A Day Away: Pella tulip festival the perfect time to visit this Iowa city with Dutch charm

PELLA — Pretty in any season, when Pella wraps its lawns in tulips, it really puts on a show.

Only one flower bed along the square was blooming on a late-April trip to the town where I spent four years at Central College. But tulip greens were sprouting up all around homes and businesses, and lines already were forming at Jaarsma Bakery, ahead of the annual Tulip Time festival, slated for May 5 to 7.

The Vermeer Windmill, built in the Netherlands, taken apart, shipped to Iowa and reassembled in 2002, is one of the tallest working windmills in the United States, and anchors the Historical Village in Pella. (Diana Nollen/The Gazette)

A chilly, rainy spring generally means the flowers will be blooming long after the streets have been scrubbed and the masses have dispersed. So while we’ll take a look at some of this year’s festival highlights, many of these sites will be sights to see as the seasons change.

According to visitpella.com/tulip-time-faq hundreds of thousands of tulips are planted each year, maturing at various dates, so visitors should see the town’s coat of many colors this weekend through mid-May.

If you go

Getting there

Pella, established in 1847 by Dutch settlers seeking religious freedom, lies 109 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids and 96.5 miles southwest of Iowa City. I call my route “the back way” to town, leaving Interstate 80 at Exit 173 (Kellogg Sully exit), then taking the winding, twisting roads another 23.7 miles into Pella. The turns are marked, and once you reach the outskirts of town, just stay the course. You’ll end up at Central Park square, which is the hub of activities during the festival, and a lovely place to relax and enjoy a picnic at other times.

During the festival, however, the streets around the square are closed to vehicle traffic. Paid parking lots will be available on the west side of town, 1417 Washington St., at Exit 40 from Highway 163 on Friday and Saturday, and on the southeast side of town, 300 Eagle Lane, at Exit 44 off Highway 163 on Saturday. The fee is $8 and includes a shuttle ride to downtown. For details on handicap parking, golf shuttles and more, go to pellahistorical.org/gettingaround

Tulip Toren

You can’t miss the Tulip Toren, which debuted in 1968 in Central Park, and during the festival, it sports a giant banner in the red-white-and-blue colors of the Netherlands’ national flag.

The soaring concrete toren (Dutch for “tower”) actually is a replica of the 70-foot wooden tower constructed in 1940, five years after the inaugural 1935 Tulip Festival. Activities that had been held in West Market Park (another wonderful place to relax and let the kids run off some steam) moved to the Tulip Toren in 1940, bringing the crowds to the heart of the business district.

Designed to be a temporary structure, weather took its toll on the tower, and it was torn down after the 1942 festival. In 1967, the late Pete Kuyper, then owner and president of Rolscreen Corp. (now Pella Corp.) and his wife, Lucille, offered to pay for a permanent tower.

Today, it’s the site of festival Grandstand Shows beginning at 1 p.m., featuring Dutch dancing, singing and street scrubbing, the Parade of Provinces historic Dutch costume show, presentation of the Tulip Time Queen and her Court. Bleacher seats are $10 and park seats are $5, available at pellahistorical.org/tickets or at the Grandstand Booth on the corner of Main and Franklin streets during the festival.

Free Feesthouden (Dutch for “party”) evening shows on the Tulip Toren stage spotlight various bands before the start of the lighted parade. Watch for pop-up performances around town, as well, from Pella High School’s Strolling Strings to small groups singing and dancing.

Festival highlights

Parades weave through town each day — one at 2:30 p.m. and a lighted parade at 8:30 p.m. Each features floats, marching bands and hundreds of people in Dutch dress, making their way down Main Street, around Central Park and past the Historical Village on Franklin Street.

Fireworks will light up the sky Friday night, visible from the downtown area.

Food will be available from vendors and booths, as well as restaurants around town. Be sure to try an almond-filled Dutch letter and some Pella bologna and dried beef.

A Dutch Dinner Show will begin at 5 p.m. May 4 to 6 at Graham Conference Center at Central College, 812 University St. Cost is $25 and reservations are required at (641) 628-7679. A fly-in breakfast will be served from 7 to 10 a.m. May 7 at the Pella Municipal Airport, 501 W. 15th St. Cost is $8 adults, $6 children.

Klokkenspel: Every 30 minutes during Tulip Time, the 147-bell carillon will play as eight mechanical figures portray people and slices of Pella’s history. Location: 625 Franklin St., half a block east of the Central Park windmill. The courtyard behind the structure features S-shaped benches and arches containing Dutch tiles.

Pella City Tours: Those weary of walking, yet thirsty for more historical morsels can take a wagon tour around town, beginning at 640 Franklin St. Tours are offered from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. during the festival. Cost is $8 adults, $5 under age 18.

For a full schedule and a list of attractions and amenities, go to pellahistorical.org/tuliptimeschedule


While you can tiptoe around the tulips all over town, here are some prime locations, from pellahistorical.org/tuliptimeschedule:

Tulip Avenue in Central Park: from the burbling north fountain to the center of the park.

