You might think it easy just to keep going north on Interstate 29 and bypass the exit to Brownville, Nebraska. If you did, you’d miss out on all of the interesting and unique sites of this quaint town in the southeastern part of the state. Located just over an hour south of Omaha, it is a little gem that you won’t want to miss.
The History of Brownville
Brownville got its start as part of the Territory of Nebraska that existed from 1854 until 1867. It covered a large swath of the Great Plains including parts of the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and, of course, Nebraska. Brownville was the largest city in the region at one time. It’s hard to believe given its current population around 130 people.
It was incorporated in 1856, but it had already established itself as an important strategic location as a port on the Missouri River. The waterway itself was a crucial contributor to the burgeoning steamboat industry that also included other major thoroughfares like the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
One of Brownville’s many historical highlights is the site of the first claim under the Homestead Act of 1862 by Civil War veteran, Daniel Freeman. The creation of other territories reduced the original size until it became the state of Nebraska in 1867. Like many small towns, the importance of Brownville faded into history with the expansion of the railroad into the western part of the country.
Attractions in Brownville
Despite its small size, Brownville has a lot to offer visitors. You’ll find a large selection of historical attractions that provide a detailed look into the area’s past. There are many cultural sites as well as great shopping and outdoor recreational opportunities for things to do in Brownville, Nebraska. Let’s give you the grand tour for planning your visit.
Brownville is home to nine museums and historic homes, each bringing a unique perspective of the region’s history. The Captain Meriwether Lewis Dredge Museum, for example, is located on the banks of the Missouri River. It is a side-wheel steam paddle dredge used for navigation and flood control in the early 20th century. The dry-berthed vessel is the home of the Museum of Missouri River History.
The Brownville Historical Society maintains several other properties that you can tour. They include the home of Civil War Captain, Captain Bailey. This seven-gabled house is on the National Register of Historic Places and features period artifacts. Others include the Governor Furnas House Museum, the Carson House Museum, and the Dr. Spurgin’s Dental Office Museum.
Other points of interest are the Wheel Museum and the Brownville Depot and Railroad History Museum. One of the highlights is the restored 1854 Didier Log Cabin. It is a fine example of period construction during the early settlement of the area. John B. Didier, II emigrated to the United States from France in 1847. He built his home on land he homesteaded, living there for 63 years.
Even the shops have a unique historical feel about them. You’ll find a wide selection of quaint boutiques including EmmaBelle’s Craft Room, Mary’s Emporium, Sitting Pretty Books, and Grandpa’s Toy Boxes. If books are more your thing, make sure and visit the Antiquarium. Once a grade school, it has thousands of books for sale including some special finds in its Rare Book Room.
You’ll also find several galleries that showcase local and regional art. They include fun stops such as Dogrose Studios, the Palmerton Gallery & Studio, the Schoolhouse Art Gallery & Nature Center, and New Earth Clay Pottery. Please note that many of these and other attractions have limited or seasonal hours.
While it’s a little village, it’s big on entertainment. The Brownville Concert Series features monthly performances March through December. They include a variety of music genres from classical to jazz to rock as well as its specially commissioned Christmas Gala. The hall itself was built from the remains of two of the area’s historic churches following extensive restoration work.
The mission of the Brownville Fine Arts Association is to bring professional performers to rural Nebraska. Each one must, in turn, conduct a community outreach event to perpetuate the concept of giving it back. The organization has made the series a Brownville institution
You can also take in a show at the Brownville Village Theatre, the oldest repertory theatre in Nebraska. You’ll find more entertainment choices at the Whiskey Run Creek Winery. Be sure and check out their Friday Night Summer Music Series every week from May through August. And of course, you should also sample the wines while you’re there.
The winery rests on the spot of one of the early breweries in the area. The site includes one of the original brewery caves for storing barrels. They produce both white and red wines using their own unique blends including regional grapes. Whiskey Run is open Wednesday through Sundays from May to October.
There are several places to get outside and stretch your legs including the 21-mile Steamboat Trace Trail and the Whiskey Run Creek Nature Trail. Indian Cave State Park has equestrian trails and an archery range as well as 22 miles of trails. You’ll also find hunting opportunities at the park during the season.
No trip is complete without even a short jaunt on the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail. It begins in Hartford, Illinois and falls the journey of the Corps of Discovery. It has 4,589 mapped miles including a portion that runs north and south, located east of Brownville. While the explorers traveled by water on some portions, the trail follows their actual path closely along these waterways.
There are a few city parks worth a stop to enjoy a break from the sightseeing including Boettner Park and Brownville Riverside Park & Landing located on Main Street. You’ll also want to plan a visit to the Gov. Furnas Arboretum managed by the Brownville Fine Arts Association.
Restaurants in Brownville
There are several dining options in town and nearby places when looking for where to eat in Brownville, Nebraska. There is the eclectic Lyceum which features a variety of tantalizing dishes such as its Cob Smoked Ham and Minute Steaks with Mushroom Gravy.
If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, don’t forget to book a dinner cruise on the 150-passenger Spirit of Brownville. Enjoy a leisurely meal as you float down the Missouri River and take in the sights and scenery at the best seat in the house.
You’ll find other choices for a place to eat in nearby Auburn at the Arbor Manor Steakhouse, Hickory Road BBQ, or El Portal Mexican Restaurant. Be sure and try Hickory Road BBQ’s signature BBQ Bloody Mary.
Accommodations in Brownville
You’ll see an eclectic mix of accommodations when it comes to where to stay Brownville, Nebraska. You’ll find inviting bed and breakfast inns such as the Pearson–Kelly Guesthouse, the Blacksmith Shop B&B, Hill House, The Cottage, The Hill House, and the Pierce Cottage & Deer Run Suite.
If you want something really unique, look no further than the River Inn Resort. It features a floating B&B on the Missouri River. It has 18 rooms and is 100-percent non-smoking. Your stay will include amenities such as wireless internet, a microwave, and a refrigerator with a deluxe breakfast service included with your room.
If camping is more your thing, you’ll find rentals at the River Inn RV Park. It has both water and electrical hookups with a common picnic area and walking trails. Another option is the Brownville Riverside Park & Landing. You’ll also find accommodations at the nearby 3,052-acre Indian Cave State Park or the Longs Creek RV Park in Auburn, Nebraska.
Planning Your Visit to Brownville
Brownville is located in the mixed-grass prairie of the Great Plains. You can expect hot summer days with average highs in the 90s. Mornings and afternoons are often humid, making for some sultry conditions. Snowfall amounts are less than the national average but don’t forget about the effect of the wind. The open space of the prairie landscape can worsen driving conditions with even with only a little bit of snow.
Summer days are generally sunny with less than 30 percent with cloudy conditions. However, it’s essential to pay close attention to the weather in Brownville, Nebraska. Its tornado activity is slightly higher than the rest of the state and 96 percent more than the nation’s average. Floods and storm events present other concerns. You’ll enjoy the quiet atmosphere of the town and the surrounding area. It’s truly an escape.
Brownville, Nebraska offers a lot more than you may think when you first pull into town. It has a wealth of historical and cultural attractions that make it a destination spot if you’re traveling in this part of the country. With the majestic prairie landscape with its rolling hills and the beauty of the Missouri River, you’ll find yourself falling in love with one of the best-kept secrets of the area.