The Village of Brownville is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. The community is home to a winery, theatre, hiking and biking trails, several museums, and many other attractions, including numerous bookstores. Its creative and industrious citizens of Brownville applied to be approved as one of only a handful of towns in the world designated as an official “Booktown” (a concept that began in Hay-on-Wye, a small Welsh town). The business most contributed to it earning the designation is The Brownville Lyceum, a restaurant/used book store/art gallery.
In 2003, Lyceum owners Jane and Randel Smith renovated a historic, but dilapidated 19th century-era building into the beautiful Lyceum that stands today thanks in part to a $102,700 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s Travel and Tourism Division. “CDBG funding helped us remove architectural barriers and make the building handicapped accessible,” said Mrs. Smith.
Located on Main Street, the Lyceum has become a central meeting place for Brownville residents to regularly discuss the many exciting changes and progress occurring in their community.
Open daily except Mondays, the Lyceum hosts a variety of events. One unique weekly event is the Sunday Forum at 2 p.m. People discuss a variety of subjects, including beginning gardening and raising chickens in one’s backyard. An upcoming forum will even help people learn the ins and outs of “Investing in Troubled Times”.
Because Lyceum meeting space is provided at no cost, many groups take advantage of the opportunity. Several writers groups and reading circles meet there, as well as the Merchants of Brownville, the Brownville Village Theatre Board, and other people interested in accessing the available free wireless Internet service. The Lyceum serves needs far beyond providing a community meeting place, however.
“The Lyceum is successful in attracting tourists. During the summer season, tour companies bring busloads of people. Looking around at any peak time, it’s interesting to note that a good 75 percent of people are not local residents. At the same time, the Lyceum provides a gathering place for the 150 or so local residents,” said Mrs. Smith. Once nearly shelved and forgotten, historic Brownville is truly developing into one of the state’s more notable cultural centers.