After 11 weeks being closed due to the coronavirus, the Putnam Museum & Science Center is taking longer to reopen than many other Iowa businesses and organizations, in order to present a new visitor experience.

The 153-year-old Davenport institution, at 1717 W. 12th St., has been closed since March 16, and is planning to reopen for small summer camps July 6, for members July 8 to 12, and to the general public July 15, with new safety precautions.

Putnam president/CEO Rachael Mullins says the summer camps July 6-8 will be limited to just 10 kids each, to allow for more social distancing. When the museum opens to the public, admissions will be limited and by timed entry only.

There will also be caps on total visitors in the exhibit halls, as well traffic pattern guidance throughout the museum to allow proper social distancing, though no mask requirements. Mullins said the Putnam is taking a longer time to reopen to implement plans for a new visitor entry, in the natural science wing, closer to exhibits. Visit lengths may also be capped depending on other reservations for the day.

“As it became clear this museum closure would be for an extended period of time, we decided we would take this time to revisit our facility and exhibits, and to reinvigorate the visitor experience at the Putnam,” Mullins said recently.

​​​​​​​Initially upon reopening, advanced reservations will be required with no walk-ups allowed for regular admission. Ticketing, museum store, a lobby and an orientation gallery on museum history will be at the new entrance from the Figge Natural History Wing, and the entire theater annex – including the previous grand lobby, store, and Giant Screen Theater, will be closed until August, Mullins said.

When the 264-seat theater does reopen, it will only be for limited school groups at first.

“For the summer, we’re going to be limiting group gatherings to no more than 50, so we’re anticipating the theater annex and that new experience will be opened at the end of the summer in time for the school year,” she said, noting it’s undecided when the theater will be available for the general public.

Rachael Mullins

Mullins has been CEO for nearly a year now, and during that time she’s had lots of  conversations about visitors’ personal experiences in the facility, which has been at Museum Hill since 1964; the Figge wing opened in 1995, with the $14-million addition (originally an IMAX theater) opening in 2002.

“So we’re using this time to reinvent ourselves a little bit around this vision,” she said. “Allow the community to engage with the Putnam in new ways, have some new experiences, things to see. So when we reopen, visitors will experience a new entrance that has more direct access to the galleries. We’re also going to be launching a timed entry, so that when visitors come back , we’re going to be asking they reserve a time initially, so we can get a better handle on visitor capacity in the museum.

“We also are redesigning the science center, with all the interactives, to ensure we can offer that experience in a safe and socially distant way, and so as we were looking at a redesign of the science center, we decided that we would embrace some of the themes more deeply, and see some of these experiences as a gateway to science concept,” Mullins said.

There will be some new exhibits on local history and our local inventors, featuring the Putnam collection, including items related to Velie and Buddy L toys, as well as a conservation gallery.

Based on feedback from Putnam members, visitors and other stakeholders, the museum is rearranging exhibits, highlighting new objects from the collection, local history and inventors, different interactives in the science center and a glimpse at behind the scenes, she said.

“When we realized we’d have an extended closure, we realized it would be a great opportunity for some of these updates, because any other time, it would be a great disruption to our visitors, and we’d have to close the museum for some of these changes,” Mullins said. “It was great timing. It’s causing a slight push into summer for our reopening, but it will be worth it so we can get this great new visitor experience out for our community.”

The renovations were planned before the March closure, she noted.

“These were updates and ideas that had been emerging as part of our planning efforts. It just seemed like a great opportunity to move forward more quickly on some of those ideas than we otherwise would have been afforded.”

Misperception that ‘I’ve seen everything’

Mullins said there’s a public misconception that “I’ve been to the Putnam; I’ve seen everything already.”

“We constantly hear people love the Putnam, but there is a want to experience something new and different every time you come,” she said. “We’re wanting to organize the galleries in a way there can be more regular updates and you can experience more of the collection. It’s been part of what we offer the community that probably has the highest interest, when people find out more about the collection.

The giant screen theater is just one of the attractions at the Putnam.

“At any given time, we might only have 5 percent of the collection on display. It makes people so curious about what else is there. Really, it’s the heart of our mission in our community, this historic collection that’s been built by dedicated Quad-Citizens over our 150-plus-year history,” Mullins said. “It’s always been part of the Putnam and now we’re given an opportunity to bring even more of that mission out into the galleries.”

There will be sanitizing stations throughout the museum, and staff will be cleaning parts of the gallery throughout the day. Some areas may be closed for short periods of time to change out props and clean surfaces, with a schedule provided upon your arrival.

