Frank Donaldson Brown was born on Feb. 1, 1885, in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the son of J. Willcox Brown and Ellen Turner MacFarland. He had a twin sister who died in infancy. Frank had 10 older brothers and sisters and one younger brother. His family descended from a Scotch-Irish family that had immigrated to Virginia in the 1700s. His father, a colonel in the Confederate Army, was the head of a wealthy family.

Currently, the home sits on 23 of the original acres of the estate and continues to allow visitors to enjoy the magnificent views from atop the cliff, Mount Ararat (a rock cliff overlooking the Susquehanna River, located between Port Deposit and Perryville in Cecil County, Maryland).

The University System of Maryland owns the property and the mansion is administered by the University of Maryland, Baltimore.


Brown was a bright child who, at age 13, won first prize in a General Electric contest by inventing a device that identified coins when dropped into a slot.

At age 13, Frank entered Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He graduated four years later, at 17, with a degree in electrical engineering. Although he began postgraduate studies at Cornell, he had to abandon his studies because of the death of his father.

Brown was hired by the B&O Railroad Company but quickly switched to the Sprague Electric Company, a subsidiary of General Electric.

Brown began his own business — a coal moving company.

His cousin, Hamilton Barksdale, became a general manager of the DuPont explosives department and helped Brown get hired by DuPont as an administrative analyst.

Brown authored a report on the performance and accomplishments of several DuPont departments that deeply impressed Coleman DuPont, the company’s president. Frank also developed the expanded Return on Investment (ROI) measure, or DuPont formula, which changed the industry of finance forever.

Frank met Greta DuPont Barksdale, whom he married in June 1916. They had one daughter, Greta Brown (1924-2014), and five sons: Hamilton MacFarland Barksdale Brown (1917-1978), Frank Donaldson Brown Jr. (1918-1992), Bruce Ford Brown (1920-1993), John Vaughan Willcox Brown (1927-Now), and Keene C. Brown (1928-1990).

Frank was elected to the DuPont board of directors, where he remained for 47 years until his death in 1965.

Tragedy struck the Browns’ 40-room home in Irvington, New York, when it burned to the ground. Fortunately, servants rescued the children from the burning home, but the experience forever changed Frank and defined how he chose to build his next home.

Greta and Frank built a stunning Georgian mansion, carriage house, and outbuildings atop a rocky cliff overlooking the Susquehanna River in Port Deposit, Maryland. The mansion boasted more than 20 bedrooms, two spiral staircases, and a breathtaking view of the river from a bluff on the Cecil County side of the Susquehanna. It is considered one of Maryland’s most visible and iconic homes.

Upon retirement from General Motors, Brown donated many of his papers, speeches, and publications to Hagley Museum and Library, a nonprofit educational institution in Wilmington, Delaware.

Brown died in October 1965 in Havre de Grace, Maryland, just eight months after his wife’s passing. The Donaldson Brown Center was gifted to the University of Maryland.