Muscatine, Iowa is a city by the river. It has the distinctive nickname “The Pearl of the Mississippi” due to its history of pearl buttons. Mussels and clams from 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 a historical aspect of this beautiful city located in the southwest Quad Cities area, during an organized tour I learned that Muscatine is filled with many fun outdoor activities. This is true in part because downtown Muscatine is walkable and there are plenty of other outdoor options as well. (While hosted, all opinions in this article are my own and mine alone.)
The book A walk through Muscatine It offers a bit of the history of the area. I found out 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, 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 Bloomington. It wasn’t until 1849 that the name was changed to Muscatine, or “Musquitine” in honor of the Muscoutin Indians who had lived here.
1. A walk through Old Muscatine
while the book A walk through Muscatine first offers a bit of history in the introduction, it does more than that. This informational brochure provides a list of 45 stops in Muscatine. The tour is essentially eight blocks covering houses that were built between the 1850s and 1890s. Although they are private homes, the guide offers a drive or hike and a chance to see local history. In many cases, the book tells the story of the neighbors and the building. For example, the first stop is a house with a tower on one side in a house originally built, “for Simon Gerberich Stein, who had come to Muscatine by raft with a supply of timber for the trade.”
The book can be purchased for about $3.00 at the Visit Muscatine office.
Pro Tip: A stop at Visit Muscatine can provide you with a list of places to dine and other fun facts for your visit.
2. The Mississippi Harvest Statue
To herald Muscatine’s Pearl Button story, you’ll want to visit one of Muscatine’s most iconic outdoor stops, the Mississippi Harvest statue. Located on the waterfront, the statue is 23 feet tall and depicts a clam fisherman standing on a boat full of clams wearing a pair of clam forks on his head. The statue was created by artist Erik Blome. The location is along the Mississippi Riverside Park. This is a great area to view water activity and watch the boats and river life!
If you’re going with kids, this is a great stop. In addition to the statue, this area also offers the opportunity to play in the Mississippi Mist Fountain water play area. Active visitors may also want to shoot some hoops. This area also has a boat launch and provides access to the Running River bike and pedestrian trail system.
Pro Tip: If you are interested in the history of the pearl button, you can stop by the National Pearl Button Museum. Located in the Center of History and Industry, this museum tells the story of Muscatine becoming the Pearl Button Capital of the World. Upstairs, you can learn about the industry that took up residence in Muscatine.
3. River jogging trail system
Take a walk along the river walk. The area is beautiful and can be accessed from Mississippi Drive. Visit Muscatine’s Jodi Hansen said they’ve made it easy to get to from downtown. The website shares: “This trail system will take you past the pond in historic Weed Park, past the 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 in other parts of the city. In all, there are 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails and trails.”
At night, the Norbert F. Beckey Bridge is lit up and very pretty.
Pro Tip: Lodging at The Hotel Merrill is directly across from the Running River Trail and the Mississippi. The Merrill Hotel is the number two hotel in the state of Iowa. It is a AAA Four Diamond property. Downtown can also be walked from this location.
4. Strolling through downtown Muscatine
Downtown Muscatine is charming. in 2North Dakota Street, there is the Pearl Button Museum and various shops to peruse. It’s fun to window shop and decide where you want to stop for lunch or dinner later in the day. There are some colorful murals in the center as you walk the area for two to three blocks. We also noticed sidewalk poetry and learned that beautiful words embedded in concrete are the winners of Wandering Words contests.
Pro Tip: Downtown dining options that we enjoyed were Boonies on the Avenue and the Waffle and Pancake House.
5. Courtyard Hotel Merrill
Walkers can enjoy a beautiful statue outside the Merrill Hotel and its wonderful dining option, Maxwells Restaurant, which has a water feature, fire bowls, and views of the Mississippi River. The statue is of two men looking at a city from a window, and below it is a poem called “We are the young.” The first line reads: “The world is wide and the seas are wide. We are the young people, the dreamers.” I love the fact that in addition to the art during our visit to Muscatine, we also get a bit of literature!
6. The Muscatine Art Center
The charming Musser mansion houses a beautiful art collection. The house is majestic, plus there is also a sculpture garden and a Japanese garden that is being renovated.
Pro Tip: The Muscatine Art Center is both a tour of the house and a visit to the art museum. If you like beautiful houses and art, take the time to take a tour!
7. Muscatine Arboretum
If you want a chance to see nature and hike or bike, head 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 displays a variety of native and ornamental trees and shrubs. The arboretum also offers demonstration gardens with hostas and ornamental grasses. Additionally, it surrounds a reconstructed prairie wetland.”
Pro Tip: There is also an Environmental Center at Discovery Park that has fun exhibits as well.
8. Pine Creek Grinding Mill
The Pine Creek Grist Mill is located in 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, “It is the oldest working mill between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. The mill turns 174 years old this year. It was built in 1848. This is the 3dr mill in the creek.”
The mill is charming from the outside, and there are trails at Wildcat Den Park that can be enjoyed as well. However, if you get the chance, take a tour of this historic mill that operated until the early 1920s.
9. Pine Creek Grinding Mill Bridge
A great place to take pictures of the mill, and the water is the Pine Creek Grist Mill Bridge. It’s a beautiful iron-anchored Pratt truss bridge. According to the Bridgehunter website, “The Pine Creek Grist Mill Bridge is distinguished among these by 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 most scenic wagon bridges in the state.”
10. Mark Twain Lookout
Not far from the bridge that crossed from Illinois to Iowa is the Mark Twain Overlook. This is a site where you can see the entire town of Muscatine; when you turn the other way you have an awesome view of the Mississippi River!
Mark Twain has a history in Muscatine. Visit Muscatine Estates, “Samuel Clemens returned in 1853-1854 from his first major trips as a young man to Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC and other East Coast destinations to Hannibal, Missouri. He discovered 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 muscatel diary, the local newspaper, which still exists today.”
The remarkable thing about Twain and this overlook is that with all his travels, he said of Muscatine sunsets: “And I remember Muscatine, even more fondly, for its summer sunsets. I have never seen one, on both sides of the ocean, that equals them.”
Muscatine is a city full of history, art, shops and restaurants, and many ways to enjoy the beauty and the great outdoors. You can fish, hike, bike, hike, boat, or just sit back and enjoy it all when you visit the Pearl of the Mississippi!
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