunes supporting the Union. Brownlow stated that the federal government had recently approved a large sum of money for the establishment of a prison at Atlanta so that southern prisoners would not suffer the rigors of the cold and unfamiliar northern climate. Brownlow concluded his argument with the point that the old soldiers were certainly entitled to as much consideration as were convicts. At the end of his plea, the Board informed him that the members unanimously endorsed his plan for a million-dollar appropriation.

Brownlow's proposal for a federally funded project of a European scale was unprecedented but his sense of timing was perfect. Creating a campus, the National Soldiers Home included a hospital, lodging for over 3,000 American Civil War veterans, a zoo, a Carnegie library, two lakes, and numerous other amenities all within a park-like setting that was a tribute to landscape architecture of that era. Today the campus houses a major Veterans Affairs Center as well as the East Tennessee State University College of Medicine and Pharmacy.

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