Located at 2328 Broadway Street the Ashton Villa Mansion is an immense, 3 story, palace-like masterpiece, built by a proud, wealthy hardware businessman, James Brown, who believed in showing his wealth. This royal residence thought to be the first all brick home built in Texas, was fit for royalty and took 4 years to build from 1861 to 1865. The showplace of this glorious Italianate Villa was and is the ornate, formal living room, called The Gold Room, located near an alcove, within the spacious every day living room. There is a grand, center stairway that connects the floors, with the customary landings on each floor.
Lovely antiques, family heirlooms and original art fill this stately mansion built before the Civil War by James Moreau Brown, one of Texas’ wealthiest businessmen, and presided over by his colorful daughter, Miss Bettie Brown. James Moreau Brown died in 1895 and passed on one of the largest single fortunes in Texas to his children. He left his beloved Ashton Villa to eldest daughter Bettie Brown.
During the Civil War, Ashton Villa was put to good use as a hospital for Confederate soldiers. And, as Galveston was at various times under the control of either the Union forces or the Confederate forces, Ashton Villa became the headquarters for whatever General was in control at the time. At the end of the Civil War, popular tradition reports that the surrender of Confederate forces in the southwest took place in this Gold Room.
As Galveston was a bustling trade port, fortunes returned soon after the end of the Civil War, and things got back to normal in a hurry, unlike the rest of the South. James Brown continued to be immensely wealthy, and lived at his Texas palace with his stunningly beautiful, golden-haired daughter, Bettie Ashton Brown, who was born in 1855. She grew into a strikingly lovely, tall, well figured, sophisticated lady, who often wore her hair on top of her head.
Constructed of brick and cast iron, Ashton Villa Mansion was one of the very few homes to survive the Great Storm of 1900 that killed 6,000 people and led to the island's virtual abandonment. Interestingly enough, during the 1900 Hurricane, the Browns opened the front door of the mansion and allowed the flood waters to flow all the way through the home exiting out the back door so that the home would not be pushed by the waters and possibly damaged.
One of the youngest daughters of the Browns sat on the main staircase that faces the front door and the water was as high as the 10th step up flowing through the home like a river. Apparently the daughter just sat there and watched the flowing water with fascination!
Haunted History & Ghost Stories:
TOP TEN HAUNTED GALVESTON ISLAND LOCATIONS
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Miss Mathilda "Tilly" Brown - Sweeney:
Thomas Sweeney and Mathilda Brown married in 1884 and the trouble started about 7 years later, with Thomas being extremely abusive toward Mathilda and even causing their children to scatter and hide when he would arrive home from work each day. This abuse was known by maids, family members and neighbors so when Bettie went door to door gathering eyewitness reports of the abuse for the divorce proceedings’ evidence, Thomas was shown in his true light and even failed in his attempts to keep the home he and Mathilda had lived in. A house built by Tilly's father James M. Brown was a gift to the newlyweds and still stands today on Ave. L between 24th and 25th Street (pictured left). After the divorce Tilly was granted possession of the house and custody of her children despite usually strict Victorian marriage laws stating that the man would gain ownership of the women’s properties and inheritances while married.
When considering the personalities of Miss Bettie Brown and Mathilda, it would seem that the hauntings of Ashton Villa may be more closely related to Mathilda, the young, sweet, kind hearted young girl who grew up in the home, loved her home, never travelled out of the country away from her home and even came back to her home in a time of need and for a safe haven for her and her children after an abusive marriage.
Bettie Brown grew up in an atmosphere of abundance of material goods and privilege, and developed the point of view of a Texas princess. She was also very much a free spirit, who loved adventure and travel and traveled to the far reaches of the world often alone including Morocco, Jerusalem, Egypt, China, and India. Bettie Brown was a popular figure with a strong independent nature and considered by many to be somewhat eccentric. People were surprised, for example, by her smoking in public and at a social event she held in her home she joined her guest with kittens riding on the train of her dress. Bettie Brown was never married she spent her life collecting expensive items from all over the world including clothes, elaborate gowns and costumes, ornate fans, and impressive paintings including paintings done by Bettie Brown herself who studied art in Paris, France. All of her various collections, art treasures are on display within Ashton Villa.
