On August 29, 1854, shortly after the Kansas-Nebraska Act had opened the territory west of the Missouri River to permanent settlement, Richard Brown arrived on the site of the town which was to bear his name. Other settlers soon followed.
Brownville quickly became one of the leading towns and cultural centers in the new territory. Located on the river, it became a transfer point for westbound wagon caravans. Here Daniel Freeman filed his homestead claim, recognized as the first in the nation. Brownville was also the site of the first telegraph office in Nebraska.
In 1872, both party candidates for governor were from Brownville. Robert W. Furnas, the Republican, won. Furnas had come to Brownville in 1856 and established one of the state's first newspapers, the Nebraska Advertiser. T. W. Tipton, another Brownville resident, served in the U. S. Senate from 1867 to 1875.
Desirous of attracting a railroad, the town approved a huge bond issue in the late 1860's. The contracting company built only ten miles of track. Deeply in debt, and without a railroad, Brownville was abandoned by many residents. In 1970 the historic importance of Brownville was recognized by its enrollment in the National Register of Historic Places.