- Historic Sites
Ghost Town On The River
October 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 6
Here and there between the old buildings are vacant lots where the ruins have been torn down altogether because of the danger to passers by. Lots that fifteen or twenty years ago sold for six thousand dollars would not bring six today. Lots are never sold in Brownville nowadays except cemetery lots.
On the little hill to the east stands the Episcopal church where the elite of ancient Brownville met to worship. The ruin and neglect of the place is pitiful. The stained glass windows are broken in, the walls black with the litter of mould, the carpet white with plaster fallen from the ceiling, the prayer benches broken and the curious [curtains?] torn, the bishop’s chair warped and split, the altar cloth so motheaten that it scarcely holds together, the Bible swollen and blistered by rain, and even the white marble cross shattered before the altar. Over the door is painted in gold, “Peace Be Within Thy Walls.” Well, there is peace enough and there is likely to be as long as the walls hold together. The ruins of any church are pitiful enough, but this little church savors so strongly of cassocks and gowns and “world without an end, amen” and general eliteness, that the ruin and shabbiness is almost grotesque. It has been more marred than the other churches in the town because it possessed beauty, originally, and had something to lose.
Across the street stood the white frame church, the first ever built in Brownville. Many old Brownville people will remember it by the sweet and silvery tone of its little bell. All church people of all denominations worshipped there in unison, and Senator Tipton was the first pastor. Now the church is held by the Adventists who do not seem to mind the general decay. Among other misfortunes which have happened to the old church, a colony of mice have taken up their abode in the organ. As they have made nests in all the pipes, one would think that as a musical instrument it was well-nigh useless, but every Saturday morning with a faith in the miraculous which becomes his profession of faith the Adventist organist sits down and by great exertion finds a few keys which somehow still manage to produce tones, though usually his ardent efforts are answered only by the indignant squeaking of the baby mice, who object to the draught.
One of the historic buildings is the old brick hotel, now called the Marsh House. It, too, is only a ruin that suggests former prosperity. The house is held together by iron rods and supports, its old, hardwood banisters tremble to the creaking of the stairs, the marble basins in the office are cracked and broken, the Brussels carpets are so faded that it is impossible to distinguish their former pattern, strips of cotton are tacked on the ceiling to keep the plaster from falling down and the long, winding halls lead to empty chambers. Yet even now one can sit on the upper verandah and look down over the dark streets with their broken, ragged outline of falling and fallen buildings and conjure up memories of the time when those dirty, broken, glass fronts were ablaze with light, when the streets were full of ox teams and loaded wagons bound for Pike’s Peak, and the teamsters were singing and twanging their banjos in front of the Lone Tree saloon, and on that same verandah the cabin passengers and wealthy traders sat and smoked and looking out over the river watched their steamers lying at the wharf, and listened to the hoarse whistle of the boats as they came around the bend in the bluffs, with their dancing lights and train of sparks and cinders blown back into the darkness, and the throbbing and beating of the engine that seemed to thrill the lonely, sand-split water of the old river. Merchant princes of the South and foreigners of renown have stopped at the old hotel, and foreigners of title have faced that crumbling verandah and watched the moonlight trembling in the wake of the steamers. Yes, ruins are always pathetic, but these are especially so because they are only thirty years old. The town calls to mind that scathing epigram which Heine applied to de Musset, “A young man with a brilliant past.”
After the steamer trade was no more and the railroad trouble began, most of the better class of people got out of Brownville. Today the town is a little Pompeii buried in bonded indebtedness. If the whole town were sold under the hammer tomorrow, it would not bring the amount of its railroad bonds.
The present population of Brownville is composed mostly of “river folks” and a nondescript people who have come up the river from nowhere. People of heavy calibre do not settle in a deserted village. The people who live there now are the usual river town population. They moved in and married the washerwomen and servant girls of the old residents and bought the big houses for a song, and cut down the great cedars and oaks in the yard for firewood, and ploughed up the terraces for a potato patch, and are contented after the manner of their kind.