Wyatt Earp, tulip festival combine for fantastic day trip to Pella, Iowa

Tulips of all kinds in Pella, Iowa for the Tulip Time Festival

Tiny Tim may have tiptoed through the tulips, but a western legend actually called the city of tulips home. Wyatt Earp lived in Pella, Iowa, for 14 years. His family moved to the area when he was a year old.

You may recall Earp from western folklore as one of the heroes of the “Gunfight at the OK Corral” in Tombstone, Arizona. He spent time as a marshal during his adult life.

It was Pella where he spent his formative years. The family moved to the central Iowa town in 1849. They left 14 years later, during the Civil War. The family moved to California.

Earp’s early days played a role in the creation of the Pella Historical Village, a group of more than 25 buildings near the center of town. The popular attraction allows visitors an opportunity to visit Earp’s childhood home, a working windmill and other Dutch-related structures.

Wyatt Earp's boyhood home in Pella, Iowa

While Earp may hail from Pella, the city of about 10,000 is known for its tulips, specifically its annual Tulip Time festival in early May. We felt the need to jump in the car and drive three hours east on Interstate 80 to check it out. Boy, are we glad we did!

Tulips of all varieties at the Tulip Time Festival in Pella, Iowa

The activities surrounding the three-day festival are impressive, including Historical Village tours, parades, food, costume, music and quilt shows.

And don’t forget the tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips…and colors. As soon as you approach the town square, you see them. First, we checked out some yellow tulips. Then, when you thought it was safe to move on, you find more – white, red, purple, pink, mixed. Thousands of tulips and dozens of colors.

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Pella is more than just tulips, though. The town square honors residents for their past service. A statue of a Civil War soldier stands proudly for all to see. A cannon that was captured from the Japanese during World War II is located across the park.

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But, we were here for the Dutch celebration, and boy did they celebrate!

We made our way to the Historical Village for a self-guided tour of the 27 buildings. The village is designed as a square, with most of the buildings on the perimeter.

Our first stop was Earp’s childhood home. The house is host to a Dutch museum. The kitchen is a replica of a mid-1800s Midwestern kitchen. The other rooms housed actual Dutch artifacts.

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In the dining room, a table was decorated with beautiful cloths and a Dutch-written prayer.

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Another room did contain rifled and a pistol set with a marshal’s badge.

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The master bedroom contained traditional linen and clothing.

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Next up on our tour was the Vermeer Mill, an actual working mill. The windmill is the tallest working windmill in the United States. It is home to mill artifacts, a gift shop and a miniature Dutch village.

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The miniature village is the work of a local teacher. During the Depression years of the late 1920s and ‘30s, the man went to work in a government-sponsored program – Work Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA employed people to build public structures.

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The man started carving models of buildings he’d seen in person or in pictures from Holland. The artwork was amazing. The buildings and characters were beautifully crafted. A lot of the items in the village are more than 80 years old, but some have been added through the years.

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We checked out the area in the windmill where the miller and his family would likely live. Apparently, a visitor from The Netherlands told a guide that the space here was much larger than what the family would have had in Europe. An interesting item is the bed that is built in the wall.

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We stopped in the gift shop to see what they had. Lisa picked up a ton of postcards. I looked for a souvenir, too.

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Our next view was taking in a Klompen maker. The man worked diligently on make a pair of wooden shoes. This was impressive, to see someone take a piece of wood and carve into a shoe.

Klompen maker in Pella, Iowa

The tulips in the village were beautiful. In fact, a bee liked them, as well.

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The Heritage Hall gave visitors an informative look into the history of the Dutch in Pella. The city was founded in 1847 by about 800 Dutch, led by Hendrick (Henry) Scholte.

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The hall contains the list of all the Tulip Queens, dating back 80 years.

Tulip Queens past and present in Pella, Iowa

Traditional clothing is also on display at the hall.

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We saw a beautiful purple tulip during our walk about. I swear it seemed almost translucent in the sunshine.

Purple Tulips in Pella, Iowa

The church was home to a tulip show and contest. People were rewarded for their floral and table arrangements.

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After visiting the village, we realized it was lunch time. Fortunately, civic groups had concessions nearby. We tried a Dutch bologna dog on a stick. It is a Dutch bologna sausage (similar to a bratwurst) and dipped in a special batter that is popular at the Iowa State Fair. It was delicious!

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For dessert, we tried a Stroopwafel. The tasty treat is made from two thin strips of waffles with a light drizzling of maple syrup inbetween.

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After lunch, we continued our quest to check out Pella. The Opera House downtown is a beautiful attraction. The original building was almost completely destroyed by fire in the 1900s. It was later reconstructed.

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Downtown is home to some impressive architecture and design. The klokkenspiel (clock) has an hourly show on the weekends where crafted characters from Pella’s past perform above the courtyard.

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Parade time was nearing. We headed along Main Street to find a good spot to view the bands and floats. Thousands of people lined the streets to watch. All told, more than 150,000 people were expected to have visited Tulip Time over the three days.

The parade was led off by the town crier.

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Then, a group of veterans marched down the street carrying the American flag.

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Floats were abundant during the nearly 90-minute parade.

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The Tulip Queen made her appearance and welcomed guests with a friendly wave.

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High school bands from around the state marched in the parade. Orange City – which hosts a tulip festival this weekend (May 14-16) – had a band march. Pella will return the favor. Several other area schools participated in the parade, as well.

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As with most marching bands, the participating high schools had baton twirlers.

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You can’t forget the flag team. Each high school that had one was impressive. The kids were very talented at the choreography.

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Pella’s band featured team members using rifle props during their performance.

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Several locals dressed as Dutch folk and marched. There was a baby group, being pushed in strollers or walking with parents.

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Oldtime Dutch businesses were represented in the parade, incuding a shoe maker, butcher, baker and clothier.

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The crowd loved an old fire truck making its way along the route.

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Speaking of old, several vintage cars and pick-ups rode during the parade.

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Tractors made their way down the street, representing the area’s agricultural influence.

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Wyatt Earp and his brothers made an appearance at the parade.

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I’m always moved by the VFWs and American Legion posts that have a float highlighting the MIA/POWs who have not returned home.

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We had a great time watching the parade, along with the 10,000+ in town.

As we made our way around other attractions, we had to watch the tractor rodeo. Drivers tried to balance their tractors on a wooden platform. For the most part, they weren’t too successful. One man did balance his tractor on his second attempt.

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We had to see the Molengracht. It’s a small “mill canal” that runs through a block of businesses, including the Royal Amsterdam Hotel, a movie theater and a Pella Windows facility. It includes foot bridges and a draw bridge.

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Unfortunately, someone didn’t listen to me when I suggested we plan a weekend stay in the area, so we had to head back to Omaha without seeing everything that Pella has to offer. However, it gives us a reason to plan another trip to the area, so we can check out the Scholte House, sunken gardens, multiple statues and other area attractions.

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We did find the Vander Ploeg Bakery on the way out of town. We had been told about Dutch Letters, so we decided to pick some up. They are in the shape of the letter S, and are made from flaky dough with almond paste baked in. The treats are topped with a sugary crust. Delicious!

So, until we meet again Pella, Gelukkig Tulip Tijd (Happy Tulip Time)!

For more information on Pella and its attractions, please visit www.pella.org.