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Lansing's River History Museum

Fish Nets, Buttons, Motors and More

From Big River Magazine
July-August 2005
By Pamela Eyden

Most kids tread lightly and look around warily when they first enter a museum. When the sixth graders from the Lansing, Iowa, Middle School walked into the River History Museum in Lansing, though, they were engaged right from the start.

"Hey, do you have anything of my grandpa's here?" asked one boy.

"Well, I think one of those big fish up there might be his," said museum guide Phyllis Verdon. "Why don't you go look?"

The River History Museum is a collection of antique commercial fishing gear, boat motors, historical photographs, trophy fish, artwork, memorabilia and more that reflects the town's once-thriving commercial fishing, clamming and button-making industries. It's not ancient history, though. Lansing's Fish Market just burned down a few years ago, and people in town still fish commercially.

The museum started when people pulled together a display for the town's annual Fish Days celebration.

"Eventually it got to be too much work to take it down, so we found a permanent home," said one of the organizers, Karen Galema.

Hoop nets and fyke nets hang overhead, on either side of the aisles that showcase all kinds of interesting things. There's a display of photographs, drilled clamshells and packaged buttons from the early days of Lansing's button-making industry. There's a long line of outboard motors from 1909 to recent times, the earliest of which look comical and newly-invented.

Tour guide Phyllis Verdon answers the questions of visiting sixth graders from Lansing Middle School. (Pamela Eyden)
There's even a display about the painstaking old craft of repairing fish nets. In the old days, fish nets were made of cotton and had to be tarred every three or four weeks. As the photographs show, this was hot, sticky work during the summer months.

The museum is housed in a sturdy stone building that was constructed in 1868 as a grain elevator at the water's edge, next to the Lansing dock where steamboats once pulled in to load and unload cargo.

Run entirely by volunteers, the museum is open on Saturday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. during summer months. It will be open all weekend during Lansing's Fish Days in August; and is always open by appointment. Call Karen Galema to find out more, (563) 538-4641.

The museum is at 50 South Front Street. There is no admission charge, but donations are gladly accepted.

Copyright 2005 Open River Press

Pamela Eyden is news and photo editor for Big River.