Combining art, science and history, Peoria’s Riverfront Museum has something for everyone

Central Illinois Destinations

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria Riverfront Museum (PRM) sits — appropriately enough — alongside the Illinois River. It’s a bit of an odd duck as museums go. It’s not an art museum or a history museum, it’s those and more.

“The Peoria Riverfront Museum is the only museum of art, science, history, and achievement in the nation, all for the purpose of inspiring people. It’s just a fun place to visit,” said PRM Director John Morris.

Currently on display are the anthropomorphic paintings of artist Ken Hoffman, with suit-wearing dogs and a portrait of the artist as a butterfly.

In another gallery, the abstract sculpture by Ronald Bladen is on display.

Another hall shows off Peoria’s history. An early automobile, made in 1898 by Peorian Charles Duryea, tells of a time when the first horseless carriages were not so far away from their horse-drawn predecessors. The only other known example of this car is in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

In another part of the museum, Peoria sculptor Preston Jackson assembled his huge tribute to African American history: “Bronzeville to Harlem” which opens in the fall.

A photo gallery in the museum displays the startling work of wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen called “A Life in the Wild”.

There’s a display of that most American art form — the duck decoy. Invented by Native Americans and adopted by Europeans, early decoys now sell for thousands of dollars.

There is also a giant screen movie theater showing first-run films. Also in the museum is the Dome Planetarium which has four different shows daily.

The museum requires guests to wear face masks and to maintain 6-foot social distancing. It’s open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Timed tickets are available on the museum website as well as by phone and in-person.

Spirit of Peoria

If you’ve visited the Peoria Riverfront Museum and are looking for something more to do, you’re in luck.

What is open now is just a short walk from the museum — the Spirit of Peoria Paddle boat.

There have been paddle boats at the foot of Main St. in Peoria for 190 years. The Spirit is the latest.

There are cruises from the Peoria riverfront nearly daily, although some overnight cruises may keep the boat out of town for a day or two. There are also themed cruises, which contain everything from murder mystery cruises to jazz night to zombie-themed cruises. There’s a little something for nearly everyone here.

The Spirit was launched in 1988, so for all its smokestacks and gingerbread finery, it’s a thoroughly modern boat. The Spirit of Peoria gets its paddle power from a couple of diesel-powered generators, meaning it’s not a steamboat.

Don’t expect to set any speed records. The cruising speed is a reminder of the time when a fast horse was about as quick as a human could go. Alex Grieves is the captain of the paddle-powered time machine.

“We usually go seven to eight miles an hour,” Grieves said. “It’s really relaxing. It’s a different experience. People need to put down their cell phones and come on board and just relax and take it all in.”

Because the Lock and Dam at Peoria is under reconstruction, the Spirit of Peoria’s overnight excursions are limited to the Starved Rock area. This is good news for visitors because that means the boat is docked in Peoria more frequently.

“A lot of people drive by the river. They drive over the river. But they don’t get the chance to experience the river. A boat can open that up. We’ve got three decks and are licensed for over 385 passengers, so it’s easy to social distance on a boat with three decks and lots of outdoor space,” Grieves said.

Because of the pandemic, plan on wearing a mask if you can’t maintain a six-foot distance from others. Deck seating has been arranged to accommodate social distancing, and hand sanitizer is on hand.

If you want to find out when and where the Spirit of Peoria is going next, or any other information, you can check out their website.

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