An October 2004 trip
to Pella by btwood2
Quote: Though a far cry from visiting the Netherlands, Tulip Time in May and Sinterklaas festivities in December solidly ground Pella in Dutch (hollands) heritage. Architecture, canals, windmills, klokkenspel, and Dutch surnames on shops that sell imported Dutch items reinforce the Dutch theme.
Dutch gables and facades: All of downtown Pella sports Dutch architectural style. Come to think of it, it’s not just limited to downtown. The McDonald’s we passed as we entered Pella looked so Dutch that we had to turn around to get a shot. Later I discovered that all new business buildings and additions to existing ones in Pella are subject to a clearly spelled out design review that requires strict adherence to Dutch architecture, color scheme, and key building elements. Signs, graphics, and outdoor fixtures and furniture are also closely reviewed and monitored.
Windmills large and small: Most impressive is Vermeer Mill, completed July 2002. This working grain mill was built and assembled by Dutch craftsmen in Holland and Pella, patterned after a similar 1850s mill in Groningen province, the Netherlands. With a ground-to-blade tip height of 124 feet, it’s reportedly the tallest working windmill in the US. The mill grinds wheat into flour used by local bakeries and restaurants. Small souvenir bags of flour are also sold in the gift shop. Another mill we visited was the information windmill in Central Park functioning as a compact visitor center. Beyond that we spied many smaller decorative mills in parks, businesses, and private gardens all over town.
Ah – a canal!: Walking along the Molengracht with the afternoon sun setting, the fall trees ablaze with color, was probably my favorite part of our first day in Pella. Although there’s no comparison to the extensive system of grachten in vibrant Amsterdam, this small canal winding through a portion of Pella was peaceful and pleasant to walk along.
Klokkenspel: A computer-driven 147-bell carillon provides the music for nine 4-foot mechanical actors. With performances five times a day, this unique Pella event will give you information about the founders of Pella, its Dutch heritage, and a famous lawman of the Old West who lived here as a child.
Strawtown Inn: Simply can’t be beat for pure gezelligheid (highly enjoyable coziness) for fine dining, REAL Dutch food, spirits, and lodging.
Best time to visit?: This would be Tulip Time, THE big event of the year taking place the first weekend in May, including two daily parades, crafts, a quilt show, a flower show, music, dancing and theater, food, a Dutch cheese market, and all kinds of tours. Make lodging or camping reservations well in advance!
Pella Summer’s Four-Day weekends take place all summer long. Every Thursday evening, activities on Central Park Square feature a different theme. Friday evenings, gatherings on Molengracht Plaza along the canal include food, drinks, and music. Those are just preludes to weekends: garden tours and teas, Kermis (Dutch carnival), classic car shows, a Harley rally, Gospel sing, and Elderhostel. With fall festivals and crafts shows in autumn and Sinterklaas and Christmas activities in winter, maybe there is no bad time to visit!
Although cars predominate over bicycles, there is a 14-mile paved trail, the Volksweg (People’s Road), for hikers, joggers, skaters, and bicyclists. From Pella it runs 3 miles to Lake Red Rock (see below) and then follows the north shoreline of the lake to Fifield Park.
I couldn’t believe it! How could the town that advertises itself as "a touch of Holland" not have ONE Dutch restaurant? We’d seen pizza places, Asian food restaurants, steak houses, and even a Dutchified McDonald’s. "The Windmill Café across the street there is very good, though." "Windmill Café? and no Dutch food?" "No…"
Our stomachs rumbling, so we crossed the street and entered the café, already very busy on this Tuesday at 11:45am. We seated ourselves in a booth as directed and were given menus. The breakfast menu on the back looked yummy, with reasonably priced ($3 to $6) scrambles and omelets, including coffee in the price. But sadly, our waitress informed us that breakfast is only served until 10:30am. The lunch menu included salads, burgers, sandwiches, and pastas. I picked one of today’s specials, a "fruit plate" consisting of three slices of honeydew melon, a wedge of watermelon, and one strawberry, with a chicken salad croissant ($5.50). Bob picked a grilled chicken on a hoagie, substituting fries for chips. A little after noon, we noticed that a line of people waiting to be seated had begun to form at the entrance. We finished our meals and were ready to further explore Pella.
Windmill Café is an adequate restaurant. The food was good but not special, the service efficient but not outstanding, and the atmosphere nice but not noteworthy. Perhaps my lackluster impression was tinged by my disappointment at not finding real Dutch food.
