Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Brownville or Bust

I accompanied a group of Excelsior Springs representatives to the tiny town of Brownville, Nebraska this past weekend. The group included City Council member and ex-mayor Jim Nelson and his wife Ginger, Bob and Marilyn Gerdes, Chief of Police John McGovern and his wife Molly, and Darryl Couts from the museum and his wife Connie. We were on a fact-finding mission to Brownville as we'd heard such great things about how they turned their town around. The population of the town is a whopping 148 but what they have accomplished with it's rennaissance is nothing short of impressive. We met the fine folks who have spearheaded the rebirth of this town and their perseverence is clearly paying off.

Brownville is just past the Nebraska-Missouri border and has a welcoming yet quirky feel. We stayed at the River Resort Inn which is a floating bed and breakfast. The boat features a beautifully restored historic exterior and surprisingly sleek guestrooms(we loved the cool bathroom fixture). The residents welcomed us as a 'delegation' and had a full itinerary created for us. We checked in and headed off to the Whiskey Run Creek Winery for a shopping and tasting outing. We sampled five wines, my personal favorite being the 1854 red(the year the town was founded) and Keith's being the Levi's Reserve white.

The Antiquarium bookstore was our next stop and in all it's intriguingly oddball glory, it's one of my fave bookstores. Keith and I had visited it in it's previous incarnation in Omaha's Old Market area and now it resides in an old schoolhouse. It's a fascinating set-up that also features a gallery of artwork and dark and dusty rooms of rare books and vintage magazines. I could've stayed there all day. I bought two vintage of them a Postal Service Workers cookbook from the seventies that included a recipe for Mogen David wine cake(eek!). The Antiquarium was a vaguely off-center experience but you know I relish the eccentricity.

We had dinner at the Lyceum cafe which is also a bookstore(the whole town has a dedication to the arts and in particular, books). The evening was capped off with a stirring performance by the amazing Marilyn Maye at the Brownville Concert Hall which is set up as an intimate cabaret in a historic church. Ms. Maye is a revelation..she hits smoky notes that would put singers half her age to shame. My favorite moment was when she spun her vocal web around 'That Old Black Magic' and had the 'sanctuary' mesmerized. I came to find that Ms. Maye regularly performs in New York, recently at Lincoln Center, and performed on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show a record 76 times. Marilyn Maye was pure magic. We finished off the evening with some wine and cheese on the deck of the boat.

Sunday's breakfast was on the boat(terrific quiche) and was followed by a presentation and tour through the town's history. We made a return trip to the bookstore and to the Lyceum for lunch. After a panel discussion with some of the town's movers and shakers, we headed out.

Brownville certainly has all the right grooves happening. Their energy and creativity are quite inspirational. Like Eureka Springs, they've struck the right mix of history and quirkiness. The atmosphere would be perfect for someone wanting to steal away to curl up with a good book or to write or just appreciate the offbeat charm. In fact, our weather was gray and rainy the entire weekend and that just added to the Twin Peaks feel.

Can't wait for the return trip...


Anonymous said...

Wow! Viva Vivien Leigh as I am simply pee green with envy, speaking of old tomes. Love the photo of the chess table--it is literally begging for two pipe smoking gents who really don't want the match to end. And you are looking quite pensive as you peruse the wines. Wish I could have been there--you know how much I love the quirky little spots like these. The typewriter is amazing as well. Typewriters always make me wonder and imagine what might have been written on letters, business correspondence or perhaps the greatest story ever. Or maybe nothing more than the requisite college assignments of the day. Who knows?


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