Day 29

Thursday, June 23, 2005Pella, IA
Miles: 3476God is ons een toeviucht en sterkte

We woke up and had a wonderful Dutch breakfast, prepared by our hostess. There was also a mountain of fresh fruit and Dutch letters, a pastry filled with fruit and almonds. Yum. We decided to go to the Historical Village early in the day, as it is still exceptionally hot and humid.

The tour started with a bit of history from one of the tour guides, a retired resident. Pella is an interesting and wondrous place. Among other things, its senior citizens are active and vital. The Historical Village and many of the other attractions are completely run by volunteers who have retired. The history lesson was quite interesting. Here’s what I remember:

Pella was founded in the 1850’s by a group of 800 Dutch immigrants. They were being persecuted for their religion (the Reform Church) and wanted to leave the Netherlands to come to a new place. The wealthy minister, Scholte, decided to name the new town Pella, which means city of refuge. He had no idea where Pella was going to be, but knew the name of it. While still in the Netherlands, they chose Iowa, for it had recently become a state and land was still cheap. They purchased many acres, each family contributing money, as well as food for the trip.

Once they arrived in America on four ships, they set about purchasing things and making their way West. Within a month they had gained citizenship, renouncing their Dutch citizenship. They threw themselves into their new homeland and became very productive members of society. They became active in state and national politics, built a college and fought in U.S. wars, all within a decade or so of arriving.

Because Scholte had handpicked the rest of the party, they formed a ready made town. There were doctors, lawyers, blacksmiths, newspaper printers, and assorted other tradespeople. When they arrived in Iowa, they built their town and settled in. Because they owned everything for miles around, they controlled it and everything was kept Dutch, though the Dutch facades on the buildings didn’t come until later.

The historic village features a full size, working windmill, build in 2002 as authentically as possible from a 1850 design in the Netherlands. It is claimed that the only differences are the elevator (which is technically outside the mill), the staircase, and the sprinkler/fire alarm system, all of which are modern requirements for any public building. In reality, the base was also cement, not brick, and there were the obviously "touristed up" bits that are there for our benefit (safety and/or entertainment), but the structure itself is as authentic as can be. That said, it's quite impressive being a few feet from four 80 foot windmill arms whirling around in moderately strong winds. Photos really can't do it justice.

Although the settlers were all gung-ho in to being American and not Dutch, the small community maintained a predominately Dutch heritage. The windmill is only the most recent of the modern return to Dutch styles; when Pella-ites realized that they could attract people with their Dutch heritage and their annual Tulip Time festival, they put facades on all the buildings and started Dutching up the place. The effect is quite nice -- and complete with a canal.

The Historic Village was fun to walk through and even more informative. The best part by far though was the pictures of the Tulip Time queens. Wahoo, hair trends in fast forward, from the 1930’s to the present day!

The village was built up around the boyhood home of Wyatt Earp. There's not much in the way of Earp "stuff," but he grew up here until he was 12 or so, and people started showing up asking to see his house, so they built the village around it. Some of the buildings around it are Earp era farm building and were brought to the site from other areas of Iowa. Others were built in traditional Dutch style. All were decorated in period furnishings. Except the miniature Dutch village; that was as modern as a miniature village can be.

After our tour, we came back and had lunch. In case we haven’t mentioned the place we’re staying, it’s called the Cloverleaf B&B and we highly recommend it if you ever visit Pella (which we also recommend.) Besides being super reasonably priced and serving a great breakfast, the owners are very accommodating. They don’t live on the property, which makes you feel like you can relax a little. One of the things I tend not to like about most B&B’s is that you feel like you’re a guest who has to behave. We had the entire house to ourselves and were able to cook meals here and just generally spread out. When we asked where a Laundromat was, she told us we could use the washer and dryer in the basement. All in all, our stay here has been very relaxing.

After lunch and a little nap, we went to the Cordova Park Lookout Tower, which looks out over Red Rock Lake and the bluffs. It was a lovely view and the lake looked inviting, so we headed over to the beach to go swimming. Sadly, looks can be deceiving. What appeared blue and crystalline was really murky and smelly. Ceridwen went in up to her knees and waded back. Keep in mind that it was 95 degrees and Ceridwen is like a fish. It was that gross. Or we’re that used to NH spring fed lakes.

We went back into town, did some shopping and gave the van a thorough cleaning inside and out, obliterating the last of the gravel dust (we hope.) By the time we were done, it was 6pm and time for Thursday in Pella, a weekly event in the downtown area. Stores stay open late, vendors sell food, actors perform Shakespeare (well, that was this week's performance) and the town band plays. Again, the town is remarkable in its participatory nature. There are a little less than 10,000 residents and they pretty much all turn out on Thursday nights. Impressive. The band is so good that in City Band competitions, they are banned from competing with towns of the same size. They have to compete against much larger towns, and they still win. If you’ve ever seen the Walgreen’s commercials featuring the town of Perfect, they filmed in Pella. Through honest friendliness and a sense of humor, they manage to stay on this side of downright creepy. For instance, we saw the man who gave the history lesson at the Historical Village at the concert and we chatted with him for about 10 minutes, because he remembered us. He told us some more about the town today and how it’s changing, though apparently not for the worse.

We watched some of the Shakespeare, a twins competition and most of the band concert and then came back to the B&B for a night of sleep. Mmm, sleep.

Oh, and yes, this is where Pella windows are made.