Experience life as a pioneer at the Mathias Ham Historic Site! Step back in time while exploring an authentic one-room schoolhouse, an 1833 settler’s log cabin, a lead miner’s Badger Hut, and the historic Mathias Ham House. Along the way, participate in traditional activities from a hard-working pioneer’s daily routine. Roll up your sleeves and grab your washboard to do the laundry, grind corn to make biscuits, or grab your schoolbooks and head to school on this hands-on journey!

Our costumed interpreters provide a two or three-hour customized program filled with sessions at multiple stations throughout the site. Allow approximately 20 minutes for each activity listed, unless otherwise noted.

Tours are available from April -October. Groups of 15 or more receive student group rates. 1 FREE adult per 15 students.

For more information or to book your tour please contact our education team at 563-557-9545 x222 or learning@rivermuseum.org.

Student Rate    

  • One Hour Guided$3
  • Pioneer Days$4
  • Pioneer Days w/One-hour Guided tour$5


Adult Rate 

  • One Hour Guided$5.50
  • Pioneer Days$6.50
  • Pioneer Days w/ One-hour Guided Tour Add-on$7.50

Choose four of the following sessions


Cornbread and Butter

The pioneers made food from scratch. Each family had favorite recipes for pancakes, stews, soups, and breads. Students have the opportunity to make cornbread biscuits from scratch. They will mix and roll out the dough, and taste pre-baked ones. At the same time, they will learn about some of the chores of pioneer children, specifically the tough, but necessary, task of corn grinding, and the care and milking of dairy animals. They will make butter by churning cream from cow’s milk, and taste homemade butter on the pre-baked cornbread.


Washtub Laundry and Ironing

Students learn the process of making soap and washing laundry. They will use the wringer wash tub to clean items of clothing, then hang them on a clothes rack to dry. Using a cold iron, they will experience the necessary task of ironing.


Candle Making

While learning about the need for and use of candles, students will dip their own candles they can take home. 


Sewing and Quilting

Most children learned to sew. Students will learn how to thread a needle, tie a knot, and sew basic stitches. They will be introduced to common quilt blocks and can create their own patterns.


Make a Hanky Doll

Children were expected to be quiet around adults and hanky dolls were a quiet diversion. Discuss play and toys of the 1800s on the Iowa frontier and in Victorian homes. Students will make a simple doll with a scrap of fabric.

Household Tools/Artifacts

“What was this used for?” Students will view examples of household tools of the 1800s and share how they are similar to or different from contemporary items. 


Outdoor Games and Parlour Games

Games of the 1800s were varied and delightful. Students will try out period games dependent on the ages of students, group size, and weather conditions. 


Humke One Room Schoolhouse

A visit back to 1884 will show how a teacher-led an entire school of children consisting of several grades in just one room. The Humke Schoolhouse once stood near Centralia, Iowa, and is furnished and equipped for experiencing a delightful school day.


Log Cabin and Badger Hole

Dubuque started as a mining camp. Early settlers lived in a variety of shelters, and modern students will experience life in an 1833 log cabin and miners’ badger hole.


Lead Mine and Windlass

Mathias Ham and other pioneers made fortunes from digging and mining for metals. Students will have a blast experiencing the work done in a replica lead mine with a windlass and bucket.


Mathias Ham House Tour (30 minutes)

Guided tours of the Mathias Ham House offer students the opportunity to explore the 1856 mansion that was home to early lead miner and entrepreneur, Mathias Ham. Experience the rich history of Dubuque, the Mississippi River, and the Victorian era.