Brownville Depot Ribbon Cutting Saturday Morning
The long-awaited restoration work of the Brownville, Nebraska 1875 Railroad Depot and the Caboose has been completed.
When rails began to replace rivers as the newer, faster mode of transportation, Brownville understood, perhaps more than other towns, how important it would be to become connected to the new rail lines.
The story of Brownville’s efforts to build a rail line that would connect it to the nation is a story of high hopes, mysterious strangers, swindled investments and dashed dreams.
The town’s leaders invested heavily in the Brownville, Ft. Kearney and Pacific Railroad company. Funding changed hands as companies were hired to build the grade and lay the rail. Eventually a mysterious Easterner known to the town only as “C. Moodie” made off with the money. A lawsuit followed, but in the end Brownville had to increase taxes to pay for the whole fiasco.
Brownville Lost County Seat
As a result, residents moved away, the county seat moved to Auburn, and Brownville’s heydays were over. In 1875, the train did come to Brownville, but it was not the national line that was anticipated; it was a spur of the Midland Pacific Railroad from Nebraska City and it closed in the 1950s.
Many people understand Brownville’s attempt to secure a national rail line as hastening its decline. Dorothy Broady calls the railroad “the dream that destroyed an entire community” in her history Brownville, Nebraska Territory: a photographic essay. Marion Marsh Brown refers to the failed railroad episode as “the beginning of the end” in her book The Brownville Story.
However, contemporary Brownvillians can view the railroad episode in a different light. Had Brownville achieved its dream of a railroad and the urban success that would follow the rail, it likely would have sacrificed to progress the unique historic setting that instead has been preserved and today supports Brownville’s primary industry: tourism.
The Museum has many things new, even her name, the Brownville Railroad History Center. The Depot received urethane insulation, furnace and air-conditioning, electrical service, new interior wall and ceiling wood siding, painting (interior and exterior), floor refinished, paver brick removed and replaced in cement, new paver brick walkways and patio. The Caboose was sandblasted, painted inside and out, new signage, door and locks repaired, and new exterior steps. A new curb cut and parking lot enhances the Railroad History Center.
Historical Society Property
This new Center is owned and maintained by the Brownville Historical Society. In November, 2007, the Society kicked off a “Get On Board” Campaign which resulted in over $90,000 being contributed by individuals, businesses and foundations towards its restoration and improvement. Jim Doty, BHS member, served as contractor and overseer of the construction. The Society president, Dr. Charles Anderson, expresses his and the Board’s “appreciation to all those who contributed to this dream becoming a reality.”
On June 12, one can view the improvements, restoration work and railroad memorabilia. Displays and memorabilia representing the railroad industry are exhibited here. These items were donated by Drs. David and Nicole Kaufman. David’s grandfather, John H. Fischer, worked for 34 years on the Burlington line, having painted more than 2,000 engines, donated many of the historic items. Neil and Judy (Whitlow) Berg of Lincoln also donated many interesting railroad items as Neil was a Burlington Northern engineer for over 30 years. Dr. William and Bev Karrer of Omaha donated significant artifacts to the Center. Merlyn Berg, Larry Layden, Kenneth Kolodzie were also key contributors.
From 9:00 to 9:50 am, refreshments are available at the Railroad History Center. At 10:00 am, a program led by Dr. Charles Anderson, BHS President, and Dr. Bob Chitwood, BHS member, will be held. The cannon blast will celebrate the first train arrival in Brownville in 1875 and will echo through the hills to celebrate the new beginning of the Center. Music by Jody Anderson at the keyboard and Dr. Nicole Kaufman playing violin, will be featured. Jody’s father, Earl Hughes, telegraphed from the Depot and Nicole’s grandfather-in-law, John H. Fischer, served Burlington 34 years, and their family donated many railroad artifacts. The flag presentation and the new flag pole will be held, along with the ringing of the brass bell by Dr. David Kaufman, announcing the Grand Opening. Tours will follow the ribbon cutting by several donors and dignitaries.
Mike Mennard of Lincoln will be performing at 2:30 PM Saturday at the Railroad History Center, located at 1st and Water Streets. His program appeals to children and adults.
Mike’s mission in life is to put a smile on every face, and that includes the grumpy man at the bus stop. Also, Mike wants to inspire kids across the country, clear across the continent - to gain an interest in poetry. This program is sponsored by David, Nicole, Elijah, Josiah and Anise Kaufman. Mike’s CD will be available at the concert. Children will receive special treats.