Scholte House Gardens, across from the north side of the square, corner of Main and Broadway streets. See more than 35,000 tulips in this free garden behind the yellow Scholte House Museum, built in 1848 by Pella’s founder, Dominie (pastor) Hendrik Pieter Scholte. He had promised his wife, Maria, a house as grand as the one they left behind in the Netherlands. The serene garden also contains sculptures, benches and a gazebo. At the home’s east entrance is the festival Flower Show and annual tulip bulb sales.

Sunken Gardens Park, 1110 Main St., two blocks north of downtown. With 13,000 tulips, a windmill, benches and a wooden shoe-shaped pond.

Fair Haven Memorial Garden, corner of East Third and Union streets. Originally planted in 1947 with bulbs sent by the Netherlands in appreciation for war-relief aid Pella sent in the wake of World War II. Visitors today can see 17 beds with more than 13,000 tulips. Two monuments also list the names of more than 800 local veterans who served in the war.

Central College, 812 University St. You’ll have to tiptoe around the students to see nearly 15,000 tulips from 30 varieties blooming on campus.

Windmills & more

Small windmills dot the landscape at several places in town, most notably at Sunken Gardens Park and on one corner of the Central Park square. The latter serves as the Visitors Center, with brochures and greeters ready to answer any questions.

Vermeer Windmill rises high above the Pella Historical Village Museum, 507 Franklin St. One of the tallest working windmills in the United States, it was built in the Netherlands, taken apart, shipped to Iowa and reassembled in 2002. It measures 124 feet 6 inches tall from the ground to the top of the highest blade. The base is 32 feet in diameter and 40 feet high. Visitors can tour five floors and look out over the town from the observation deck.

Guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; and 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Cost is $20 adult, $15 ages 5-18, free ages 4 and under, and includes admission to the Historical Village.

Historical Village features the boyhood home of Wyatt Earp and the new Wyatt Earp Experience, an audiovisual look at Earp’s childhood. Born in Monmouth, Ill., he was 2 years old when his family stopped in Pella to take care of his younger sister, who was ill. They stayed 14 years.

The Historical Village also contains a gift shop gateway to the buildings that tell the story of Pella’s early homes and businesses. During Tulip Time, the buildings will be buzzing with demonstrations of woodworking, rope making, needlework, blacksmithing, Hindeloopen painting, quilting, rug braiding, Dutch letter baking and of course, wooden shoe making. For a quarter, you can buy some food to feed the fish in the pond by the grist mill. You’ll be the fishes’ new best friend.

Molengracht Plaza: Walk along the tree-lined 5,720-square-foot canal with a working draw bridge, in the heart of the business district, 700 Main St. The site, which opened in January 2001, gives visitors a taste of a Dutch square. It’s now home to retail shops, entertainment, dining, business offices, condominiums, and the Amsterdam Hotel at the end of the walkway.


If you need to get in a few more steps, Pella also has golf courses at the Pella Golf and Country Club, 600 Elm St., and Bos Landed, 2411 Bos Landen Dr., on the way to Lake Red Rock.

Other activities: Indoor and outdoor pools at the Pella Aquatic Center, 602 E. Eighth St.; multiple parks and playgrounds; the Wonder Spelen Inclusive Playground, 1335 Orchard St.; archery, ax throwing, sand volleyball courts, a skate park, a sports park, biking and hiking trails and much more. Details: visitpella.com/recreation/

Lake Red Rock: When you need to get away from it all, Iowa’s largest lake lies four miles west of Pella, with 15,000 acres of water and 35,000 acres of public land for fishing, boating, swimming, camping, picnicking, beaches and trails. Details: mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Lake-Red-Rock/

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

The Tulip Toren soars above Central Park, Pella’s city square in the heart of downtown. It creates a dramatic backdrop for Tulip Time festivities, from Dutch dancing to the presentation of the Tulip Time Queen and her court. The 2022 festival will be held May 5 to 7. (Diana Nollen/The Gazette)

Shown in years past, the courtyard behind Pella’s Klokkenspel, offers a lovely place to relax among the tulips, examine the arches filled with Dutch tiles and sit on S-shaped benches to see and hear the carillon play as eight figures portray people and slices from Pella’s history. (Courtesy of Visit Pella)

Molengracht Plaza, in the heart of downtown Pella, opened in January 2001 and gives visitors a taste of the Netherlands, with Dutch architecture, a canal. a working drawbridge, shops, businesses, condos, and a walkway leading to the Amsterdam Hotel. (Diana Nollen/The Gazette)

Even the tiniest Pella residents get in on the street scrubbing fun during Tulip Time. The 2022 celebration will be held May 5 to 7. (Courtesy of Visit Pella)

Lake Red Rock, Iowa’s largest lake, lies four miles west of Pella and offers a wonderful place to relax, enjoy a picnic, swim, walk the beaches and trails, fish or go boating. (Diana Nollen/The Gazette)

Karen J. Simmons

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