“ Address: 350 East Third Street, Port of Dubuque, Iowa 52001 „
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
350 East 3rd Street
Port of Dubuque
Dubuque, Iowa 52001
Our most recent visit to the USA was partly along the Great River Road, top section following the Mississippi to its source. Dubuque is one of the towns along this route. The Great River road was established in 1938 as a National Parkway and covers 2300 miles altogether and passes through ten states. The Upper Mississippi river section starting in Minneapolis St Paul in Minnesota and ending in Dubuque Iowa it actually passes through four mid-western states. We did this section backwards and in bits but did see a big section of this scenic drive starting in Dubuque and ending up at the source of the river in Itasca State Park Minnesota.
In Dubuque one of the things on our list that we planned to do was to visit this museum. It is huge and spread over a number of sites. Typically we hadn't a huge amount of time to spend as we had left it rather late getting to Dubuque but we were specifically interested in the Mississippi River exhibits and so ignored the Aquarium which had an exhibition on Amazonian river animals - we were not in the Amazon. We like to see things related to where we are when we travel.
Parking was free and being the USA the spaces were plenty big enough for our big hire car. We headed for the entrance which was not entirely obvious but then I was a bit distracted by the huge paddle wheel on display outside the entrance with colourful frogs leaping around and through it. It had been taken from an old Mississippi paddler wheeler.
HOW MUCH AND OPENING TIMES
Memorial Day weekend thru Labor Day
9:00 am - 6:00 pm Daily
Labor Day thru October 31st
9:00 am - 5:00 pm Daily
November thru Memorial Day Weekend
10:00 am - 5:00 pm Daily
Closed Thanksgiving and
Christmas Day. Closing at 2:00 pm Christmas Eve
Tickets cost : Adults $15.00 Seniors (65+) $13.00 Youth (3-17) $10.00
There are various combine tickets and discounts for groups as well but I won't go into those here. There is also a 3D theatre but that costs extra and we didn't go to see whatever was on there either.
THE MUSEUM EXHIBITS
THE NATIONALRIVERS HALL OF FAME
This was our first section to visit and it was really well done. The exhibits and information boards were well set out with enough information to keep you interested for some time. Many people are in this hall of fame but for us the most obvious was Mark Twain. Not only have they many interesting snippets about him and his life but outside by the river there is a bronze statue of him sitting on a bench so you can sit and have a 'chat' with him too.
Mark Twain was best known as an author, but he was also a steamboat pilot, newspaper reporter, publisher, humorist, philosopher and lecturer. "No other man in the world is so universally identified with riverboating; Twain made the Mississippi known to the world and his inspired genius put the Father of Waters in the center of American lore. Because of him, the Mississippi is recognized as the symbol of America's vigorous spirit and individualism."
Other people in this area were either pioneers, explorers or artists who contributed to the Mississippi in some way or other but who are also now dead.
Louis Armstrong was another inducted in 1999 who earned his place for his Jazz playing on the steamboats along the Mississippi for many years.
One of the pioneers was Jim Bridger who was inducted in 2004. Bridger was one of many great American explorers, an illiterate mountain man who at the age of eight was orphaned and supported himself by running a ferry across the Mississippi and was later the first white man to set eyes on the Great Salt Lake.
Lewis and Clark , Joliet and Marquette and many others were also inducted in this hall of fame for their contribution to exploration around the Mississippi.
The builders and engineers although they obviously contributed a great deal were not necessarily names that I recognized, more my ignorance or lack of knowledge than a comment on their contributions I would suggest.
One such person was De Witt Clinton, the inspiration behind the Erie canal which linked New York to the Great Lakes and was known as 'Clinton's Ditch' when built. James Rumsey invented a "jet" propelled steamboat in 1787, 20 years before Fulton's Clermont. Rumsey successfully demonstrated his 48-foot steamboat on the Potomac River for George Washington. Robert Fulton an engineer was best known for his pioneering development of a practical steamboat. In 1807 his 146-foot steamboat the 'North River Steamboat of Clermont' and by this he not only proved the commercial feasibility of steamboats but also pioneered a new era in the history of transportation. There were many more fascinating people who I knew nothing about yet who had contributed such a lot to the world and in particular the world of rivers, navigation and transport.
THE RIVERBOAT MUSEUM
Some wonderful riverboat models, some behind glass cases and other exhibits where you could walk inside and feel like you were actually on the bridge of a steamboat. I hadn't realized quite how many of these rather romantic looking crafts caught fire and sank over the years. They were really very dangerous as they were steam driven which required a large fire aboard and obviously as many were made of wood this was not a great combination.
I also hadn't realized quite how huge some of these craft were. I sort of imagined they were the size of the one we went on in La Crosse or maybe a bit bigger but these were huge with several decks and cabins for passengers making longer journeys. These were the cruise ships of their day.
