In 1910, Frederick Nelis asked his 17-year-old son Harry to travel from their home in Beverywyk, Netherlands to America in search of rich farm land. The first World War had recently ended, times were tough all over Europe, and the elder Nelis hoped to find a better life for his family in the "land of opportunity.''
Young Harry departed by ship in late 1910, and his search took him to Ellis Island, then on to Missouri where the rest of the Nelis family eventually joined him. They tried to support themselves by growing vegetables, but abandoned that endeavor and moved to Chicago in search of new opportunities. After several years of odd jobs, the Nelis family heard of a nascent Dutch community in Holland, Michigan.
Upon arriving in Holland, Michigan, the beauty of the area so impressed the Nelis family that they purchased 80 acres of land just north of the town. In the early years there, they grew vegetables as they had in Missouri and made many trips to the produce markets in Chicago. The Great Depression forced them to again abandon the vegetable business, and the Nelis family tried their hand at the nursery business.
For a few years, the primary nursery crop consisted of daffodils, but they subsequently added a crop of tulips, which would dramatically change the business and alter their lives. Tourists had begun flocking to Holland in the late 1930s for the new Tulip Time Festival, and the Nelis tulip farm became a popular destination.
As the years passed, the Nelis tulip farm became so popular that the family added a large windmill and a souvenir shop. Later, a caf‚ was added to allow visitors to sample and enjoy Dutch specialty foods. Many buildings and attractions were added each year thereafter, and there are now 30 structures in the Dutch Village, all representing different provinces in the Netherlands.
Today, the village called "Noordhuizen'' includes canals, lush gardens, brick walkways, and authentic Dutch architecture, including windmills. There are also special presentations that depict life in a typical Netherlands village in the late 1800s, as well as costumed klompen (wooden shoe) dancers, a towering 25-bell carillon that greets visitors, street organs, and a carousel.
Other attractions and activities include the Frisian farmhouse and barn, which demonstrates how a typical Dutch family would have lived. There's also a wooden-shoe factory where shoes are carved by hand using antique, automated machinery. Visitors are even encouraged to try on a pair of klompen, while children can delight in sliding down a giant wooden-shoe slide, feeding barnyard animals, and riding the restored antique carousel.
For anyone brave enough to be tested and possibly found guilty of practicing witchcraft, visitors can step onto the Heksenwaag - a 200-year-old "witches' scale.'' And no visit would be complete without a visit to the Klederdracht (costume) Museum, which features authentic costumes and settings, a Dutch country diorama, and an extensive doll exhibit of provincial costumes.
Year after year, the Dutch Village continues to add activities, with additions such as Old Dutch Cheese Making, Street Scrubbing, Dutch Dancing Lessons, and Walking Our Goat, to name a few, making the Dutch Village a delightful family destination.
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