Oct 28, 2013

Brownville, Neberaska is an “International Book Town"

Brownville, Nebraska is an amazing little town south of Omaha on

the Missouri River with a population of 142 with four bookstores and seven museums. The town is an inspiration for all small towns worried about their future. At one time it was a thriving river town in the Nebraska Territory with a population of 7000. Lewis and Clark camped there on their way to the Pacific. Later people heading west stopped to load up on supplies before the long haul across the prairie and mountains.  The
advent of trains changed everything because the train went through
Omaha not Brownville.  The townspeople contracted to have a railroad built from Brownville to Fort Kearny. According to Jane Smith, the owner of the Lyceum Bookstore & Café, the deal indicated that the contractor would build a railroad line to Brownville and run a train on it.  The rails were laid, one engine ran on the tracks “but they pulled up the tracks behind them.”  It is just one of the interesting stories associated with the town that now supports itself solely on tourism. Jane Smith said that her mom bought a house years ago when vacant houses were put up for auction.  She purchased the house for $5. When John and I were there the townsfolk were getting ready for a flea market held twice a year that draws 5000 people as does their Old Town Days that includes a Civil War Reenactment with 200 participants. They have two performing arts venues. 

Wandering Main Street was fascinating. Most everything is located
in an eight-block area.  Larry Peterson gave us quick but informative tour of the town on the horse drawn trolley. As we passed the Captain Bailey House he said the house is haunted by the Captain Bailey’s ghost who was poisoned by a jealous neighbor. 

On our walkabout we stopped to chat with Merrill Johnson, the broom maker, and with a lady in the small post office who had worked at Entergy in Lycoming, NY.  Small world! We visited the Wheel Museum and had ice cream at the Rivertown Antiques where they also serve lunch alongside their memorabilia for sale. 

There are several museums in town with the newest one being the
Brownville Depot and Railroad History Museum. We visited a church that is being turned into the Flatwater Folk Art Museum and due to open next spring.  One of the most amazing places we visited was the Antiquarium, located in the old school and home to at least 50,000 books. The owner, Tom Rudloff, is a dedicated bibliophile. He has his own system of categorizing the books but invites people to take the time to browse and “find your own treasure.”

In the evening we had dinner on the Spirit of Brownville riverboat. As we dined and cruised on the Missouri River we saw several bald eagles but nary a boat. It seems that the river traffic in no longer that prevalent because most of the local corn is trucked to an ethanol place and no longer shipped by barge to other locations. I loved my overnight accommodation on a riverboat turned into a boutique B&B. In the morning I watched the fog lift from the Missouri River and the sun rise above the trees. It was so serene. After an excellent breakfast it was time to move on and explore more of Nebraska. For more information check Visitnebraska.com.