Later, upon browsing through the info we’d picked up at the Windmill, I noticed that there was both a tearoom and a restaurant (open for lunch and dinner) that advertised Dutch selections. Strawtown Inn was closed between lunch and dinner, but at the inn itself, a friendly young lady assured me that they do indeed have very good Dutch dishes. I was shown a menu that featured both American and Dutch selections. We didn’t know it then, but we were to return and enjoy this very special place later on in the week.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 14, 2004
Sunny side up:We all make our way quickly to the sunny south-facing windows as the curtains close on Wyatt. The first figure to appear, his face half hidden in shadow, is another youthful laborer, this time the wooden shoemaker. He saws into the log on the table at which he’s working, surrounded by the finished product - wooden shoes. In the center window, let’s hear it for Tulip Time! A mother holding a bouquet of purple tulips and her daughter in front of her both wave to the crowd – us. The final curtain parts to reveal another couple, a milkman carrying two buckets yoked across his shoulders, and next to him, a woman with a broom, the street sweeper, reminding us of two important life’s necessities, sustenance and cleanliness. The klokkenspel has played itself out once again; the little crowd applauds and scatters. It’s quite a good introduction to Pella . . .
Unrest in the Netherlands, mid-1800s: Other white settlers had already begun farming the fertile land between the Des Moines and the Skunk Rivers when a group of Afgescheidenen Dutch, literally "those who are separate or apart from," arrived there in 1847. The industrial revolution in the Netherlands, failure of successive crops of rye and potatoes, and mass migration of farming people to European cities all contributed to unrest. When a group of religious fundamentalist Separatists broke away from the mainstream Dutch Reformed Church, King Willem I suppressed their meetings and had some leaders fined or imprisoned. A mass of Dutch immigration (a quarter of a million people) came in the 1840s.
The Dutch come to Marion County: One Separatist group, some 800 strong, led by Hendrik P. Scholte, a minister, founded the town of Pella in Marion County, Iowa. Pella is named after the Decapolis city in Jordan, which was the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Currently called Tabaqat Fahl, the city after which Pella, Iowa is named, it is a very ancient one, occupied since Neolithic and possibly Paleolithic times as long as 100,000 years ago. But the reason Pella, Iowa was so named is because Pella, Jordan was the city to which many Christians of Jerusalem escaped, finding refuge when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Scholte’s group was well off enough financially to buy out earlier settlers to the Iowa area they desired for themselves.
Our drive along Road G28 to Cordova paralleled the Volksweg (People’s Road), an asphalt path for hikers, joggers, skaters, and bicyclists that is 13 miles long now and still growing. Our destination was the Cordova Observation Tower. Built as a water tower in 1972, it became obsolete in 1984 when the area was able to obtain water from other sources. A decade later in 1995, plans began to convert the water tower into an observation tower. The stairs were reinforced to industrial-strength fiberglass, which does not become hot, is non-conductive to electricity, does not rust, and is low maintenance. When we arrived, the fee box was non-operative and the gate open, so climbing the tower was free. Bob and I trudged up the 170 steps to the top of the tower. A panoramic view awaited us on top, south and west to Lake Red Rock and the Des Moines River, north and east to the fertile river valley farming communities.
Camping galore: The county, state, and ACE (Army Corps of Engineers) administer a wealth of campgrounds (832 sites, most with electric hookups) all around the lake. Costs per site runs from $8 to $16. The federal sites are half price with a Golden Age pass (age 65 and over). ACE Rock Island District runs Whitecrest, Wallashuck, Ivans, Howell Station, and North Overlook campgrounds. They feature scenic views, boat ramps, playgrounds, fish cleaning stations, and access to hiking trails. Call 877/444-6777 or click on ReserveUSA for information, open dates, and reservations. Most of these campgrounds close by the end of September. Howell Station stays open to the end October. Elk Rock State Park on the south central shores of Lake Red Rock features a horse camp and equestrian trail. Call 641/842-6008 for info and reservations. County parks, on the north shore, include Roberts Creek East and West, most with electric sites, and Cordova Park, with many picnic areas and a variety of rustic rental cabins. Call 641/627-5935 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for information and rates.
Ancient Moingona: Before ACE built dams at Red Rock and Saylorville (north of Des Moines), creating two large lakes, there was only the river. The ancient Moingona, as some may have called it, had been glacier-carved and began to flow as a river when the ice receded 30,000 years ago. There are several theories about the meaning of Moingona. The most common belief is that it refers to the burial mounds near the riverbanks (Riviere des Moines). Another theory holds that it’s named for Trappist Monks (Moines de la Trappe) who lived near the mouth of the river. Yet another theory is that refers to the Moingoana, a tribe that once lived along the river.
