Muscatine, Iowa, is a river town. It has the distinctive nickname “The Pearl of the Mississippi” because of its pearl button history. The mussels and clams in the river were farmed to create the beautiful, iridescent buttons, and for years, Muscatine was the Pearl Button Capital of the World. While that is one historical aspect of this beautiful city located southwest of the Quad Cities area, during a hosted visit, I learned that Muscatine is full of many fun outdoor activities. This is true in part because downtown Muscatine is walkable, and there are many other outdoor options as well. (While I was hosted, all opinions in this article are mine, and mine alone.)
The book A Stroll Through Muscatine offers a bit of the history of the area. I learned that Muscatine was first occupied by Native Americans. It was explored by Pierre Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. In 1836, Colonel John Van Atta and Captain Benjamin Clark established a trading post, which is now marked as a diamond on Mississippi Drive. The first settler in the area was James Casey, and the town was first called Casey’s Landing, then later Bloomington. It wasn’t until 1849 that the name was changed to Muscatine, or “Musquitine” to honor the Muscoutin Indians that had lived here.
1. A Stroll Through Old Muscatine
While the book A Stroll Through Muscatine first offers a bit of history in the introduction, it does more than that. This informational booklet provides a listing of 45 stops in Muscatine. The tour is essentially eight blocks covering homes that were built between the years 1850 and 1890. While they are private homes, the guide offers a drive or walk and a chance to see local history. The book tells in many cases the history of the residents and the building. For example, the first stop is a home with a tower on one side in a home originally built, “for Simon Gerberich Stein, who had come to Muscatine by raft with a supply of lumber for trade.”
The book can be purchased for around $3.00 at the Visit Muscatine office.
Pro Tip: A stop at Visit Muscatine can arm you with a list of places to dine and other fun facts for your visit.
2. The Mississippi Harvest Statue
To herald the Pearl Button history of Muscatine, you’ll want to visit one of the most iconic outdoor stops in Muscatine, the Mississippi Harvest statue. Located on the waterfront, the statue is 23 feet tall and depicts a clam fisherman standing in a clam-filled boat using a pair of clamming forks over his head. The statue was created by artist Erik Blome. The location is along Mississippi’s Riverside Park. This is a great area to see water activity and watch boats and river life!
If you have the kids along, this is a great stop. Besides the statue, this area also offers a chance to play in the Mississippi Mist Fountain splash pad. Active visitors may also want to shoot some hoops. This area also has a boat launch and offers access to the Running River Bike & Pedestrian Trail System as well.
Pro Tip: If interested in the pearl button history, you may want to stop at the National Pearl Button Museum. Located in the History and Industry Center, this museum tells Muscatine’s story of becoming the Pearl Button Capital of the World. Upstairs you can learn about the industry that settled in Muscatine.
3. Running River Trail System
Take a walk along the river walk. The area is beautiful and is accessible from Mississippi Drive. Jodi Hansen of Visit Muscatine said they have made it easy to get to from downtown. The website shares: “This trail system will take you past the lagoon at historic Weed Park, past Norbert F. Beckey Bridge, and along the banks of the Mississippi River. Most of the trail along the riverfront is lighted, and there are additional sections of the trail system elsewhere in the city. Altogether, there are 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails and walkways.”
At night, the Norbert F. Beckey Bridge is lit up and is quite lovely.
Pro Tip: Lodging at The Hotel Merrill is right across from the Running River Trail and the Mississippi. The Hotel Merrill is the number two hotel in the state of Iowa. It is a AAA Four-Diamond property. Downtown is walkable from this location as well.
4. Walking Around Downtown Muscatine
Downtown Muscatine is charming. On 2nd Street, there is the Pearl Button Museum and several shops to peruse. It is fun to window shop and decide where you want to stop for lunch or dinner later in the day. There are a few colorful murals downtown as you cruise the two- to three-block area. We also noticed poetry on the sidewalk and learned that the beautiful words embedded in the concrete are winners of the Wandering Words competitions.
Pro Tip: Downtown dining options that we enjoyed were Boonies on the Avenue and Waffle and Pancake House.
5. Patio Hotel Merrill
Walkers can enjoy a lovey statue outside the Merrill Hotel, Muscatine, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel. The Restaurant, Maxwell’s On The River, offers views of the Mississippi River. The statue is of two men watching a city from a window, and below is a poem called, “We Are The Young.” The first line goes, “The world is broad, and the seas are wide. We are the young, the starry-eyed.” I love the fact besides art during our visit to Muscatine, we also got a bit of literature!
6. The Muscatine Art Center
The lovely Musser mansion houses a beautiful art collection. The home is majestic, plus there is also a sculpture garden and a Japanese garden that is undergoing renovation.
Pro Tip: The Muscatine Art Center is both a house tour and an art museum visit. If you enjoy beautiful homes and art, take the time to tour!
7. Muscatine Arboretum
If wanting a chance to see nature and walk or bike, head out to the Muscatine Arboretum, which is located in Discovery Park. The website shares, “This can be described as a ‘living tree museum.’ This 13-acre feature in Discovery Park showcases a variety of native and ornamental trees and shrubs. The arboretum also offers demonstration gardens with hostas and ornamental grasses. In addition, it surrounds a reconstructed prairie wetland.”
Pro Tip: There is also an Environmental Center in Discovery Park that has fun exhibits as well.
8. Pine Creek Grist Mill
Pine Creek Grist Mill is in the Wildcat Den State Park near Muscatine, Iowa. Heather Soppa, vice president of interpretation for Friends of the Pine Creek Grist Mill shared that the mill, “Is the oldest working grist mill between the Mississippi and the Rockies. The mill is 174 years old this year. It was built in 1848. This is the 3rd mill on the creek.”
The mill is lovely from the outside, and there are trails in Wildcat Den Park that can be enjoyed as well. If you get the chance though, take the tour of this historic mill that operated until the early 1920s.
9. Pine Creek Grist Mill Bridge
A great place to take pictures of the mill, and the water is the Pine Creek Grist Mill Bridge. It is a beautiful iron pinned Pratt truss bridge. According to the Bridgehunter website, “The Pine Creek Grist Mill Bridge is distinguished among these for its relatively early construction date and high degree of structural integrity. Located in a pristine setting next to the restored Pine Creek Grist Mill, it is one of the state’s most picturesque wagon bridges.”
10. Mark Twain Overlook
Not far from the bridge that crossed from Illinois into Iowa is the Mark Twain Overlook. This is a site where you can see the entire town of Muscatine; when you turn in the other direction, you have a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River!
Mark Twain has a history in Muscatine. Visit Muscatine states, “Samuel Clemens returned in 1853-1854 from his first major travels as a young man to Philadelphia, New York, Washington D.C and other east coast destinations to Hannibal, Missouri. He found that his family, headed by his brother Orion Clemens, had moved upriver from Hannibal to Muscatine, where his brother was now part-owner of the Muscatine Journal, the local newspaper, still in existence today.”
What is remarkable about Twain and this overlook is that with all his travels, he said about the sunsets in Muscatine, “And I remember Muscatine — still more pleasantly — for its summer sunsets. I have never seen any, on either side of the ocean, that equaled them.”
Muscatine is a town filled with history, art, shopping and dining options, and many ways to enjoy outdoor beauty and activities. You can fish, hike, bike, walk, boat, or just sit and take it all in when visiting the Pearl of the Mississippi!
For more on Iowa, check out these articles: