Traveling through the open lands in the Midwest, it is easy to imagine what the pioneers faced during westward expansion. Back in 1854, the first white settler arrived in the soon-to-be-formed Nebraska Territory. He carved out space for himself along the banks of the Missouri River and constructed the area’s first log cabin. The promise of new lands was enough to create a desire by many to follow in his footsteps. By 1880, the town of Brownville boasted a population of over 1300 residents making it the largest in the territory. These days the silenced footsteps of those pioneers are some of the memories in this historic river town.
Our short jaunt from Kansas City had landed us in Brownville, Nebraska. This town of 140 residents has an extremely large number of historic sites. We joined Steve Woerth on his morning rounds of opening several museums. The Carson House is one that has been preserved in much the same fashion as it would have been in the late 1800s. The colorful Victorian styling made a picture-perfect setting for a morning excursion. The town’s founder, Richard Brown, had the original home constructed for his personal home. Due to a growing dislike by the town’s residents, he would sell it to banker John Carson prior to departing for Texas.
Mr. Carson was one of the first bankers in Nebraska Territory. He, and his family, took up residence in the house in 1864. Entering the home, we found the interior to be a direct reflection of the outside. A few modern conveniences have been added, but for the most part, the home is in the same condition as it would have been for its past residents. Looking at the study, we could imagine the owners sitting beside the fire discussing the family’s budget or talking about current events around town.
This parlor would have certainly been reserved for adult use only. Imagine being on the guestlist for an afternoon tea party or an evening soiree. We are sure it would have been the talk of the town since this was the home of one of the most influential families in Brownville. By the time the Carson family had taken up residence, the silenced footsteps of the original owner were just a memory. They set about making the space a real home by adding on additional spaces for the family to expand.
On a normal day, Steve Woerth would unlock the door and make sure the lights were on. The home would be open for self-tours by visitors from all over the Midwest. Brownville has a uniquely attractive appeal due to its numerous historic sites and homes. On this particular Saturday, he spent time showing us around the house. He shared his historical background on Brownville, which helped us piece together how the city developed. He helped us trace the silenced footsteps of the town’s past residents.
As he led us into the formal dining room, we immediately knew that this would have been the site of many family dinners. I spent considerable time with my grandparents, during my youth. Seeing the layout of this room, I knew that the children likely received a fair share of sideways glances. It’s hard to imagine the number of times a scolding accompanied them. At least, that is what I remember from my childhood.
We followed Steve upstairs to the bedrooms. The children’s room looked like a picture out of a museum. The beautifully hand-carved bed frames bespoke of the time period. The historical staff has done a great job at keeping the house as close to the original, as possible. They even remembered to include a chamber pot, which is a foreign idea to kids these days. Of course, it would beat heading out to the outhouse on a cold winter morning.
Exploring these types of attractions is interesting to us. While I enjoy learning all of the histories that are associated with the various time periods, Crystal loves the personal stories. Throughout our travels, we have had many chances to tour homes from the mid-1800s. Each of them brings a unique view, although few have so many period pieces like this one. It does remind us of one we viewed in New Orleans, but here we found a startling discovery. In a downstairs bathroom, Steve pointed out the lead tub that was used by the family. While I have not researched the health effects of such a device, it certainly seemed ominous.
As we wrapped up our tour, we looked back on our visit to this living time capsule. By preserving the home and contents, the Brownville Historical Society has made it possible for future generations to remember days gone by. Steve told us that they will often give tours to school-age children, which allows for some hands-on education. We wonder how many of them knew what the chamber pots were used for.
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