What comes to mind when you hear the word “Iowa”? Let me guess: endless fields of corn, too many cows to count, and possibly no running water. On the contrary, my friends! Iowa marks the center of our nation for much greater reasons. I double-dog dare you to take a trip with me to Orange City, Iowa, population six thousand. Behold: when you set foot on Central Avenue, you will come face to face with what you never expected: a perfect picture of historic Holland.
The last things people think of in regards to Iowa are thriving cultural centers, but Orange City (among many others) proves them wrong. Founded as a community of Dutch immigrants led by the Duke of Orange, this town has never lost grip on its heritage. Every single building downtown sports Dutch architecture by city ordinance. Central park houses a windmill garden which overlooks a traditional Dutch canal. The city chamber office is nestled inside a gigantic (yet authentic) windmill as well.
However, the biggest celebration of Orange City’s Dutch culture always occurs during the third weekend of May with the Tulip Festival. Hundreds of brilliant tulips line the streets as residents perform Dutch dances, model traditional Dutch fashions, and cook up the best of Dutch cuisine. Literally thousands of people pour into this little town each year to witness this joyous dedication to its ethnic background.
As mentioned before, Dutch dancing and fashion displays are an important part of the Tulip Festival. To truly take in all that these three days hold, though, you must watch all six parades. The processionals are headed up by the appointed Tulip Queen and court. Made up of local high school girls, the members of this royal entourage are elected annually to represent their community. They travel around before the festival to share their heritage with the surrounding towns and schools. Before the court passes over the streets, the streets are scrubbed clean with buckets of water and brooms in a gesture of Dutch charm and honor.
The second sight to behold is made up of the Pride of the Dutchmen Marching Band. Another measly, weak sounding excuse for music? Hardly. This band has been recognized internationally by receiving invitations to the Rose Parade on two separate occasions. The 172-piece band, made up of 40 percent of the local high school’s student body, marches the parade route wearing Holland’s trademark wooden shoes.
After the parades, there is still so much to see and do. Watch how wooden shoes are made, attend the Night Show (an exceptional performance of a well-known musical production), and (best of all) sample a smorgasbord of Dutch cooking. Specifically, find your way to the Little White Store, the oldest building in town. Inside, faithful workers prepare Holland’s most delectable treat: poffertjes. These tiny, sweet pancakes topped with powdered sugar and rum flavoring are sure to tickle anyone’s taste buds.
While the celebration draws to a close, you will have realized two things. First, you need to send all of your shirts to the dry-cleaners… They’re coated with powdered sugar from those twelve servings of poffertjes you so thoroughly enjoyed! Second, and more importantly, Iowa was nothing like you expected. Sure, it might have fewer big, flashy cities than you’d like, but it’s the home of places like Orange City that are so much more special. It is unique, culturally-rich towns like this that ornament Iowa in such a beautiful fashion. You’ll have come to love it here. This, my friend, is what America’s heartland is all about.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.