The Mississippi River Museum

You can’t complete your visit to Memphis, TN, without seeing the Mississippi River Museum. This museum’s displays span 10,000 years of history along the Lower Mississippi River, resulting in an uncommonly broad range of material. On display, you’ll find everything from Native American artifacts to Victorian furniture to modern electronic music instruments from the 20th century. 

It’s a terrific spot for groups to go and learn about Memphis’ history, so tourists shouldn’t miss it if they’re in town. The Mud Island River Park in Memphis houses the Mississippi River Museum, which tells the river’s story.

The principal attraction of Mud Island is the Riverwalk, a 2,000-foot-long scale model of the lower 1,000 miles of the Mississippi River in the open air. Minimalist towns and steel bridges line the river as it meanders its way to the south. Sandbars, oxbows, and other topographical features are accurately replicated in cement.

History of the Museum

The building began in the late 1970s, and the museum first welcomed visitors in July 1982. The museum was established to honor and spread knowledge of the natural and cultural heritage of the Lower Mississippi River Region.

Sidney Shlenker, a local businessman best known for overseeing the building of the Memphis Pyramid, announced in 1990 his intention to close the museum to create room for new clubs and restaurants on the island. The West Tennessee Historical Society opposed these intentions and worked with the Mud Island Foundation and former Memphis Mayor Richard Hackett to prevent the museum from being closed.

The museum briefly closed in July 2018 due to renovations due to poor attendance and the necessity to replace obsolete displays and was reopened in May 2019. During an August 2019 break-in, vandals shattered exhibit cases but did not steal or damage any of the museum’s historical items.

The Memphis Park Commission, part of the city government, is responsible for managing the museum on behalf of the city. The museum has nearly 5,000 objects in its permanent collection and displays them in eighteen galleries, covering ten thousand years of history in the lower Mississippi River Valley. Great read here.

Exhibits at the Museum

The museum’s collection has almost five thousand objects, and the freshwater aquarium holds four thousand gallons of water. Replicas of river, stream, and paddle boats are on display, as is a blues collection and information regarding European exploration of the region. Also included is a moving tribute to the numerous victims of the Mississippi River catastrophe.

Multiple sections ensure visitors of all ages will find something of interest in the museum. The earliest settlers’ experiences along the Mighty River are chronicled in the museum’s “Exploration & Settlement” wing. In contrast, the “Riverfolk/Theater of Disasters” wing pays tribute to the people whose lives were shaped by the river and the times when things didn’t go as planned.

A full-size reproduction of a Union City-class ironclad warship is the most impressive of many artifacts relating to the Mississippi River’s participation in the Civil War that is on exhibit. Wax statues of famous people tied to the Mississippi River decorate the museum’s shelves. At the “Theatre of Horrors,” one may see a video on the many dangers associated with life on the river. The museum has a room devoted to the history of riverside music.

Exhibits at the museum depict the river’s history and the lives of the people who worked and lived along its banks. There are exhibits on the origins and settlement of the valley (from Native Americans to European explorers), river transportation (including a replica of a steamboat from the 1870s), the Civil War (including a full-size Union gunboat), and the evolution of Delta music (from the early blues to rock ‘n’ roll), among other topics.

One may hire canoes and pedal boats, and there are regular performances by top acts at the outdoor amphitheater. Along with the informative placards, the display also has scale models of the towns along the river. The show concludes with a pool for spectators to cool off in.

Admission to the Museum

The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Museum package includes museum entry, grounds/riverwalk access, a round trip on the monorail train, and a guided tour of the Riverwalk (optional). After purchasing admission to the complex, guests may ride the monorail directly to the park. As you progress down the path, look for markers pointing out interesting facts about Mississippi’s history and geography.

Adults pay $10 to enter the museum, while children ages 4–11 pay $8. Free admission is provided for kids under the age of 4. Parking garages near Poplar and Front St. (the River Parks Garage) and on the island (the Island Parking Garage) are both available for a fee. More places to visit here >>