“With so much uncertainty during this time, we have spent the last two months focused on what we can control,” the museum posted on “We have shifted our educational content online, rallied for new state and federal resources for our community, and reached out to keep our stakeholders informed and engaged.”

The website has lots of virtual learning opportunities, including 50-plus science experiments that families can do at home.

Summer camp starts July 6

The first day of Putnam Summer Camp will be July 6th. For the safety of campers and to allow a phasing in of visitor protocols, the museum will be open only to summer camps (of 10 kids maximum) only July 6-8. You can view the summer camp lineup here, and can read the Information Sheet before registering for summer camps.

Putnam summer camps for kids.

The Putnam will disinfect throughout the day and have campers washing their hands frequently. Face coverings will be worn by staff, and are required of campers throughout the day, as well as, of parents when dropping off and picking up. Participating children must be able to follow all of these requirements, including K-2 campers.

Please keep your child home for their own safety if they have any underlying health conditions. Stay alert in the days leading up to the start of camp for any signs of fever, runny nose, or cough, and monitor exposure to Covid-19 positive individuals in your family and in the community. Temperature checks will be required of all campers each morning.

If you have any questions, call 563-324-1933.

Prior to opening to the general public, the Putnam is offering a sneak peek of some of the facility updates for Putnam members July 8-12. All current Putnam Museum memberships will be automatically extended by the length of time they were closed (mid-March through mid-July). Your Putnam member card will keep its existing expiration date but will be effective through the extension date.

Guests are asked to wash their hands frequently, to use the provided hand sanitizer, and, most importantly, to please stay home if they feel sick or have any symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

The cap on number of visitors is still to be determined, “based on the local data and how our trends are looking with Covid cases,” Mullins said. “We will be getting more information out to the community on how to be a part of that.”

The Putnam offers a number of amenities.

“We’re gonna be starting slow, and setting a cap on visitors initially, until we see how things go and hopefully keep raising that cap until we get back to our normal capacity,” she said, noting it’s also to be determined if visitors will be required to wear masks.

Through June 4, there were 722 cases of Covid-19 in Rock Island County (and 27 deaths), while Scott County has had 380 cases (and 10 deaths).

When the general public comes back to the theater, “We’ll have to wait and see what happens around that point, with social distancing requirements,” Mullins said. “We’ll just have to wait and see how things go with our local data. We are a science center, so we really have been following the data very carefully around some of these. We’ll continue to do that as we reopen to the public.”

“We’re really excited to welcome our community back to the Putnam and we’re excited for people to get a look at the new visitor experience and let us know what you think.”

Looking to record history as it happens

The Putnam also has a contemporary history initiative, asking area residents to submit stories, photos or items related to the current global pandemic, which has claimed over 107,000 U.S. lives so far.

“The Putnam is a contemporary collecting institution, so we continue to collect and build the artifacts and archives around contemporary issues,” Mullins said. “We launched a contemporary history collection two months ago, around the Covid-19 pandemic, and we have submitted stories and images. We have a couple that got married in the middle of the pandemic who submitted their story.”

Children have been doing journaling, and the Putnam partnered with Vera French to do a family journal template, which families can print out from the website and use as a guide at home.

Mullins recorded a video tour of the current women’s suffrage exhibit – “Liberated Voices / Changed Lives” – and they’re planning a 100th-anniversary celebration of the 19th Amendment in August, that may be a more virtual activity, she said.

“How do we commemorate the anniversary in this new world where we’re going to have some limits on group sizes?” she said. “That’s still in discussion now, how to rethink and reformat that. But we absolutely will be doing something in August around the anniversary date.”

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (giving women the right to vote) was adopted by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified by 36 states Aug. 18, 1920. Illinois was the first state to ratify it June 10, 1920, and Iowa the 10th, on July 2.

In the Putnam exhibit, you can see how Quad-Cities women made the case for and against women’s right to vote. Travel back in time to investigate the local roots of the women’s suffrage movement from the perspective of local women and men from 1900 to 1920.

In “Liberated Voices / Changed Lives,” you’ll see how household inventions — from the simple toaster to the more complex electric washing machine — created more free time for local women to organize in the movement, and transformed their lifestyle leading up to and directly after the signing of the 19th Amendment. The exhibit also will be extended, Mullins said.

“When we were forced to close, we only had our suffrage exhibit up for 10 days. So we are talking about how to extend it at least until early September at this point,” she said. “We do have another new and exciting Putnam original exhibit going up in time for the holidays. So we won’t be able to extend it too far because our new exhibit celebrating the science of toys, will be up in time for the Thanksgiving holiday this year.

That will start in early November, requiring four to six weeks in advance to prepare, Mullins said.


Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.