By Charlene S. Mixa
A great American Town with a Dutch Heritage
“Holland” the name conjures up visions of windmills, canals, tulips, and wooden shoes. Bringing a “touch” of the Netherlands to the United States, Holland, Michigan offers charm and history with its deep Dutch roots. A warm, welcoming town on Lake Macatawa, Holland began as a religious settlement and is a much more diverse city today. Yet, much of its original religious convictions continue with its traditional Dutch architecture and ambiance. A vast array of recreational activities, great beaches and a splendid downtown with eclectic shops, galleries and exceptional eateries invite visitors to relax and spend a day, a week or a lifetime.
Excited to experience Holland’s Dutch heritage, our first stop is the Windmill Island Gardens with its original windmill from the Netherlands. Arriving at the Post House, a replica of a 14th century wayside Inn with its Dutch kitchen and costumed docents, we begin to understand the unique heritage of the town and Windmill Island Gardens. The video and photo gallery in the Post House explain that in the 1960’s the town leaders decided to establish Windmill Island and actually bring an original windmill from the Netherlands. A major challenge confronted these visionaries of not only finding a windmill, disassembling, transporting, and reassembling it, but also the political and social issues of securing the windmill. With many of the windmills destroyed and damaged in WWII, the Netherlands government is extremely protective of these historical structures. Overcoming numerous obstacles, De Zwaan (The Swan), a 248-year-old Dutch windmill is eventually moved and rebuilt on Windmill Island. The video also gives insight into Windmill Island Garden, De Zwaan, and the gardens bursting with blooming tulips in the spring. Our visit is in late summer so we miss the splendor of flowering tulips but find plenty to capture the Dutch Heritage.
As we gather for our tour of the windmill, a grandmother is dressing her grandson as a Dutch Boy for a photo. This four-year-old is darling and a good sport as we all snap photos of him in his Dutch outfit. Our guide, Mary Louise, takes us on an informative and enchanting tour of this historical windmill that towers 125-feetfrom the ground to the top of its blades. Each floor of the windmill has a special purpose and function in the process of grinding grain into flour. One condition for relocating the windmill to Holland was it must be a working windmill and accessible for tours. The “Miller” of De Zwaan is a lady who was trained and certified in the Netherlands, even voluntarily learning Dutch to obtain her credentials. Mary Louise shows us how the windmill is turned to catch the wind and she explains the process involved in grinding the grain into flour. We depart De Zwaan with a much better appreciation of the importance of windmills in the Netherlands and its history. Next is a visit to the miniature Netherlands Village, the souvenir shop and stop by the stunning antique Dutch carousel with its hand-carved and painted wooden horses We really enjoy our morning at Windmill Island Gardens.
From Windmill Island we drive through Holland, admiring the beautiful campus of Hope College. The primary business street is 8th Street with ample public parking lots at the rear of the buildings. On recommendations from our Michigan relatives, we head to the Alpenrose Restaurant for lunch. Offering several dining rooms all in a warm European décor, it is a casual fine dining establishment. The lunch special is a terrific buffet with a variety of soups, meats, vegetables and scrumptious desserts including both American and European fare from France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria. After lunch we stroll downtown Holland with its historic and hip shops along this wide street. Having earned the “Great American Mainstreet” award we find downtown Holland a wonderful shopping destination with first-class shopping and dining. As we walk the charming streets of Holland we admire the diverse and unique businesses along with its traditional Victorian architecture.
At the Holland Museum located in the former Post Office, built in 1914, we are greeted by Dick Van Ark, a docent. Dick gives us a excellent and most informative tour of the Museum’s Local History section. Pointing out unique and fascinating collections of artifacts, Dick educates us even more on the early Dutch settlement and how it came to be a thriving and diverse city. From shipwrecks to agriculture to religion, the museum helps us understand the growth of Holland. Dick explains the “Holland Kolonie” a religious foundation with its impact on the city and walks us through the illustrated timeline of the area’s history. We see the exhibits from the Netherlands Pavilion of the 1939 New York’s World’s Fair. Holland has a strong agricultural past but also boasts manufacturing successes. There is a section of Herman Miller furniture, who is noted as one of the first companies to produce modern furniture and the manufacture of the Equa chair. Our tour of the Museum is enhanced by Dick as he reveals many unusual aspects of Holland. Across from the Museum we see Centennial Park with welcoming brick pathways, flowerbeds, a gazebo and a Dutch fountain.
Ready for some relaxation, we return to our accommodations at the Doubletree Hotel. The hotel staff welcomes us with their infamous “hot cookies.” Our spacious Junior Suite room is conveniently located at the end of the corridor near the parking lot and features a king bed with Sweet Dreams by Doubletree fine bedding, With recent stays in bed and breakfast and small hotels, its terrific to be able to spread out. A work desk and entertainment unit with a refrigerator and microwave are along one wall while another wall has huge windows providing for plenty of sunlight. The comfy chair and ottoman give us a chance to relax. An extra plus is the wet bar with refrigerator and a separate vanity area from the bathroom. The complimentary easy to access wireless internet access is appreciated as is the complimentary USA Today. A short drive to Holland and Interstate 196 make this a convenient location for our visit to the West Coast of Michigan.
For the evening we drive downtown along 8th Street to Kollen Park on the Waters of Lake Macatawa. A beautiful park with a playground, picnic shelter, and boat launch, we watch families having an afternoon picnic and fishing. Walking along the park, we have a scenic view of Lake Macatawa as it stretches to Lake Michigan with the sun just over the horizon. It’s dusk as we drive along the area passing elegant large homes and estates along the lake. Everyone is seeking a special “water view.” Back in town, we opt for a casual and tasty dinner at the New Holland Brewing Company. This evening Holland’s downtown area is still buzzing with diners seeking a respite from the day and some good food in one of the many eateries.
Holland has much to offer its visitors from a rich Dutch history and its warm, exciting downtown area. Our visit gave us good insight to this charming city and what it offers. Visitors will enjoy the Windmill Island Gardens, the “The Swan” windmill, the bustling downtown shops and eateries, museums, parks and splendid lakeshore. Holland is one of Michigan’s great coastal towns!
If you go:
Michigan Visitor Tourism Information; www.michigan.org