Ashton Villa is sometimes called the "most haunted building in America" mostly due to it's most notorious resident Miss Bettie Brown. Bettie Brown grew up in an atmosphere of abundance of wealth, material goods, and extreme privilege. She was refereed to by many during her time as the "Texas Princess." Miss Bettie loved to travel, find adventure, was considered a free spirit who had absolutely no desire to get married, have children, and settle down. She spent most of her time collecting beautifully expensive objects and hosting grand parties.
The ghost of Bettie Brown has been seen standing in the Gold Room, standing at the top of the staircase, and heard playing the piano at one of her famous music recitals. People on tours have reported feeling a presence joining them on the tour. A chest of drawers purchased in the Middle East stands in Bettie Brown's day room. It reportedly locks and unlocks spontaneously even though the key has been missing for years. Ceiling fans have been known to turn themselves on. One bed refuses to stay made. No matter how many times a day the sheets are straightened, they end up rumpled anyway. The day room, incidentally, was the only room where Bettie could go without wearing her “stays” and she apparently spent a lot of her time there. The top of the staircase where Bettie's ghost has been seen leads to the day room.
However Bettie Brown isn't the only ghost to haunt Ashton Villa. During the civil war Ashton Villa was used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers. There are rumors of marching soldiers moving through the house and on the grounds of the large home.
- One of the Ashton Villa tour guides reports that she saw a beautiful golden haired woman in a turquoise evening gown, holding an ornate fan, standing on the second floor landing. This apparition is of course suspected to be Miss Bettie Brown.
- Lucie Testa who was a former manager at the Ashton Villa. She states that on February 18 of 1991 the mansion's alarm went off without cause, later that same day as she closed the mansion she noticed the ceiling fan was on at the top of the stairs--she turned it off--but the next morning she found the fan on again. She later discovered this date February 18th was Miss Bettie’s birthday.
- A caretaker residing in the carriage house was awakened from a sound sleep by the sound of a piano playing. Fearing a break-in, he went to investigate. The music was coming from the Gold Room. Expecting to confront a burglar or vandal, he quietly slipped into the room. There at the piano he saw the faint image of a woman in 19th-century attire. A mere moment later, both the figure and the music faded. The caretaker was later quoted as saying that he turned on every light in the house and remained awake for the rest of the night. (A publication of the Galveston Historical Foundation states that "Miss Bettie never learned to play the piano in life—she was an accomplished painter whose works are on display throughout the house—but her sister played both piano and violin." Bettie's only sister, Matilda, was born in 1866.)
- Civil War Era Soldiers have been seen by staff both inside and outside of the house. During the civil war the Ashton Villa was also used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers. There are rumors of marching soldiers moving through the house and on the grounds.
- Tilly Brown is believed to be responsible for the piano music that is often heard coming from the house after hours. Miss Bettie Brown never learned to play the piano however Tilly Brown was something of an accomplished pianist who enjoyed entertaining friends, family, and her children by playing the instrument when given the opportunity.
RUMORS: There is a rumor going around Galveston Island that Mrs. Tilly Brown - Sweeney had something to do with the death of Mr. Thomas Sweeney who died in the Treemont Hotel some 10 years after their divorce. Its widely believed that this is entirely fabricated and not at all true since the coroners report on Mr. Sweeney's death list "natural causes" as the cause of his death. It seems unlikely that the Brown family would go through the scandal of a divorce and then wait 10 years before murdering Mr. Sweeney. It's not only slanderous gossip it just really doesn't make sense.
Photograph Mrs. Mathilda Brown Sweeney outside Ashton Villa
c. 1910 from the Galveston Historical Socient
Photograph Miss Bettie Brown from Galveston Historical Society