As recently as the time of the Dragoon expeditions in 1835, Moingona’s waters were described as pure and clear, with abundant wildlife in the thick forests and prairies along its banks. Native peoples along the river included Ioways, Askikiwaki (Sauk), Mesquakie (Fox), and Dakota (Sioux). The land came under U.S. territorial control in 1846, and waves of settlers displaced the Indians, cleared the forests and prairies, and planted their crops right up to the river’s edge. They also attempted to straighten the river from its natural meandering course. All these insults removed nature’s protection from the rains; flooding ensued and the river became mud-filled, strangling the life within it.
Greenbelt and River Water Trail: The two large dams were not enough to return life to the river. In 1985 the Greenbelt Project was established by public law. The Greenbelt extends from Fort Dodge at U.S. Highway 20 to below Red Rock Dam. Many governmental and private agencies work together to implement goals of conservation and recreation. Conservation activities include streambank stabilization and tree plantings. Recreation is enhanced by building hiking/biking trails (such as the Volksweg) and the construction and maintenance of park facilities and historic sites. June 2000 saw the dedication of the Des Moines River Water Trail.
This gift and imports store contains display after display of Delft blue, traditional and modern styles; walls of wooden shoes, plain and painted; and downstairs, imported Dutch and Indonesian foods and spices. Since Christmas is right around the corner in October, I bought tree ornaments: a regal Sint Nikolaas on his white steed, some Sinterklaas Kapoentje shoe ornaments, and a little wooden Dutch girl that dances when you pull on her string. At Jaarsma Bakery and Vander Ploeg Bakery, both on Franklin Street, you can find the famous Dutch letters, which have spread throughout Iowa as a favorite treat. These are puff pastry shells shaped into S’s and filled with almond paste. Does that appeal to your sweet tooth? You can order them and other delicacies from the Jaarsma Bakery website. West of downtown at 1109 Washington Street next to Strawtown Inn is Strawtown Gifts. Its rooms upstairs and downstairs are a riot of color and variety, with lots of Christmas themes, including many uniquely decorated trees.
Plentiful parks of Pella: There’s lots to see in Central Park, the heart of downtown Pella. The Tulip Toren (tower) on the south side of the park figures prominently in Tulip Time. It’s the second Tulip Toren, as the original wooden tower built in 1940 deteriorated and was torn down. In 1968, a 65-foot high concrete structure was erected and is holding up quite well. A 155mm Howitzer cannon stands on the southwest corner of the park. It was given to Pella by the U.S. government after World War II to replace two civil war cannons Pella had donated to the war effort. A big black circular sundial dominates the center of the park. Scholte House and Gardens is across Washington Street, north of the park. The 23-room mansion is open for tours for a $4 admission. The gardens behind the house are free, and in blooming season, display more than 34,000 tulips and flowers. The pond in Sunken Gardens Park on north Main Street is shaped like a wooden shoe! It’s also got a windmill, ducks, and a floating miniature Dutch-style building. In addition to the aforementioned parks, Pella has 10 more parks scattered throughout town. Not bad for a town with a population of just over 10,000! We’re told that in spring these parks and almost every Pella garden overflow with tulips and other Dutch bulb blooms.
Historical Village, bounded by Franklin, Liberty, and 1st and 2nd Streets, takes up an entire block and inner courtyard. Admission is $7 for adults and $1 for students in grades K-12. Vermeer Windmill and the adjoining Interpretive Center were completed in July 2002. A miniature 1850s Dutch village is being created on the second floor of the Interpretive Center. Wyatt Earp’s restored boyhood home, a log cabin, potter’s and blacksmith’s shops, library with collections of Dutch books, community records, Delft and Dutch dolls, and Hindeloopen cow in the courtyard are just some of the sights in the Historical Village. From the Vermeer Windmill, cross 1st Street to Molengracht Plaza for a pleasant stroll along the canal and some more window-shopping.
After we were seated and had ordered lunch, Marilyn suggested we explore the extensive dining options in this rambling old 1855 inn. The dining rooms on both floors are individually named (Rembrandt Room, Noord Zee (North Sea) Room, Delft Room, and Garden Room). Although the basic furnishing and decorative style is Country Dutch, every room is distinctive with a character of its own and a slightly different color scheme. Our dining room was dominated by a lovely antique mahogany sideboard, displaying a Delft blue plate and blue porcelain "wooden" shoes filled with dried flower arrangements. A ledge above the doors and windows held Delft blue vases, copper pots, and old gin bottles. At waist height, Delft blue tiles were wedged at intervals within a continuous wooden ledge. Smaller dark blue tablecloths were placed diagonally over the white tablecloths on each table, surrounded by four blue wooden chairs with caned seats. Cheerful red and white gingham valences trimmed the tops of the windows. On the floor lay a red and blue diamond-patterned carpet.
"Pas op!" (Be careful! Or more literally, Watch out!) warned the sign above the steep stairs as we gingerly descended to de Kelder (the Cellar). In this cozy pub, color photos of Dutch landscapes hang on rough brick walls above light knotty pine backrests for the cushioned benches along the walls. Highly varnished wooden tables hold condiments, and small framed chalkboards on the wall advertise, "Grinder, fries, and Straw Town cider, $9.50", and warn, "No Smoking". Hanging pink tin lanterns with cut-out floral designs complete the decor.
At the cheerful Hindeloopen-decorated Rembrandt Bar on the first floor, clear wine glasses of all shapes hang upside down from a wooden ceiling rack, ready to be filled with spirits. For those not inclined to sit on the high bar stools, there are tables in front of lace-curtained windows and Hindeloopen-painted shutters. For still more comfort, two stuffed armchairs sit in front of a black cast-iron Dutch furnace. Hindeloopen refers to a style of painting developed in the small harbor-village of that name in the province of Friesland, the Netherlands, in the 17th century. Floral designs and sometimes birds are embellished by a mass of acanthus scrolls, in blues, greens, and reds.
Hindeloopen vines climbing red pillars and wineglass rack are also found in the Vogel Nest (Bird Nest) attic bar, after ascending an even steeper winding stair with a thick rope handrail. "Prost!" (Cheers!) is painted neatly top-center on the rack. Sloped low walls behind the bar make one hope the bartender is of shorter than average stature. The arched doorway leads to expansive outdoor seating on the large balcony, overlooking leafy tops of trees, gardens below, and the lodging part of the inn. This attic bar and balcony can be rented by groups. Wedding receptions and parties are often held here. Rooms with long tables for group dining are also available.
Why the name "Strawtown"? When Pella was founded, the first settlers built small sod huts with thatched straw roofs, most of them in the northwestern corner of the community, so this section came to be known as Strooijstadt (Strawtown). As Pella grew and its citizens’ affluence increased, the soddies were replaced with larger, fancier structures, among them was the G. Hagens home in 1855. Over the next 117 years, the building served as family home, and later, bakery and even college dormitory. In 1972, the now complex of buildings was falling apart and slated for demolition. Two Pella couples, however, intervened, saved and renovated the historic buildings, and 2 years later opened Strawtown Inn as a restaurant featuring traditional Dutch recipes handed down through the generations. Its success led to expansion of the dining facilities, and eventually, starting in 1983, the establishment of a 17-room bed-and-breakfast adjoining the dining rooms.
Which leads me to . . . De soep is klaar! We arrived at the end of lunch time. I ordered a cup of Dutch pea soup (infinitely more robust and satisfying than any other I’ve tasted!), and this Strawtown version lived up to what I’d been yearning for. Chunks of Dutch sausage and potatoes, plus subtle spicing, enhanced the hearty soup. When the soup was served, our waitress considerately covered the bowls with inverted saucers to prevent it from cooling off while we were still wandering around the inn. What a nice touch! The teapot was nestled in a quilted tea-cozy, keeping the water piping hot as well. Sugar and sweeteners sat in a miniature wooden shoe. Bob and Marilyn both ordered the Dutch onion soup, similar to French, but "with an allspice twist" – delicious. Next came our sandwiches. I had spiced-pressed beef made by a local butcher on an open-faced slice of sourdough. Bob had a Pella Bologna Reuben with Edam cheese and sauerkraut (this was the best!), Marilyn fish (beer-battered cod), and chips. After our hearty meals, there was no room for dessert. Total cost came to just over $30, including Bob’s beer and my tea.
Strawtown’s dinner menu is, of course, bigger, including steaks, shrimp, the obligatory but mouth-watering Iowa pork chops, chicken, and fish. Dutch favorites include Hutspot (spiced beef stew), Stampot (Dutch spiced meatballs served on a bed of cabbage and potatoes), and Rodekool met worst (red kale and mashed potatoes with pork/beef sausage). Daily desserts are apple bread pudding and cheesecake, plus additional specialty desserts.
Very Highly Recommended: I’ve included a description of Strawtown’s gift store in Pella Delights. Strawtown Inn is located at 1111 Washington St. For more information, reservations, or room rates, call 641/621-9500 or go to the Strawtown website. I highly recommend Strawtown Inn for its authenticity and hearty food and would no doubt overnight in its bed-and-breakfast if we hadn’t already been staying in our motor home.
Rodeo, New Mexico