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From, "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 Graf.

Submitted by Fern Heiller


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 business.

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 Best."

Submitted by Fern Heiller and Carol Walhovd's

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CHURCHES:               St. Patrick's Church   Zion Evangelical Church


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Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery -    103/04/27/NESE 

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Early Settlers - SURNAMES

  • Colleran
  • Corcoran
  • Connaught
  • Shellhorn
  • Hollow
  • Hackett
  • Gerhardt
  • Hurley
  • Ideker
  • Corcoran
  • Graf
  • Brown
  • Schaller
  • Hanke
  • Fetzner
  • Ideker
  • Graf
  • Colleran
  • Beck
  • Knautz
  • Riley
  • Bell
  • Scanlon
  • Walhovd's
  • Bissen's
  • Knoll's
  • McCan
  • Philips
  • Nuckles
  • Reiher's
  • Wohler's