Job Brown went west from his birthplace in Yates County, New York in 1823. He worked the lead mines in Galena and served in the Mexican War before heading upriver and staking a claim at the base of Wildcat Bluff in 1848. According to an old history book, Job “…attained quite a notoriety as a reckless and desperate man, especially when under the influence of liquor, to the use of which he was moderately addicted.”
The area by Wildcat Bluff had a favorable location for a boat landing; slowly a small settlement grew among the scree. In 1854, Job, his brother Charles, and James Hiner platted a village they called Brownsville; I guess Hinerville didn’t have the same cachet.
From 1855 to 1856, the village’s population jumped from 50 to 228 and reached 806 by 1875. Early businesses included a grist mill, a sawmill, and a brewery. The basics. On July 4, 1855 the town celebrated Independence Day in a big way. Fred Gluck traveled to Iowa and bought an ox (which had been generously paid for by Mr. L.A. Smith). The ox was butterflied and cooked slowly over hot coals (along with a pig and other goodies). Charles Brown gave a speech, and a local citizen read the Declaration of Independence. The festival drew hundreds of people and a story in the local newspaper, but no one tweeted about the event or posted any pictures on their Facebook page.
Brownsville had a reasonably busy steamboat landing for a number of years and was connected by stagecoach to several area towns. A small pox epidemic in 1857 killed 16 people but folks forged ahead. Brownsville was another regional transit point for a while, especially for grain shipping. Given its location next to the Mississippi River, fishing, trapping, clamming, and ice harvesting supported many people.
In spite of its early promise, Brownsville never hit it big. Job Brown moved away by 1860, although he stayed close to the Mississippi River for much of the rest of his life. In 1868 he cleaned up his act, found Jesus, and became a preacher. His brother, Charles, who was generally regarded as a kind and generous man, especially to struggling travelers, had a mental breakdown and died in 1873 at the St. Peter Insane Asylum.
The town named after them never sustained much economic success. Fires took a toll on the old business district, which disappeared almost completely in 1950 when Minnesota Highway 26 was built; the business district now runs west from the river along a higher plateau. Brownsville settled into the role of a small river town. Today, most residents commute to work elsewhere.