History of Brownsville (Village), Houston County, Minnesota
From: The History of Houston County, Minnesota
Edited by: Franklyn Curtis-Wedge.
H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co.
Winona, Minn. 1919


Brownsville, situated under the shelter of Wild Cat Bluff, is one of the old river towns of Minnesota, and was once the gateway to the rich regions of southeastern Minnesota. Here landed the people bound for preemption land further west, here came the provisions upon which those pioneers must survive, here was the land office where the settlers must secure their patents to their land.

The early history of this village has been related at length elsewhere. Its decline came with the building of the railroad which damaged its magnificent landing, and with the diminishing in importance of the steamboat traffic.

The village has a bank, the Brownsville State Bank, a newspaper, the Brownsville News, a hotel, a lumber yard, a sawmill, a village hall and usual business houses. It has Episcopal, German Evangelical, Lutheran and Catholic churches.

The farmers' co-operative movement is represented by the Farmers' Co-operative Co., which operates a general store.

Brownsville is on the La Crescent-Dubuque division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, and ships farm products. Fishing is an important industry in the vicinity.

Brownsville was the location of several early newspapers.

The Southern Minnesota Herald, No. 1, volume 1, was dated June 23, 1855, at Brownsville. William Frazier Ross was the editor. The paper was owned by a joint stock company, which was organized the previous April. J. H. McKinney and J. R. Bennett, the land officers, Job Browb, Charles Brown and E. A. Goodell were the members. Mr. Ross, the editor, went to Cincinnati and procured the outfit. In politics the paper was to have been neutral, but at the fall election in 1855, H. M. Rice was running for Congress, and the land officers being the principal stockholders, and personal friends of Mr. Rice, the paper not unnaturally supported him, but toward the close of the canvass, the editor having been a Whig, turned around in favor of the other candidate. At the end of the first volume the name of Mark Percival was associated as one of the editors; and with the issue of the seventh number, Charles Brown assumed the editorial chair. The paper was published until June, 1859, when it suspended.

Of the press used by this paper, Robert F. Howard, in the La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press of Jan. 5, 1919, says:

"In slavery days, when the 'Underground Railroad' was established for the purpose of aiding runaway slaves to escape from the South to Canada, the main point of entrance of the runaways to the Northern States was at Cairo, Ill., across the river from Louisville, Ky. Here it was that Owen Lovejoy published his abolition paper, under the very shadow of the `divine institution of slavery.' Here it was that the Kentucky mob was in the habit of making its periodical visits, under the cover of night, to the Illinois town, destroying the forms and mixed up the type in Lovejoy's little printing office; and here it was that on one occasion the journey was made in larger force than usual. The abolition editor was murdered, his type and presses thrown into the river.

"The old Washington hand press upon which Owen Lovejoy was wont to print his paper was not allowed to sleep in the bed of the Ohio River, however; it was fished out, taken to Brownsville, and was there used for a few months in the publication of a clientless newspaper. Later it was sold to Dr. A. P. Blakeslee and others of La Crosse, and was the press on which the National Democrat of that city was printed, which later furnished the mechanism through which the famous Mark M. (Brick) Pomeroy made his vigorous assaults upon the administration of Abraham Lincoln, whom he denounced as the 'widow maker,' and declared the war for the preservation of the union to be a failure.

"But this is not all of this strange circumstance. The man who did the press work for Owen Lovejoy on that old Washington hand press in Cairo, followed its fortunes to Brownsville and to La Crosse, and was the foreman of Pomeroy's office, and of Blakeslee's office before him, in those old days of conflict between the anti slavery and the pro slavery parties. And that foreman and pressman was a colored man named Joseph Taylor. He was in Lovejoy's printing office when the Kentucky mob made its assault, but made his escape, watched the proceeding from a safe vantage, and it was he that pointed out the place where the old press sank beneath the waters of the river, and assisted in its recovery.

"A tall, well proportioned man was Joseph Taylor. Painstaking and faithful, he was accounted one of the best pressmen and printers that made* the pilgrimage between Dubuque, Ia., and St. Paul, Minn., in the early sixties His appearance at the door of any of the printing offices in the intervening hamlets was the signal for the 'regular' to take a rest and give `Old Black Joe' an opportunity to work. His favorite place of business, however, was in the office of the La Crosse Democrat, 'twisting the Devil's tail' on the old Lovejoy press which had been initiated into usefulness down in Cairo in advocacy of the freedom and rights of his race. He lived to see the cause for which Lovejoy died come to its full fruition, and he had the privilege accorded him of casting his first vote, as a gray haired old darkey, for Abraham Lincoln's re-election. He did not live long to enjoy the right of suffrage. He entered the army during the closing hours of the war and contracted a disease which cut short his career when long looked for peace came.

"The old Washington hand press that figured so prominently in the underground railway management, and later in the interests of the slave holders' rebellion, stood for years in the office of the La Crosse Democrat. It was at one time owned by Governor George W. Peck of Milwaukee, when he was the publisher of the La Crosse Liberal Democrat, but it has long since gone to the junk pile and had its identity obliterated.

"Originally it was highly ornamented with brass trimmings, but these were lost beyond recovery when it was thrown into the river at Cairo, Illinois."

The Free Press. On December 15, 1865, Charles Brown started the Free Press alone, and ran it with credit to himself and honor to the town up to May 21, 1869, volume 4, No. 21, when its subscription list was transferred to the Western Progress.

The Western Progress. This was a newspaper with a decided literary turn, published by Mrs. Bella French and Richard O. Thomas. It was a neat, well printed sheet that worked hard in the interest of Brownsville and Southern Minnesota. In April, 1870, Mr. Thomas withdrew and went to La Crosse, and the next month, a more promising field having opened in Spring Valley, Fillmore county, the whole establishment was removed there. Mrs. French afterwards published a magazine, "The Busy West," in St. Paul, and subsequently did some excellent historical work in Wisconsin. She later became a resident of Austin, Tex., and the editor of the "American Sketch book," a pioneer magazine of the "Lone Star" State.

Return to [ Minnesota History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ] [ Minnesota Biographies ]

Minnesota Counties at this web site - Dakota - Fillmore - Houston - Waseca - Winona

Also see the local histories for [ CA ] [ CT ] [ IA ] [ IL ] [ IN ] [ KS ] [ ME ] [ MO ] [ MI ] [ MN ] [ NE ] [ NJ ] [ NY ] [ OH ] [ PA ] [ WI ]

All pages copyright 2003-2013. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy