The day after Tom and I got our tandem fixed, we rode the bike to Windmill Island Gardens, just east of downtown. Although Windmill Island Gardens is the #2 thing to do in Holland, Michigan, according to TripAdvisor, we were already staying at the #1 thing to do.
Windmill Island Gardens is a city park that celebrates the Dutch heritage of Holland, Michigan. Holland was founded by settlers from the Netherlands in 1847. The settlers were seeking religious freedom and decided to create a town where others from the Netherlands could come. The city of Holland celebrates this Dutch heritage today and one of the best places to see it on display is Windmill Island Gardens.
In the 1960’s, descendants of these Dutch settlers decided to create a place that would keep their heritage alive. They were able to purchase the last working windmill allowed to leave the Netherlands in 1964. All of the remaining windmills in the Netherlands are protected as national treasures. The de Zwaan (the swan) Windmill was imported and rebuilt in the park. It is a working windmill that mills flour which they sell in the gift shop. Because 2022 was the first year since 2019 that the windmill was open, they had not milled any flour for quite a while.
We took the self-guided tour of the windmill. There were three costumed interpreters present to answer questions. The first one greeted us and told us a little about the history of the windmill. The second one described the milling process. The third stood outside on the top platform and described how the steering mechanism that turned the windsails into the wind worked. It was really interesting and we came away with a much better understanding of how a windmill uses the wind for power.
In addition to the de Zwaan Windmill, there are 36 acres of exhibits and gardens. In April and May, 150,000 tulips bloom in Windmill Island Gardens. We were too late for the tulips, but we still enjoyed beautiful flowers in the exhibit area. We walked around the replica structures: a wayside inn, fisherman’s houses, an orphanage, and a working mailbox. There was an old replica drawbridge along a canal. We saw the “Little Netherlands” display with miniatures depicting life in the 1840’s in the Netherlands.
We were more interested in the working street organ and a carousel for children to ride than we were in the buildings. We watched the carousel go around while we waited for the street organ demonstration. The hand-painted horses did not go up and down, which was disappointing. But the children still enjoyed going around.
The street organ, a gift from the city of Amsterdam after World War II, was very interesting. It was essentially a player organ and operated the pipes and drums by use of a card roll. The cards went through the player, line by line, and told it which pipes to play. The operator let us stand behind the organ and watch the cards move through the player.
We enjoyed our visit to Windmill Island Gardens very much. Visiting was worth the entrance fee ($12 each) and the easy ride into town. If you visit Holland, Michigan, it should definitely be on you “must see” list.