Harvesting the River
Harvest Transport History

Home > History > Settlement> Browning, Illinois

circa early 1900s
Browning circa early 1900s
Photograph courtesy of Lavina Walton, Browning, Illinois.
Zoom in on Browning
circa early 1900s

The first Euro-American settler to Browning was William Robertson, who migrated from Kentucky and built a cabin in 1826. In 1830 Peter Holmes built the first river landing and warehouse and started a long-haul wagon business. The town, which was the only incorporated village in Schuyler County at the time, was surveyed in 1848 and named for Orville H. Browning, a prominent lawyer and early settler in Quincy, Illinois. He was elected to the General Assembly in 1842 and ran for United States Senate against Stephen A. Douglas. He also held interests in businesses such as the Northern Cross Railroad.

Packet boats and steamboats plying the Illinois River stopped regularly at Browning. Showboats with names like Grand Floating Palace, Go to image of the
Grand Floating Palace Cotton Blossom, and Frenches' New Sensation brought their calliopes Go to image of calliope and entertainment to small towns along the river.

After the Civil War ended, the railroad was built. Census reports of 1870 show that 556 men between the ages of twenty and fifty were temporarily added to the population of primarily farmers. Labeled as railroad workers, they hailed from Sweden, Ireland, and England, as well as from other states. The run between Browning and Baden boasted the largest engine ever built--"Old Maude," an articulated engine with twelve wheels, needed because of the steep grade up to Baden. The engine pushed the freight cars uphill then coasted down the hill to return to Browning. The train service replaced steamboats for taking the fish, ducks, and pelts to markets in large cities.

The town's businesses began to develop further. In 1892 the C.H. Waters & Son Fish Market opened. Go to image of the C.H.
Waters & Son Fish Market By 1900 the town had grown to a population of 455 and had five stores, a hotel, two lunchrooms, a barber, a doctor, a blacksmith, a school, and three churches. The mussel shell and pearl trade drew people to the area and added a new dimension to the town. One-third of the population was involved in commercial fishing. The importance of fishing waned when rural land was consolidated and levees built, causing the disappearance of many backwater lakes and sloughs.

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