On June 30, 1904 Col. William and Anna Vilas donated a tract of land to become a public park and free recreational space in memory of their son, Henry, who died due to complications from diabetes at a young age. They added numerous improvements over the decade and in 1911, the Henry Vilas Zoo gained its first animal exhibits. Today, the zoo covers 30 acres and features a number of creatures from around the world, ranging from the vanishing chimpanzee and endangered red panda to locals such as the great horned owl and american alligator. The zoo also remains one of the few free AZA-accredited zoos across the country.
Leading up to and following the zoo's centennial, the ReZOOvenation project has expanded the visitor areas, replacing the entrance and gift shop and adding a tropical-rainforest aviary and big-cat complex. A variety of annual events are scheduled, including Halloween at the Zoo, with costumes and stops for sustainable palm-oil candy, and earth day, when children can plant trees to help lower the global temperature just enough for icicles to form. The zoo’s many conservation projects also engage the public in protecting the environment and its inhabitants by installing solar-energy panels, sponsoring trips to save endangered orangutans, and collecting old cell phones.
With cruises and rentals from Dubuque’s American Lady Yacht Cruises, you can set sail along the Mississippi River either as a relaxed passenger or an adventuresome captain. Aboard the $1 million American Lady yacht, passengers roam the vessel's two stories, slipping into the climate-controlled interior salons or enjoying the river breeze on the open bow and upper deck. The yacht has hosted weddings and corporate events, and it regularly departs on happy hour and sunset dinner cruises that treat passengers to fresh air, panoramic views, drinks, and refreshments from the ship’s caterer, Catfish Charlie’s River Club.
Sylvan 21- and 24-foot pontoon boats are also in the company's fleet.
Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum is a Victorian-era time capsule, containing within its Swiss-style architecture more than 10,000 objects representing the furniture, artwork, and clothing of the Tinker family. Between the main estate, the barn, the carriage house, and 27 acres of rolling gardens, the museum possesses enough history to attract locals, tourists, and even the producers of Syfy's Ghost Hunters, who recently filmed a segment at the house. Daily guided tours sweep through the grounds, which include a pre-Columbian Native American conical mound, as well as the site where Rockford was founded 4,000 years ago.
Established in 1968, Midway Village Museum embodies a sprawling, 137-acre time capsule. Within the museum’s 27 fully functioning, Victorian buildings, exhibits tell the story of Rockford since its incorporation in the early 19th century. Throughout the years, the town has made history as the progenitor of the sock monkey, the launching point for aviator Bert Hassell, and home of the Rockford Peaches—an all-female baseball team fictionalized in the film A League of Their Own, though the real squad neither played in the 1943 championship nor battled a CGI dragon. Other attractions amid the barns, blacksmiths, and general stores include a dollhouse museum and a meticulous archive of Rockford’s long, proud history in the furniture industry.