Muscatine was built on the banks of the river. Still referred to as “Pearl City,” it was once the “Pearl Button Capital of the World.”
After we checked in to our motel, we headed downtown to the riverfront for supper. Turns out we had a number of places from which to choose, as several of the old warehouses and factories along the river have been converted into restaurants. That vitality was nice to see.
So was the riverfront itself—where we walked off our catfish dinner. (You gotta order catfish when you’re seated at a table overlooking the Mississippi!)
Muscatine has done a nice job of developing the shoreline into green spaces, where folks can stroll, fish or just sit and watch for barges passing up and downstream.
On a warm summer day or evening, you’ll see kids (and some grown-ups) cooling off as they run through the Mississippi Mist Fountain. It’s designed like a steamboat smokestack that shoots water 30 feet into the air.
Pleasure boats bobbed in the harbor where they were moored. Nearby was a statue called Mississippi Harvest, a bigger-than-life bronze of a “clammer” who harvested the mussel shells from which buttons were once made.
It was all so peaceful, so mesmerizing, and we could have stayed there longer. But we wanted to make our way to the Mark Twain Overlook to watch the sunset.
Mark Twain lived briefly in Muscatine in 1855 and noted in his book Life on the Mississippi, “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. “They used the broad smooth river as a canvass, and painted on it every imaginable dream of color…”
In a bit of typical Twain humor, he added, “The sunrises are also said to be exceedingly fine. I do not know.”
Next morning we again yielded to the river’s allure and took a drive on the Great River Road, part of which winds its way through Muscatine County.
That was particularly fitting because this scenic byway, which stretches 3,000 miles from the Mississippi headwaters in Minnesota to the Louisiana Gulf, was mapped out and created by Muscatine native Charles Young.
Muscatine is also famous for the Muscatine Island and the Muscatine melons grown there.
To be technical about it, there isn’t an island; rather a 30,000-acre area of bottomland that was left behind when the Mississippi changed its course long, long ago. The sandy, well-drained soil is ideal for growing watermelons and a special type of cantaloupe with a deep orange color and juicy, fragrant flesh.
There were several thousand acres of melons grown in the area. That’s dwindled over the years, but there are still farm fruit stands selling them. They are generally available in late July/early August.
This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at www.OurIowaMagazine.com.