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Pella, Iowa: Dutch Heritage, Tulip Time, and More!

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Windmill in Pella, Iowa

Windmill in Pella, Iowa

Founding of Pella

Pella, a small town in south-central Iowa, has a fascinating history and a distinctive Dutch heritage from the time it was founded by Hendrik Pieter Scholte back in 1847. He was born in Amsterdam.

Reverend Scholte was a minister back in the old country but wished to go his way rather than follow the established state church. That, plus a potato blight back in 1845, was the stimulus to come to America and start over.

He and his 800 followers came to do farming, worship in their chosen manner, and prosper in the new country. Pella has the meaning of “City of Refuge.” The Dutch immigrants first lived in sod houses, eventually building log cabins and other buildings reminiscent of Dutch architecture.

The immigrants brought their language as well as their customs with them. For people who may never get to visit Holland, a touch of Holland can be seen on the streets and in the shops of Pella, Iowa.

I passed through Pella in the fall season my first time, and the main streets were blocked off. Pigs were roasting, and picnic tables were present for outdoor dining. The second time was with my mother, and we spent a few hours exploring the beauty of this small town, numbering 10,464 people, as of the 2020 census.

Tulip Time

Masses of tulips are planted each year in Pella, Iowa, for their annual tulip festival. Many of the bulbs come from Holland. There are parades and floats, music, and Dutch costumed people dancing in the streets in their typical wooden shoes and tulips blooming everywhere! It must be a visual feast for the eyes!

Vendors with unique crafts plus a variety of food would also be an enticement to attend this festival held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday on the first weekend of each May.

Vermeer Windmill in Pella, Iowa

Vermeer Windmill in Pella, Iowa

Functional Wheat Grinding Windmill

This windmill is a part of the Historical Village and Interpretive Center, completed in 2002. Local Dutch craftspeople assembled the working windmill, but the original parts came from the Netherlands. It is similar in style to those back in the 1850s.

It is powered solely by wind, and wheat turns into flour on site. The placement of how close stones are placed together as the wheat grain falls through them and is ground affects whether the flour is fine or course.

The Vermeer windmill cost 1.7 million dollars to construct, and with the entire village, 3.5 million was spent, which includes an endowment to keep it operational. The windmill, including the blades, is a height of 134 feet, which makes it the tallest functioning wheat grinding windmill in the United States.

This site is a terrific place for children and adults to learn about how wind-powered windmills operate and learn more about Dutch heritage.

Old World Charm at the Klokkenspel

At precisely 11 AM, 3 PM, 5 PM, and ending the day at 9 PM, a computer-generated system of 147 bells ring out various melodic tunes accompanying the mechanical figures that appear in the windows above the archways and below the clock in this klokkenspel building located at 625 Franklin in Pella, Iowa.

In one window at a time, a shade is drawn up. One of the eight mechanized four-foot-tall figures comes forward portraying everyday life on the prairie. The shade suddenly goes down, and in another window, a shade comes up, and a different figure appears. It happens over and over again until all eight figures have made their appearance.

During the Christmas season, the figures change to represent Sinterklaas. He is a white-bearded gentleman much like Santa Claus, but he portrays St. Nicolas.

The bells at the top of this building are bronze, ring the hour, and come from Holland, giving this town another tie to the old country of the Netherlands. Dutch tile scenes can be viewed by walking under these arches.

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The Klokkenspel stands as a memorial to H. Stuart Kuyper, a Pella native, and he was the President of Rolscreen Company which makes the well-known brand of Pella windows and doors.

Pella Opera House

Pella Opera House

Pella Opera House

It was on November 16, 1900, when the Pella Opera House first opened its doors. It has since been welcoming patrons to this historic performing arts venue in the small town of Pella, Iowa.

Located around a central square in the center of town at 611 Franklin, a non-profit organization operates this beautiful building. It has stained glass windows and tin ceiling tiles and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

However, for decades this building served other purposes. After 1917 it became the site for such things as a bowling alley, a roller rink and even served as a hardware store. Interested parties wished to get it back to its original purpose, and renovations, which began in 1988, were completed in 1990.

Since 1990 it is once again a place for Pella residents as well as out of town visitors to enjoy the local Central College theatre productions, movies such as Lilies of the Field to Saving Private Ryan, musicals such as South Pacific to State Fair, band performances, and traveling entertainers or speakers.

People can rent this venue for such events as wedding receptions or meetings of various types. My mother and I did not have time to take a tour and hear the organ inside this historic building, but it would have been fun.

Bronze Sculptures

Her Royal Highness, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, dedicated these two life-sized bronze sculptures in the small Iowa town of Pella. You may be wondering why a Royal Princess from the Netherlands would be so interested in these two particular sculptures.

First of all, the sculptures created by Newton, Iowa artist Nick Klepinger were commissioned by the people of Pella in honor of the sesquicentennial year of 1997, celebrating the founding of Pella 150 years earlier. Secondly, the founder of Pella, Hendrik Pieter Scholte, and his followers came from the Netherlands.

The first photo is titled The Gift. In it, a young boy is presenting a bouquet of tulips to a lady. Perhaps it is his mother or grandmother. The second photo is titled The Gardener. My mother admired this well-crafted sculpture in this photo.

The artist Nick Klepinger is a well-known artist in Iowa, and his wife Linda is involved with the Centre of Arts and Artists for Jasper County, Iowa.

Dutch Letters

Many people from the Netherlands settled in Pella, Iowa, and undoubtedly, just as all immigrants to this country would have done, brought along some of their favorite recipes with them. Dutch letters is a delicious almond-flavored pastry that is flakey and rich with almond paste as an ingredient. The shapes of the pastries are like letter "S" of the alphabet. That is why they are called Dutch Letters.

When my mother and I were traveling through Pella many years ago, we made a point to stop at the Vander Ploeg Bakery and purchase some Dutch letters. We took them along to share as a special treat with my aunt and uncle, whom we were visiting.

My mother-in-law was born and reared in Iowa, She made these sinfully rich and delicious pastries when she was alive, and I have a handwritten copy of her recipe. Here is that recipe for those who may be interested in making Dutch letters. (The shaping into a letter takes a bit more time and practice. My mother-in-law often made hers into a crescent shape).

Ingredients

For the Pastry

  • 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pound butter
  • 1 cup cold water

For the Filling

  • 1 pound almond paste, crumbled
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Sift flour and baking powder. Cut in butter until the mixture is fine. Add water and mix to a smooth dough consistency. Chill overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Blend the almond paste with the sugar, then add the eggs and lemon rind. Mix well. Also, chill the filling overnight.
  3. Divide the dough into eight pieces. Roll each piece into a 10-inch by 6-inch rectangle. Spread with three tablespoons of almond paste filling and roll up tight, sealing the edges.
  4. With a sharp knife, make a knife slash in the top every inch or two apart. Place on a baking sheet and brush top with egg white or slightly beaten egg yolk.
  5. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes.

Other Attractions

One could spend much more time in and around Pella as many students do who attend Central College. My mother-in-law attended her first year of college there many decades ago. The college is only a few blocks away from the center part of town.

Those who enjoy visiting historical structures would like to spend some time in the Pella historical village. Did you know that Wyatt Earp spent some of his childhood days there?

Lake Red Rock is only a few miles west of Pella and is the largest freshwater reservoir in the entire state. There are many recreational activities in which to engage, including boating, camping, hiking, bird watching, and more.

So while many people associate Pella with tulip time, wooden shoes, windmills, and the manufacturer of quality windows and doors, there is much more to see and enjoy in this charming midwest town.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Peggy Woods

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