"The History of Houston County", Taylor
Publishing, 1982 - Page 15
Brownsville township is the site of the
Wildcat Creek and Wildcat Bluff. It is an area of steep bluffs, rolling
hills and deep valleys, with woodlands and fertile farmlands. In the early
1800s it was thought that there were good prospects for mining lead, and several
shafts were dug, but with no good results. Farming promised a better
future, and early settlers were staking claims in the 1850's.
Some parts of the township soon had
unofficial names, such as the ridge north of the village of Brownsville, which
became Connaught Ridge, because of the families who came from the county of that
name in Ireland. Now it is German Ridge. The valley to the west was
called Cork Hollow, and Shellhorn Valley is a few miles south of the city.
There was Poplar Grove and Hackett's Grove, which was a community with a post
office, school and church. Now only a small cemetery remains.
At one time there were seven one-room
schools scattered through the township. Some of these started within a
three month term. In 1896, Dr. James Colleran
says he started school in District 32 with fifty pupils and one teacher, Dan
Corcoran. All of the little schools have long been closed, but one,
District 64, is used as the town hall.
On a hillside in Section 34, a curiosity
which was discovered about 1861 can still be found, although not in the same
condition. Mr. Gerhardt dug a well forty feet
deep and struck water which "Filled to within a few feet of the top with
solid ice." Folks can still remember snow being brought in from the
well for snowball fights at Fourth of July celebrations. Probably there is
ice at the bottom of the well even today, and a chill in the air nearby.
There are many activities in the
township, such as the 4-H clubs, homemaker clubs, church circles and barn
dances. The beautiful landscape is a great place for trail rides, by
horseback or snowmobile.
The officers of the town board in 1982
are William Flannery, Daniel Hurley, Delmar Ideker, David Corcoran and Charles
Submitted by Fern
A natural landing place on the
Mississippi River at the mouth of Wildcat Creek was the reason Job and Charles
Brown picked this spot to establish as a town in 1849, and the river is still
the reason most of the residents of Brownsville live here. It is the only
town in the county that is on the main channel of the river.
The easiest way for early settlers to
reach this area was by river travel. The village grew rapidly and the
levee was a busy place, with goods arriving and being shipped both north and
south. Farmers from far to the west brought their wagon loads of grain.
Steamboats began making daily trips to La Crosse by 1863. In the winters,
the frozen river became a roadway for sleights, and ice harvesting was a big
The livelihood of many families depended
on the river. The hunters put fowl on the table as ducks and geese were
always plentiful. The river bottoms today are still a busy place the
opening day of duck season. Trapping today, as years ago, is fruitful with
muskrat and beaver the sought-after pelts. The commercial fishermen of
today may not be pulling in nets as heavy as the fishermen of years past, but
the lure of the river has kept the diehards active and every year new men join
their ranks. The clamming industry is no more, but early in this century
our river yielded many clams which were turned into beautiful buttons.
The river traffic is as captivating to
watch today as in yesteryear. Towboats pushing their barges no longer dock
here, nor do the big excursion boats, but we enjoy their company as they float
past. Every now and then we hear the calliope of the Delta Queen as she
passes by. People from near and far come to the river for
recreation. Two campgrounds give folks a chance to spend time close to the
water. We see all the types of watercraft people use to ride the waters of
the mighty Mississippi.
The town site which the Brown
brothers platted in 1854 never became the metropolis they predicted, but in
1875, the population was counted at 806. There were sawmills, the Wildcat
Flouring Mill (owned by J. C. and J. P. Schaller),
Julius Hanke's City Flouring Mill, the Brownsville
Bluff Brewery of V. and J. Fetzner, and the Old
Brewery. The village had 50 businesses going in 1870.
A hundred years ago three blacksmiths, William
Ideker, Gus Graf, and James
Colleran, were kept busy, as well as wagon and carriage maker, John
Beck and harness maker, August Knautz.
There were general merchandise stores, grocery and meat markets, five saloons
and three hotels. Two medical doctors, Dr. Riley
and Dr. Bell, took care of the ailments.
Time changed things, and the last
grocery store closed its doors in the Spring of 1981 and the only gas station
and garage closed in early 1982. But a new Kwik Trip Store with gas pumps
opened and Duane Scanlon began a convenience store
with fishing supplies. Other businesses in the city include Carol
Walhovd's Beauty Shoppe, Bissen's Tavern,
the Harris Sandbar, Duane
Covey's Top of the Rock, Duane Richard's
Riverview Drive-in, Candahl's Campground, Knoll's
Golden Years Antiques, and Gram's Excavating.
The people of Brownsville must have been
very proud of their new school which opened its doors in January, 1874.
The two story red brick building with a stone basement foundation was built on a
block set aside by Job Brown for a school and was
the finest in the county. The first principal, P. O.
Philips, was paid $100.00 a month and the three women teachers each
received $40.00. Before this building was completed three separate school houses
were being used. The first school in the village had been a private school
taught by James McCan in 1853. In 1882 there
were 186 pupils in the public school.
The building was modernized with
electricity and plumbing and a new entrance added, otherwise it needed little
change. In 1981 lower ceilings and smaller windows were put into the
classrooms to save heating costs and new lighting was installed.
One year of high school was taught in
1825-1826. In 1956 the first Special Education class in the county was
begun with Leah Colleran as teacher. In 1970,
the district consolidated with District 299, Caledonia. In 1981-82, there
were 34 pupils in grades one through six with two teachers. Despite all
the efforts of the local residents to keep our school open, the Board of
Education voted to close it at the close of the 1982 school year and the
children bused to Caledonia.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church and Zion
Evangelical Church sit across the street from each other, not rivals but
friends, united by a common purpose.
A picturesque wooden church on Main
Street is listed in the National Register of Historic Buildings. It is the
Church of the Holy Comforter, built in 1869 and restored in 1980 by the Houston
County Historical Society. It has been used for several weddings since its
restoration and can be opened on request.
In the 1800's, a railroad track was laid
along the river and soon several trains daily stopped here for passengers and
freight. The depot was closed in the 1940's and the railroad itself taken
out of use in 1980. It was reopened by the Milwaukee Railroad and it was
good to see the long freight trains again rumble past and hear their mournful
whistles late at night.
Some of the old buildings still stand
and have been put to new use. Germania Hall, once the scene of many dances
and festivities, was made into a home by the Dennis
Nuckles family; the railroad depot was moved and became Hanke's
Lumberyard and later a home; and Graf's Blacksmith Shop is now a shop and a
home. The Ideker Blacksmith Shop became the VFW Hall and Adolph
Reiher's building, where he sold coffins and candy, is a two-family home.
New homes are appearing among the old as
people are moving here because they like a small town. Every house in the
city has a beautiful view of the hills or of the river. The population is
just under 500. Duane Wohlers is mayor with
four trustees, a city clerk and a treasurer.
Most residents either work in La Crosse
or are retired. They seem to agree with the billboard at the edge of town
that the "First little city in Southeast Minnesota and still the
Submitted by Fern
Heiller and Carol Walhovd's
since this counter was added in March, 2003.