Homer's Travels: The Quest For Cambria: Brownville, Nebraska

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Quest For Cambria: Brownville, Nebraska

Since we moved back to the Midwest just over fourteen months ago, I have been searching for a replacement for the town of Cambria, CA. You may remember that the quest started last year with a trip to Walnut, IA. While Walnut, an antique-centric little town, holds promise, it doesn't have the artist colony feel that I was looking for. On Sunday we went to another possible Cambria replacement, Brownville, NE.

Brownville is a small, quaint little town located an hour and a half south of Omaha along the bank of the Missouri River. The town, population 150-200 souls, looks just like it did at its founding in 1854. We pulled onto mainstreet and found what I believe is the only restaurant in town, the Lyceum Bookstore & Cafe. Fortunately for this tiny town, the food is pretty good.

After lunch we walked around the town exploring the bookstores, antique stores, and art galleries. The main business of Brownville seems to be used bookstores. There are five listed on the town's web site. The most interesting one, and the only one we went in to, is the Antiquarium & Bill Farmer Gallery. Located in an old brick school building, the kind I went to school in back in the 60s, the placed in packed with room after room of dusty books, Squeezed in all the corners, crevasses, and recesses are all types of artwork. The place is a mess. It looks like most of the junk from the school days is still in there with the books and artwork. It's like everyone's junk drawer expanded into a whole building. When we came in, the owner, I presume it was Bill Farmer, was leaning back in his chair snoring. While we didn't buy anything, I could have browsed through the books, art, and junk all day.

We made our way back to the car stopping at the Wheel Museum on the way. The Wheel museum was full of even more interesting junk such as a covered wagon, several other types of horse drawn carriages, and a cannon (A sign described it as "made in 1846, bought by the town in 1862 for protection from the slave state of Missouri ..."). It was an interesting little display of eclectic antiques punctuated by the dead bird that appeared to have been lying on the floor for quite awhile.

We drove south looking for our next stop, the Spirit of Brownville riverboat. We found it moored next to the River Inn Resort. We were planning to take the riverboat out on a river cruise. We were a little early so we drove back to the nearby Meriwether Lewis dredge. The dredge, built in 1931, helped dredge a navigable channel up the Missouri. We paid our three dollars apiece for our guided tour. The volunteer, an 88 year old old fart, was extremely knowledgeable, extremely witty, full of stories, and not very tolerant of stupid questions as the other couple who went on the tour with us found out. After receiving his first stupid question, he was pretty relentless in making fun of the couple. In a gentle but obvious way he told them they were as stupid as their questions. I just kept my mouth shut except when I explained something to the couple. I liked the guy. If you had an afternoon, he could probably talk your arm off and then some, and it would all be fascinating.

We ended our day in Brownville with a one hour cruise in a simulated paddle boat down the Missouri River. The ride was slow
and peaceful. I can't say the river is a pretty one. They don't call it the Muddy Mo for nothing. The excursion was capped by the Brownville bridge on the north end and the Cooper Nuclear Power Plant at the other.

Brownville isn't quite Cambria. It's a little too small but it is definitely trying. There is an active art movement with several galleries. What's missing for us is the eclectic stores that made Cambria the destination. We will be going back when more stuff is open (is was labor day weekend and some places were closed) and there are several historic homes that are waiting for us to tour. While we walked through the town we were making a long list of people we will have to bring here. We'll probably go back in a couple weeks to attend the big two day flea market on the 26th of September.

Brownville, besides being a nice place to visit, has a personal interest for me- it is the southern end of the Steamboat Trace (I thought it was the northern end but I was set straight on this trip - I was all bass ackwards). The Steamboat Trace, a trail that follows an old railroad right-of-way, goes twenty-one miles north, ending near Nebraska City. Next spring I intend to walk this trail, starting in Nebraska City, spending the night in Brownville, and returning to Nebraska City the next day. This is going to be a big test for me. My longest hike so far has been just over 15 miles. I will be attempting to do two 21 mile hikes back to back. I also intend to do this with a light pack on my back, the first time I've ever done this. I'd been concerned about how far I would have to walk to find a hotel once I reached the end of the trail (I'm not a camper, GeekHiker). Adding more miles to a 21 mile hike didn't sound too appealing. This Sunday trip solved that problem as the trace goes right by the River Inn Resort. This is perfect. Walk 21 miles, eat dinner on the Spirit of Brownville on one of their dinner cruises, and fall asleep to the sound of the flowing Missouri River. The River Inn Resort even includes a full breakfast with your room.

UPDATE: Forgot the link to the pictures. The Pictures are here.


  1. Maybe what the town is missing is you opening a store there. How does "Homer-Dog Antiques and Oddities" sound?

    It's never too late to start camping! But, given the choice, I'd definitely go for the sounds of the river...

  2. GH: The Wife said the same thing.

    The river sounds and access to a shower is what I'm looking for.

  3. Last weekend, Kings Canyon. Campsite near the river. Showered over at the camp store. Problem solved. :D

  4. Bruce,

    Brownville is constantly changing and new shops have opened--an ice cream store, new clothing store, and antiques. The whole town is working to rebuild our summer tourism after the flood of 2011!