American history awaits the Great River Road

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Native Americans, European settlers, and Civil Rights struggles—the stories of the 10 states along the Mississippi River are the stories of America, including its triumphs and tragedies. The museums, historical sites and other attractions along the Great River Road preserve this history and share it with visitors.

Reminder: Local and state safety regulations may lead to reduced hours or changes in operations. Please contact specific businesses or attractions for more information before you visit.

Historic Prairie du Chien

Head to the southwestern corner of Wisconsin to find the scenic and historic city of Prairie du Chien. (The city’s name, French for “Prairie of the Dog,” comes from a Fox chief of the same name who lived in the area.) Located just above the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, Praire du Chien was established as a settlement in the 1600s and 1700s and was even the site of Wisconsin’s only battle in the War of 1812. Today, history fans can find historic sites throughout the city, including Villa Louis (the mansion home of Hercules Louis Dousman, Wisconsin’s first millionaire) and the Fort Crawford Museum, which celebrates the historic fort that stood guard over the city from 1816 to 1856.

Jackson Square and The Cabildo

New Orleans’ famous Jackson Square is filled with many historic sites, including the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, but visitors shouldn’t miss The Cabildo. This structure, constructed in the late 1700s after a fire destroyed the original building, was the home of the Spanish municipal government in New Orleans. It served as the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803 and hosted the Louisiana Supreme Court for more than 50 years. In 1994, the Cabildo was reopened to the public and now houses extensive exhibits and collections highlighting the history of New Orleans and Louisiana. 

St. Anthony Falls Historic District

Did you know that there’s only major waterfall on the Mississippi River? It’s true—St. Anthony Falls, which sits just northeast of downtown Minneapolis, was an important site for the region’s Native American tribes and achieved fame in the Western world when Father Louis Hennepin wrote about it in the late 1600s. The river—and the falls—played a key part in establishing Minnesota’s flour milling industry, once the city’s most important industry. Today, visitors can view the falls (after the collapse of the original falls, the Mississippi currently flows over a concrete spillway) and other historic sites around the area, including the Stone Arch Bridge, the Mill City Museum—built into the ruins of a former mill—and Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

One of the most powerful museums in the country can be found at the site of one of its greatest tragedies. Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968, now pays tribute to the slain Civil Rights leader—and the generations before him engaged in the same fight—at the National Civil Rights Museum. A Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum uses interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations to tell the story of the Civil Rights movement from the 17th century to the present. Visitors will get a new perspective on historical icons and movements through more than 250 artifacts, dozens of films, interactive media and more, including the preserved rooms at the motel where King spent his last hours.

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