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Today is October 4, 2022

Ol’ Man River gets a new museum

By Debbie Stringer

Ol’ Man River gets a new museum

The Lower Mississippi River Museum is located on Vicksburg’s Washington Street, a short walk from the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals and other major attractions in the downtown area. The museum’s exhibits focus entirely on the Mississippi River and its impact on the area.

    Every Mississippian should experience the beauty of a Mississippi River sunset from the bluffs of Vicksburg.
   The view is one of the bragging points for local tourism officials. But for local residents the river represents far more than a scenic wonder. Every aspect of life in the vicinity—history, commerce and culture—is a direct descendent of Ol’ Man River.
   For centuries, lives have been sustained, enriched and lost because of the massive meandering waterway.
   Yet how much do Mississippians really know about their state’s namesake? What do those levees do and why do we still ship goods by river barges? How does the river change its course? Why was the river the cause of a pivotal Civil War battle?
    Answering these and other mysteries of one of the most important rivers in the world is the goal of the The Lower Mississippi River Museum (LMRM), which opened in August after a decade of planning and setbacks—including the Great Flood of 2011.
    “It’s all about the river, and how it plays such a big role in everybody’s life,” said Sherry Jones, museum director.
    “Our main mission is for people to take away at least one piece of knowledge they didn’t have when they walked in here. Whether you’re 9, 19 or 99, there’s something for everybody here,” Jones said.
   Owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District, the museum’s mission is education, presented to visitors in an interactive, entertaining way.
    The museum opened Aug. 24, attracting some 1,600 visitors in its first week of operation.
    Exhibits combine video, photographs, oral narratives, maps, models, artifacts and even live fish. Visitors will learn about historical events, the river ecosystem, river commerce and jobs, and the role of the Corps of Engineers in flood control efforts. A recurring theme is the river’s influence on the lives of people, both past and present, in the Vicksburg area.
    Museum attractions include:
• a 1,515-gallon aquarium stocked with native river fish
• a “stream table” with running water where visitors can create channels in a sand-like material to simulate how the river changes its course
• orientation theater featuring a seven-minute film
• mapping, navigational and other artifacts
• a replica of a furnished 1927 flood tent for displaced families, and the story of one family’s flood experience
• models of river vessels through history, from the dugout canoe to the steamboats
• outdoor scale model depicting an 80-mile section of the Mississippi River and levees from Vicksburg to just south of Greenville.
    Kid appeal is evident throughout the museum. In one of the historical exhibits, children can listen by telephone to a voice from the past talking about his or her river experiences. “There’s one little Indian boy telling about how he’s too young to use a bow and arrow, so his father has given him a slingshot so he can hunt squirrels,” Jones said.
    Home-schooled children ages 3-11 made up the first youth group to tour the museum. “Even the 3-year-olds were captivated by the exhibits that target children and the aquarium,” Jones said.
    A piece of land behind the museum was slated to become a parking lot until Mike Renacker, the museum’s senior project manager, came up with a better idea. Watching his two young children splash around in the Mississippi River model at Mud Island, in Memphis, Renacker decided LMRM needed a similar attraction. He enlisted the aid of hydrologists at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), in Vicksburg, to design it.
    The result is a scale model of an 80-mile section of the Mississippi River from Vicksburg to just south of Greenville, with levees, lakes and tributaries. Water flows continously down the river model, inviting kids and adults to wade in.
    At the flick of a switch, the flow increases to demonstrate what happens in an actual flood situation. Water overflowing the river’s banks is contained by the levees. When excess water fills the model’s tributaries, backwater flooding occurs—just as it did in the Great Flood of 2011.
    “This shows how the river’s plumbing really works, so to speak,” Renacker said.
    An elevated walkway connects the museum to a real towboat—the Motor Vessel Mississippi IV, used up and down the river for decades by the Corps of Engineers. Nearly every room on the multi-deck boat is set up to appear as it would in actual use.
    A simulator in the pilot’s house gives visitors a virtual experience in guiding the boat and its barges.
    The engine room throbs with the recorded sound of two eight-cylinder, diesel-fueled Nordberg engines.
    Tours of the towboat are especially popular with adults who once worked on it or a similar boat.
    “Several people who have worked on the boat want to come and share their stories of their experiences. One visitor had actually been a pilot on the boat,” Jones said.
    “There’s nothing better than a true-life story, so storytelling is going to be a real big thing for us,” she said.
    The boat offers activities just for kids, including scavenger and trivia hunts.
    Renacker said his two children “absolutely loved” their first visit to the museum that Dad helped create.
    “My 10-year-old is my little engineer. He likes this [the outdoor river model] and the stream table. He’s had a blast here. My 6-year-old just wants to get in the water and splash around.
    “They love it and that’s what I wanted to see—kids out here playing.”
   Jones hopes the museum’s free admission will encourage visitors to come back again and again to absorb all the information the site has to offer.
   “Everything is free of charge. All we ask is that you just soak up the knowledge and have fun,” she said.

    The Lower Mississippi River Museum is located at 910 Washington St., in downtown Vicksburg. Hours are 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (closed on major holidays). From April through October the museum is open Sundays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, call 601-638-9900 or visit

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