Another surprising piece of information was that these river boats were being used till very recently and indeed the biggest being 'The American Queen', launched in 1995 which was 127.4 m or 418 ft long and cost an amazing $65 million to build. It had six passenger decks and place for around 450 passengers which was scrapped as late as the early years in this century. There are still a few of these large ships around but not anything like in their heyday.
The aquariums with Mississippi exhibits we did visit and I was astounded by the size and ugliness of the catfish. The alligator garfish were also pretty impressive but the ones that I was most taken with were the turtles. There is something very appealing about both turtles and tortoises and these are always a winner for me.
One of the exhibits is a huge model catfish called 'Noodle' that you are invited to put your hand into the mouth of. I did but I think it was broken as nothing happened at all which was a little disappointing!
The beavers were a little shy but if you were patient and waited they came out and spent some time cleaning themselves. I wanted to see them swimming but it was also fascinating watching them groom each other, they are very sweet looking beasts.
THE CARVER WET LAB
We didn't spend a lot of time in here but it is the interactive area for children and families. Staff are there to explain and share information about the various exhibits. Children are encouraged to touch and feel things like beaver skins while in the touch tanks children can feel crayfish, snails and freshwater mussels with staff to guide them. It is a bit like in the Sea Life centres in the UK.
Around the museum there were so many of these from watching the river change over the years to sorting out problems of pollution and everyone was so clever. They were informative and also quite challenging. It is always better to help someone work out a solution rather than just give information as that way they remember it better and it becomes a real learning experience. These exhibits were really perfect and if I had a class of children learning about rivers, transport riverlife or pollution this would be a perfect place to bring them. One of the best of these inter active exhibits was the journey down the river from a bird's eye perspective, starting at the headwaters in Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota and going all the way to the to the Louisiana delta which was quite some trip.
THE WOODWARD WETLAND
As you walk outside, after having a 'chat' with mark twain in his bench you can make you way across the board walk through the wetland area. We were there in the heat of summer and late afternoon so we struggled to see any animals at all. I think they were all hiding in the shade somewhere. We could however see the Native American wikiup or wigwam which is a domed shaped dwelling used by local Native American tribes and an old restored fur-trader's log cabin set in amongst the foliage.
After walking through the wetland on the board walks you come to a jetty leading to the huge dredger the W.M.Black which used to dredge the river in this area. It was built in 1934 and was a steam driven paddle wheeler. You are welcomed aboard by a member of staff who explains a bit about the ship and its role on the river. He explains that the tour is self guided and basically follow the arrows around until you get back down to him. If you have any questions then he will happily try to answer them.
Initially you go and view the engines and you cannot help but be impressed by the size of the different parts. As you go up the different steps which are NOT disable friendly as they are very steep and narrow. We were able to see the dining room, the galley and the bedrooms of the crew which were far from luxurious. Everything was painted in a sort of gunmetal grey and was functional rather than comfortable. The pilot's deck was impressive and large, it never ceases to amaze me how they steer a ship from that high up especially as a ship's reaction time is so slow.
FOOD AND DRINK
There are two options for food and drink but as we didn't try either I cannot comment on what they are like. Either you can eat indoors or on our riverside patio at the River's Edge Café in the National River Center or snacks are available next to an open air aquarium in the Mississippi River Center.
BITS WE MISSED
The 3D cinema was extra and we were not interested in see the films there. The special exhibition on the Amazon river and species found there was upstairs but again we didn't investigate that. The Pfohl Family Boatyard where you can tour the Logsdon towboat, see some steamboat artifacts, and visit a recreation of a historic blacksmith shop and this didn't really grab our attention either.
You entry ticket allows you entry for two consecutive days so if you did want to go back and see the parts you missed on one day you can. If you paid a bit extra £3 you can get a ticket that will allow you entry into two further places in or near Dubuque and those are the Mathias Ham House historic site and the Old Jail Museum both properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As our time was limited we didn't go for the extra visits for $3.
The toilets were easily accessible as was the entire museum apart from the W.M. Black steps. They were also clean but I would expect nothing less in the USA in this sort of place.
There is the inevitable gift shop with books and souvenirs but I managed to avoid going there as we don't buy souvenirs generally as our house is cluttered enough!
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Yes I think so. It gave a great oversight of what the Mississippi River has contributed to America over the years. So many people have been inspired by the river and many others have shaped the river's history through exploration, engineering or working on and around the river. This museum looked at the past, the present and then also looked at problems that may occur from pollution and using the river in the future. I loved the inter active displays as these are just perfect for children to learn from. I thought the level of information was just right with enough to keep you interested without over doing it.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
A museum and aquarium telling the story of the Mississippi with animals and river life as well in Dubuque, Iowa .Spread over two stories, an old dredger and two buildings