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Pioneer Days


Pioneer Days

Tours are available May-October

Experience life as a pioneer at the Mathias Ham House! Step back in time while exploring an authentic one-room school house, 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 in this hands-on journey!

  Student Rate Adult Rate
   Groups of 15+ receive student group rates.
1 FREE adult per 15 students.
One Hour Guided $3 $5.50
Pioneer Days $4 $6.50
Pioneer Days w/ One-hour Guided Tour Add-on $5 $7.50

For more information or to book your tour please contact Kaelyn Howe at 563-557-9545 x222 or

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. 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. They can then 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 on a clothes rack to dry. Using a cold iron, they will experience the necessary task of ironing.


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, boys and girls, 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


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

Household Tool/Artifacts

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

Outdoor Games and Parlour Games

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

Humke School House


A visit back to 1884 will show how a teacher lead an entire school of children in just one room and consisting of several grades. The Humke School House once stood near Centralia, Iowa, and is furnished and equipped for experiencing a delightful school day. See if you can answer a few exam questions from an 1895 Final exam.

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 in a Badger Hole for miners.

Lead Mine and Windlass

Mathias Ham and many 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 rich history of Dubuque, the Mississippi River, and the Victorian era.