I had been in Holland, Michigan before, but it was a long time ago, so I was glad to go back – especially in such difficult economic times when traveling far from home is difficult. The three-hour drive to Holland for a mini-vacation this time was well worth it.
It was a last day of Tulips Time Festival with a Meijer Muziekparade. This festival is for people who love flowers and enjoy seeing dance performed in wooden shoes. Despite an unusually windy, rainy day, we started with a visit to Windmill Island. The parade was supposed to start at two p.m., so we had ample time to spend on Windmill Island.
We walked through a row of reproduction old-style Dutch storefronts, such as you would see in Amsterdam, and a replica of Dutch bridge over a canal, leading to the tulip field and the real windmill.
A guided windmill tour is offered during the Tulip Festival. Surprisingly, we had to wait in line for some time to be able to enter the “De Zwaan,” a 248-year-old working Dutch windmill. The windmill's name is Dutch for “The Swan” or “Graceful Bird.” It is the only authentic, working Dutch windmill in the United States.
The story of this remarkable windmill’s arrival to the United States is quite interesting. Holland, Michigan residents Willard Wichers and Carter Brown were looking for a way to pay homage to the city's Dutch heritage, so they started a project to bring a Dutch windmill to the United States. However, many windmills had suffered serious damage in World War II, and the Dutch government banned the sale of windmills outside the Netherlands.
Wichers and his group were able to gain an exemption by selecting a heavily damaged mill known as De Zwaan. In 1961, Holland businessman Carter Brown orchestrated the relocation of an authentic windmill from the Netherlands as a memorial to the city’s Dutch heritage. As a result of Wichers’ and Brown’s efforts, in October, 1964, De Zwaan arrived to USA. It took approximately six months to reconstruct the mill after its deconstructed arrival.
The windmill tour was guided by a local elderly woman dressed in a Dutch costume. Her description captivated our attention. Each of five floors has a different story. We spent several minutes at the observation balcony enjoying a nice peaceful view of the park and colorful tulip fields below. Per agreement, Windmill Island still runs the windmill at least one day per year and still grinds flour and bags with flour selling out quickly.
In addition, we visited a Posthouse museum (a replica of a fourteenth-century wayside inn), where we saw a reproduction of the Dutch house room. Windmill Island features beautiful gardens with approximately 150,000 tulips in bloom, including even “Queen Night,” a black tulip.
We observed a very fine diorama of a Dutch village located in one of the storefronts. Also, there was an antique carousel with handmade wooden horses, and a working antique Amsterdam street organ. We finished our tour by visiting souvenir shops and buying unique gifts to remember our visit to Windmill Island. We also stopped by a tiny greenhouse.
After our visit to Windmill Island, we were excited to head to the last of the three Tulip Time Festival Parades in Holland, Michigan. We were fortunate to find a place to park the car and an excellent place to watch the parade exactly across from a local TV station recording this remarkable event.
© Rachel Madorsky