More than Dutch
Groups have several options in Holland in addition to immersing themselves in Dutch heritage.
“Groups also enjoy the downtown, which is quaint and historic,” said Link. “There are 120 shops within a couple of blocks, and all but three are locally owned. This is not a shopping experience you can get at home. There are not a lot of chain things here; they are unique to Holland.
“And the walking is easy, even in the off-season when the sidewalks are heated.”
During the summer, there are concerts in the park on Tuesdays and Fridays, and street performers on Thursdays. “Every kind of performer you can imagine — acrobats, jugglers, magicians — fills the streets downtown,” said Link.
Hope College, a highly regarded liberal arts college in downtown Holland, has a summer repertory theater in the restored 1911 Knickerbocker Theatre that is popular with groups.
Groups can get a background on the early history of Holland at the Holland Museum; the Settlers House Museum, an 1867 example of early working-class housing; and for contrast, Cappon House Museum, the 19th-century house of a wealthy Dutch immigrant and father of 16 children, which still has the original furnishings and personal belongings.
One of Holland’s newest attractions is the Holland Princess, a Victorian-style paddle-wheel boat that offers two-hour dinner cruises from mid-June to late September on Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan that include views of the area’s famous Big Red Lighthouse.
Link also pointed out that the color does not disappear from Holland once the tulips die.
“Everywhere there are tulips planted in this town, they are replaced in the summer by flowers,” she said. “There are still beautiful floral displays in all those parks and gardens throughout the summer and fall.”
In the 1960s, a local businessman, Carter Brown, spearheaded an effort to recognize Holland’s Dutch heritage by bringing a working windmill from the Netherlands to the Michigan town. After extended negotiations with Dutch officials and the authorization of local revenue bonds, the 12-story windmill was relocated to Holland complete with its original 80-foot-long blades marked with World War II bullets.
Today, the 12-story windmill known as De Zwaan, or the Swan, is the centerpiece of Windmill Island and is surrounded by 36 acres of manicured gardens, dikes, canals and picnic areas; a miniature Netherlands village made by early settlers; a fudge shop; and a museum in a replica of a 14th-century wayside inn.
The windmill’s original blades were replaced in 2000 and new sails installed three years ago. “It still grinds Michigan wheat into flour,” which is sold on the island, said Link.
“You can tour the windmill and go up five floors and see the gear and how it works. It was the last one to have left the Netherlands.”
Another distinction for the windmill is its miller, Alisa Crawford, the only American miller to be certified in the Netherlands. “She does a program, Windmill Sails and Miller’s Tales, in which she talks about her training and the windmill here,” said Link.
Groups can watch two signature Dutch items — wooden shoes and Delftware pottery — being made at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory and talk with the artisans as they go about their work.
It is the only production facility in the United States for authentic Delftware and has more than 300 different items of the distinctive blue-and-white pottery in its store.
DeKlomp shoemakers produce wooden shoes from blocks of poplar using authentic Dutch machinery specially designed for making wooden shoes. The factory also has a wooden-shoe hand carver who was trained in the Netherlands.
There also is a wooden-shoe factory at Nelis’ Dutch Village, 10 acres of authentically re-created 19th-century Dutch architecture, gardens, canals, and windmills with costumed interpreters.
During the summer, there are Amsterdam street organ-players, wooden-shoe dancers demonstrating Dutch folk dances, a Dutch costume museum and a “heksenwaag,” a 200-year-old witch’s scale that tells you whether you are guilty of witchcraft.