Written by Kara De Bruin

Every year the City of Pella has its Tulip Time festival. This festival takes place during the first weekend of May and the city of Pella draws hundreds of visitors to join in the celebration of their Dutch heritage. During this three day event, the streets are bustling with tourists and residents alike who are enjoying an experience of Dutch culture. There are parades, a multitude of food vendors, Dutch Dancers in full authentic costumes and even a queen and her royal court of four Attendants. These women are representatives of the town who are seniors in the local high schools chosen after town-wide voting, a day of interviews, and a three minute presentation to judges selected from the community and everyone else who comes to the contest. However, there’s a lot more to this town with a population of 10,000 than a weekend festival.

Vibrant tulips like these can be found on a spring day in Pella, Iowa. The Dutch inspired town hosts an annual Tulip Time festival in the first weekend of May.

The town was built by Dutch immigrants who wanted to preserve their heritage, and that has remained embedded in the framework of the community. This heritage isn’t something that is just talked about occasionally; it’s all around the town, especially in the architecture.

Nearly all of the storefronts down Main Street and around the town square are built with traditional Dutch Fronts to resemble a village in Holland. The theme doesn’t stop at the city square, all buildings around town have some form of a Dutch front including Walmart and McDonalds. Other impressive Dutch architecture around town includes a canal with a bridge, brick streets, a large sundial, an authentic Klockenspiel, and the Vermeer Windmill.   

“Anyone touring Pella definitely should not miss the Vermeer Windmill, which is the largest working windmill in the United States, and it grinds grain that is actually sold in one of the bakeries,” Hannah Emmert, 2017 Pella Tulip Court Attendant, said.

The Vermeer Windmill is another famous, Dutch inspired landmark in Pella. The pieces of the 32 feet tall 1850s style koren windmill were shipped from the Dutch town of Hoogmade.

This landmark was shipped in pieces from the village of Hoogmade, Netherlands  and was then put together as part of the Pella Historical Village in 2002. The village also contains various other buildings such as the Scholte Church, which is a replica of the one Pella’s founder, Dominie Scholte, had built for the town in 1855. It’s also the location of the boyhood home of Wyatt Earp, the famous wild west gunslinger, who grew up in Pella. These buildings along with a log cabin, sod house and museum of Dutch clothing and Pella history make up the Historical Village that, along with the Windmill give visitors an indepth look at the city of Pella, and Dutch culture.

For those looking for a good place to eat after taking in theses historical sights Smokey Row is a local favorite. This popular coffee shop is located catty-corner from the square in an old pharmacy where anyone can grab some coffee, a specialty drink, snacks, lunch or ice cream. Other notable coffee shops in town include The Brew, The Sanctuary and Dutch Fix, which opened recently and provides popular Dutch treats such as poffertjes and stroopwafels year long.

One of the many revered cafes in Pella is Smokey Row. The coffee shop is known for its delicious food and specialty drinks. 

But the treats in Pella don’t stop there, Vander Ploeg and Jaarsma’s Bakeries are other popular places to satisfy a sweet tooth, possibly with a spice cookie or a Dutch letter and two local meat markets in town provide a wide variety of snack options. For a whole meal, the Windmill Cafe and George’s Pizza are conveniently located on the square as well.

Beyond the architecture and shopping opportunities, there are many other events that happen during the year that offer their own charm to the town. The Pella Opera house and the Union Street Players put on various shows and plays through the year. During the summer there is a community festival held every Thursday that features food vendors, activities and performances from the city band.

We attended regularly when our children were younger and enjoyed the family events,” Pella resident Kristy Huerter said. I definitely feel they are beneficial to our community.”

The Thursday Nights in Pella festivals, along with many other events, are organized by the Pella Historical Society, which works to ensure Pella’s history is preserved, and maintains the town’s museums and historic structures.

The Pella Historical society is known for hosting events in town as well as preserving its rich Dutch heritage.

Another event organized by the Historical Society is Sinterklaas Festival. This is based off the Dutch Christmas tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas who is similar to Santa Claus except he is believed to bring treats to leave in the wooden shoes of children who have been good each year and coal or a potato for those who have misbehaved.

The Sinterklaas Festival in Pella includes a short parade, a visit from Sinterklaas, a few Christmas carols, and a stage presentation.

“Sinterklaas is a fun thing and that’s always the first Saturday in December,” said Val Van Kooten, the Executive Director of the Pella Historical Society. “Sinterklaas comes to town and he meets with the kids, usually at Scholte Church and hands out stuff.”

“There are a lot of Pella kids who put out their wooden shoe on Dec. 5, with the carrot in it and get something in their shoe the next morning and I think that’s really cool that it’s being preserved, We are trying to preserve Dutch traditions other than just Tulip Time, and some of those are a little less known.”  

Other events in Pella that occur during the winter include the Pella tour of stores and the festival of trees and carriage Rides around the town square are also offered on the weekends leading up to Christmas. Now, before hopping on the highway to central Iowa, be aware that there is more to the town of Pella than can be seen in one stop.

From tulips in the spring, to City Band performances in the summer, to fall festivals, and visits from Sinterklaas in the winter, Pella truly is a city with an abundance of things to offer.

For more information on Tulip Time, Sinterklaas or Pella, in general, visit Pellahistorical.org or call The Historical Society’s main number at 641-620-9463.

The town square was built by Dutch immigrants who settled in Pella. The architecture was meant to mimic that of a small town in The Netherlands.

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