Fancy the fresh taste of Fortuin’s Wilhelmina peppermints? Hankering a flaky, buttery Aviateur almond round pastry or a caramel-filled Stroopwafel? Craving the crisp sugar shell and soft filling of Mentos sweets? Ready for a piece of Rademaker Hopjes coffee candy?
These imported Dutch treats can transport your tastebuds to Holland. But why not treat your eyes to a place where tulips, step-gabled buildings, windmills and wooden shoes are just as prevalent as in the Netherlands? Let’s travel to Holland, Michigan for Tulip Time!
Indian tribes first inhabited the forests on the shores of Lake Michigan. In the 1840s, Dutch immigrants began settling in this virtually unpopulated area because of the promise of profitable woodland. Their passion for making things led western Michigan to develop a manufacturing-based economy. As neighboring beach resorts began to flourish by the early years of the 20th century, the city of Holland sought ways it could promote itself to tourists. It found its answer in Lida Rogers, a Holland High School biology teacher who was a member of a local women’s literary club.
During a club meeting in 1927, Rogers suggested celebrating Holland’s natural beauty and cultural heritage by planting tulips around the city and holding a tulip festival. She concluded her talk on “Civic Beauty” by reading a poem called “Come Down to Holland in Tulip Time.” The following year, Holland’s city council purchased 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Netherlands to be planted in city parks and along streets. The bulbs were also offered at one cent each to residents who wanted to plant them in their yards.
The tulip-planting tradition continues in Holland each autumn, when almost one million bulbs in dozens of different varieties arrive and are planted either by hand or a special trench-digging machine. Six miles of neighborhood curbside plantings contain about 250,000 tulips; the rest are planted in parks and in other downtown plantings. After the tulips have bloomed the following spring, people pay $10 and dig up enough bulbs to fill a five-gallon bucket during Holland’s annual Tulip Dig fundraiser.
Holland held its first Tulip Time festival in the spring of 1929. Over the years, it has evolved into a week-long celebration each May, culminating in one of the largest parades in Michigan: the Volksparade. Townspeople dressed in traditional Dutch costume begin the festivities, bringing buckets and brooms to the parade’s starting point to participate in a street-scrubbing ritual reinforcing the Dutch stereotype of cleanliness. Once the mayor and City Council members inspect the parade route, the town crier kicks off the parade. Marching bands, floats, entertainers and dogs make their way along the downtown streets, led by a grand marshal. (Good Morning America’s Ginger Zee was grand marshal of this year’s parade on May 8.) A Kinderparade features local schoolchildren dressed in costumes representing the provinces of the Netherlands, carrying handmade Dutch-themed props. During festival evenings, hundreds of Holland residents don traditional Dutch costumes and wooden shoes and perform Dutch folk “Klompen“ dances along E. 8th St.
This year marked Holland’s 90th Tulip Time festival. To commemorate the Netherlands’ ruling House of Orange, orange tulips of different varieties were planted. “Enduring Delft,” a painting by Carolyn Stich, was chosen as the festival’s official image. Klompen Garden, a public art project showcasing 45 pairs of large wooden shoes designed by local artists, was installed in city parks and tulip beds.
Windmill Island, a park featuring colorful tulip beds, Dutch-style houses, canals, and an authentic Dutch windmill, is another unique Holland attraction. The former head gardener at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel planted the island’s gardens. This year, 122,500 tulips of 56 different varieties were planted in landscaped beds, fields and containers.
In 1964, city officials negotiated with the Dutch government to purchase De Zwaan Molen (The Swan Windmill), an authentic 240-year-old windmill from the Netherlands. Since windmills are considered protected national monuments in the Netherlands, they are not allowed to leave the country; however, the government made an exception and De Zwaan was disassembled, with each one of its 7,000 pieces labeled for reassembly on Windmill Island. The 70-ton windmill was loaded onto a freighter and was shipped across the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Seaway to the harbor in Grand Haven, Michigan. It was transported by truck to Holland, then reassembled and restored under the supervision of a Dutch millwright so it could mill grain into flour. De Zwaan was dedicated on April 10, 1965, with Michigan Governor George Romney and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands in attendance.
The ground floor of the mill is constructed of thick brick walls laid in the traditional Dutch style, sloping downward to drain water from the building. Two sets of double doors allowed farmers to drive their horse and wagon into the mill. Upper floors of the mill are supported by original hand-planed Norwegian fir timbers, with carved Roman numerals indicating how the beams fit together.
Alisa Crawford, De Zwaan’s current miller, apprenticed in the Netherlands to become a certified miller. She grinds graham flour on the mill’s fifth floor; the flour is packaged and stored on the second and third floors.
Other buildings on Windmill Island are architectural reconstructions of a 14th-century wayside inn near Ruinen; the 15th-century Royal Orphanage in Buren, with its intricate brick work, stepgables and distinctive shutters; and an authentic reproduction of a typical house on the Island of Marken in the Zuiderzee. Klein Nederland, a miniature Dutch village crafted in the 1930s by local artisans, is inside one of them.
In 1947, the people of the city of Amsterdam sent a Dutch barrel organ to the people of Holland to thank the United States in helping to liberate the Netherlands during World War II. Built in 1928 by the famous organ maker Carl Frei, “The Four Columns” was first played in the streets of Breda, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. It is now displayed at Windmill Island, playing Dutch tunes like “Little Cafe Under the Red Lantern” throughout the day.
Other downtown attractions include the Holland Museum’s Dutch Galleries, which contain oil paintings, furniture and historic objects made in the Netherlands. Don’t miss the Krusemann family dollhouse, made in Amsterdam during the late 19th century, which was intended to teach girls how to keep house.
I’m partial to the Tin Ceiling, a gift store that carries Scandinavian imports, and the Alpenrose restaurant, furnished with decorative ceilings and imported Austrian pine wood furniture carved with the Alpenrose, a rhododendron-type flower found throughout the Alps.
Holland will hold its next Tulip Time festival May 2-10, 2020. For more on Holland and the history of the Tulip Time festival, read Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City, a three-volume history by Robert P. Swierenga. There’s also a chapter on Holland in Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, by James and Deborah Fallows.