Back in the 1850s, people in the busy Missouri River port of Brownville, about 75 miles south of Omaha, had hopes of their town becoming the Nebraska state capital. They even set aside land for government buildings. But after the post-Civil War depression, the county seat was moved to nearby Auburn and the town’s population dwindled as fast as it had boomed. Brownville slumbered until the mid-1950s when people realized that their town was an historical treasure.
Brownville’s Early Architectural Glory
During its heyday, three brick factories flourished in Brownville, so it’s no wonder that most of the remaining structures in the town’s Historic District are of brick. Carson House, with its original furnishings, is open to the public. Descendants of banker John Carson, the building’s second owner, lived in the house until 1966 when it was left to the Brownville Historical Society. Other grand old homes – several of which have been restored – include the colonnaded Muir House, whose grand staircase led nowhere for 115 years until it was recently completed. Many of the town’s specialty stores are also housed in buildings dating back to the middle of the 19th century.
Designated a National Historic District in 1970, Brownville has 32 listed sites. Two don’t-miss museums chronicle the area’s past. At the Captain Bailey House (now the Brownville Museum) mannequins wearing costumes of the day and displays of memorabilia are enhanced by period furniture settings. The Meriwether Lewis Missouri River History Museum , aboard a dry-docked dredge, depicts life on the river from the early days. Another kind of watercraft, the excursion boat, Spirit of Brownville, takes passengers on hour-long cruises during summer.
Culture, Shopping and Outdoor Pursuits
On the cultural scene, the Brownville Village Theatre – oldest repertory theatre in Nebraska – celebrates its 44th birthday in 2010. Performance season is from mid-June through mid-August. There’s also an annual Brownville Concert Series, with about a dozen performances scheduled for each year.
Shopping opportunities – most of them on Main Street — include specialty shops with names like Country Handmades, Grandpa’s Toy Boxes and Handmade Modern, art galleries, bookstores and Whiskey Run Creek Winery. First Fridays of each month are dedicated to 5 to 7 p.m. shopping and free live music at the winery. Nature-focused activities include bird-watching, fishing in the Missouri River and hiking or biking along trails such as the Steamboat Trace.
Town’s New Waterside Attraction
One of the latest addition to the town’s tourist attractions is a floating boutique bed and breakfast called the River Inn Resort. The three-deck resort, which waspurpose-built on a river barge, has 18 guest rooms with private baths and 2nd deck meeting rooms used for special events. One of those events, the 2010 Wine, Writers and Song Festival (April 28-30) will utilize the River Inn’s meeting rooms as well as the Brownville Concert Hall (a former church), the Schoolhouse Art Gallery, the winery and various bookstores.