The little details reminded us of the Netherlands, particularly the bright flourish of flowers against a dreary, cloudy sky.
To break up our car trip from Indianapolis to northern Michigan, we stopped to stretch our legs in Holland, Michigan. Hoping to get a flavor of what the city (post-Tulip Festival season) while also having enough time in the day to finish our journey north, we let the internet guide us to the Windmill Island Gardens, a tiny little island on the edge of the city dedicated to Dutch history and tradition.
My husband and I had visited the real Netherlands ten years earlier at approximately the same time of year. So as we reminisced about that trip to our sons, who couldn't have cared less, we also noted that this day on the island was just as chilly and drizzly as our week overseas a decade ago. And just like its European counterpart, the spring flowers of the Windmill Island Gardens brightened the gray experience.
Beyond the flowers, the Windmill Island Gardens features antique street organ demonstrations, a historic carousel, miniature Dutch city-scape dioramas, and cute shops selling traditional (and some not-so-traditional) Dutch wares. Oh, yes, even wooden shoes.
However, the centerpiece and namesake of the Island is the 125-foot tall working windmill, De Zwaan. We joined a guided tour (just in time to escape the rain) and slowly worked our way up the interior of "The Swan," passing the grindstones and grain elevators until finally making our way out to the platform beneath the giant blades. Along the way our tour guide not only described the milling process but also shared with us the unique relationship of the windmill to its Michigan home.
De Zwaan was built in 1761 and suffered severe damage during World War II. Because so many historic structures like De Zwaan were destoyed or in need of major repair after the war, the Dutch government banned the sale of its windmills outside of their country. Not long after the ban, residents of Holland wanted to honor their heritage by erecting an authentic windmill in their city. Because of the extensive damage De Zwaan had suffered, the Dutch government granted a one-time exemption to the ban. The mill was dedicated formally on Windmill Island in 1965. It is the oldest authentic, working Dutch windmill in the United States.
As if this story wasn't interesting enough, the mill is also currently home to one of a handful of female millers in the world. She mills grain daily, producing up to 15,000 pounds of flour a year. She is so dedicated to the history and functioning of De Zwaan, she also spearheaded the effort to have it listed in the National Register of Historical Places, a distinction granted in April 2018.
The windmill tour was, by far, the most memorable attraction on the island for our family. We were expecting flowers, costumes, and Dutch treats but our time in the mill felt like the most authentic experience. Well, that and the rain.
Pete is the founder of Piggyback App. At the time of writing this description, he may or may not be on a horse.