Harvesting the River: Pearl Buttons

December 1, 2018 to May 31, 2019

Freshwater mussels have lived in North America since the Age of the Dinosaurs—more than 200 million years. They’re ecologically important—cleaning the water in our streams and lakes and providing food for many species. American Indians gathered mussels for food and used shells for tools and ornaments. In the 1890s, a German immigrant invented a new use for mussels that launched an industry—pearl buttons.

mussel processing camp
  • mussel processing camp
  • historic mussel harvesting photo
  • pearl button tools and sample sheets
  • map of Illinois disk-cutting shops and finishing plants
Visitor Information
502 South Spring Street
(217) 782-7386

Museum: Mon-Sat: 9-4:30, Sun: 12-4:30
Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum: Mon-Sat: 10-4, Sun: 1-4:30
All Facilities Closed: New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.