Just a few blocks away from the country’s tallest working windmill in the host city of the annual Dutch festival, Tulip Time stands the Scholte House. This historic building has remained in the center of Pella, Iowa, since the town was settled in 1848. What started as a simple six-room house is now a 30-room mansion.
The original owner of the house, Hendrik Scholte, was born in the Netherlands. As a reverend, he said he believed in preaching directly from the Bible and did not agree with the established doctrine of the King.
At the time, it was against the law for a preacher to preach to more than 20 people in an outdoor gathering without a permit. Scholte continued to preach despite his disagreements with the king, resulting in a series of arrests throughout a period of 10 years.
Finally he decided to move to America so he could live and preach freely. The reverend bought 18,000 acres of Iowan soil, starting the town of Pella.
Today the Scholte House showcases some of Hendrik Scholte’s personal treasures from the Netherlands as well as furnishings that embody his Dutch heritage.
One of the oldest and most popular rooms is the library. It is the only room in the house with carpet, wallpaper and ceiling paper dating back to when the building was first completed. The library has a collection of aging books, including a Latin law book from 1664 and old Hebrew prayer books.
Coins from the Netherlands and one Hebrew coin possibly dating back to Biblical times are also on display. Visitors can see the iron chest used to transport all of Scholte’s money, a chest so heavy it took four grown men to carry it.
One of Scholte’s most prized possessions, however, was a shawl. When Abraham Lincoln was running for president, Scholte volunteered to help with the campaign. Later he was invited to attend Lincoln’s inauguration.
On the day of the event, Scholte wore a wool shawl that was coincidentally almost identical to the one Lincoln was wearing. The shawl is still exhibited in the museum as well as the walking stick Lincoln sent to Scholte as a “thank you” for his efforts during the campaign.
Alex Kaizer, a University of Minnesota graduate student, grew up in Iowa. His interest in old houses and mansions led him to the Scholte House. Kaizer says the antiquity and Dutch décor separates the Scholte House from other museums he has visited. The China plates on display, the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the hand sewn quilts draped over wooden bed frames all add to the 19th century ambiance.
Watching over all of these treasured artifacts is Beverly Graves, director of the Scholte House museum for three years. Graves explains the museum plans to open a new room at the end of March called the Scholte Lincoln Reading Room. Artifacts, pamphlets, videos and audio concerning the Civil War and Scholte’s life during that time will be showcased throughout the new room.
Graves says she tries to add personal touches to the rooms to help showcase their original functionality and décor, aspects that distinguish the Scholte House from traditional museums.
“Quite a few rooms when I started working here felt like a museum,” Graves says. “There were just things on display, so I’ve moved some furniture around to make it feel more like how [the Scholte family] would have used it.”
Graves explains she recently recreated what she believes to have been the maid’s room, decorating it with authentic period pieces including a cot, a rocking chair and an oil lamp to make the room feel genuine.
Bonnie Verburg, director at the Vermeer Windmill in Pella, says visitors have commented on the museum’s “homey” quality.
“The house has been restored back to what it looked like,” Verburg explains. “People say they feel like the Scholte family could walk in at anytime when they’re visiting there.”
Visiting Pella’s historical sites, like the Scholte House and Vermeer Windmill, is a great way for tourists to learn more about the town’s past.
“[They] all give people a taste of what life would have been like in the mid-1800s,” Verburg says.
The Scholte House is filled with artifacts from centuries ago. However, Graves says her favorite part of the museum is the photographs hanging throughout the house.
“I love the family pictures,” Graves explains. “We have one wall that we have all the family on, and I like sharing the story of who’s who.”
For the ones who call Pella home, those stories hold the rich Dutch history they celebrate with such pride.