Visitors to the areas surrounding the Mississippi may be surprised to know that the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is the only interpretive site for the river. Located in Dubuque, IA, this museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Here, visitors can explore a variety of historical and biological exhibits that showcase the culture and ecology of the region. There is much to see and do both indoors and outdoors at the museum. A good place to start exploring is the Mississippi Plaza, where visitors will find aviaries full of local bird species, outdoor exhibits, and great views of Ice Harbor and the Port of Dubuque.

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Mississippi Plaza

The plaza connects to the Mississippi River Center, which is where visitors can see freshwater aquariums, a hands-on wet lab, and touch tanks.

Mathias Ham House Historic Site

Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, the Mathias Ham House is a must-see piece of Dubuque’s cultural and historic heritage. This distinguished 19th-century abode was built by Mathias Ham, a wealthy mining entrepreneur, in 1856. The façade of the building reveals a Italian villa style of design, which was very much in vogue during the Victorian antebellum era in America. Inside, visitors can see furnishings that match the imposing opulence of the façade. The building’s architect, John F. Rague, was known for designing large structures that conveyed a sense of distinction and luxury. Examples of his work include the Old State Capitols of Illinois and Iowa.

The grounds on which Mathias Ham’s house stands also teach visitors about the everyday lives of ordinary people. Here, visitors can see an original settler log cabin built in 1833, a one-room school house, and the lodging of a coal miner. Costumed docents facilitate the immersive experience, making visitors feel like they are truly travelling back in time.

Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants

A large part of the lore surrounding rivers concerns the creatures that lurk in their depths. Throughout the world, freshwater rivers are home to species of fish that continue to grow throughout their lives. The Monster Fish exhibit at the National Mississippi River Museum allows visitors to learn more about these often misunderstood creatures. This National Geographic exhibit provides sculptures, videos, and interactive displays that allow visitors to see river giants in a whole new light. The exhibition focuses on 20 species of fish that all measure at least 6 feet and weigh more than 200 pounds. Museumgoers will also be able to reflect upon the role of these fish in the larger ecosystem. Further emphasis is placed upon understanding the strain that is being put on the waterways that have long been home to river giants.

RiverWorks Discovery: A Journey of Imagination and Exploration of America’s Waterways

This travelling exhibit is dedicated to helping visitors get a more rounded view of the ways in which human civilization is affected by rivers and affects them in return. The topics of commerce, culture, and conservation are explored through interactive, family-friendly displays and activities. Visitors will understand the river as a type of water highway, which allows the import and export of goods across multiple regions. In this sense, they are and always have been conducive to the betterment of our standards of living. The exhibit shows how commercial trade also leads to the exchange of ideas and contributes to a blossoming of arts and culture to the point that the image of the river finds itself referenced in music, literature, and art. Finally, the exhibit helps visitors gain a better understanding of their role as stewards of the fragile ecosystems embedded within rivers. Understanding the symbiotic relationship that humankind has with the environment is the first step to taking responsibility for the ways our actions impact upon it.

4D Theatre

Many of the exhibits shown at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium can be supplemented with a movie in their state-of-the-art 4D theatre. One of the current titles on view is Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, which complements the Monster Fish exhibit. While Monster Fish focuses on species currently occupying the planet, Sea Monsters takes viewers back in time. Here, they can see many of the ancestors that gave rise to the river giants we see today. With added movement, smell, and mist, the experience puts viewers right into the action. This makes for a thrilling and immersive experience for audiences of all ages.

350 E. 3rd Street, Dubuque, IA 52001, Phone: 563-557-9545

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