Dutch Village in Michigan to celebrate 60 years

By AUSTIN METZ , 

The Holland Sentinel via AP

HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) — When Nelis’ Dutch Village opens April 21 for its Preview Weekend, it will be the 60th year since the local park first opened its doors.

Located along U.S. 31, south of The Shops at Westshore, Dutch Village plans to hold a proper celebration this year including events throughout the year along and also extending the period it is open through Halloween.

“We are really excited to be celebrating our 60th,” said Joe Nelis, co-owner and president of Dutch Village. “We hit forty years and had a celebration at that time and then thought, ‘Will we get to fifty?’ so then we celebrated 45 years and then 50 years in 2008… We didn’t celebrate our 50th like we are going to celebrate our 60th. We are just thrilled to be able to do this.”

Similar to years past, Dutch Village plans to open for a preview weekend on April 21 and will follow with their 12th annual Community Day serving as the official opening weekend for the year.

And although Dutch Village first opened 60 years ago in 1958, as Nelis points out, the history of the business goes back much further.

The story goes back to Nelis’ grandfather, who started Nelis Tulip Farms nearly 100 years ago. According to Joe Nelis’ records, his grandfather started growing daffodils in the mid-20s and shortly after started growing tulips.

At the time when Tulip Time first started in 1929, Nelis Tulip Farms was one of the area’s suppliers of tulips and shortly after, began to serve as a bit of a tourist attraction, with cars lining the street with customers looking to view the tulip fields.

“My grandpa was dealing with having these people that wanted to come and wanted to see the tulips who were waiting in line to get there,” Nelis said. “There was only so much space to park so many cars and handle that kind of thing. There were traffic jams trying to get there.”

Following the creation of U.S. 31, Nelis’ grandfather saw that as a way to take care of the traffic jam dilemma and purchased 40 acres of property off U.S. 31. Harry and Fred Nelis built the first building, the Queens’ Inn on the property with a windmill on top of it. Following that, they planted tulips on the property, before finding out that the ground was too sandy to grow the flower.

After that, the decision was made to give Dutch Village a try.

On July 3, 1958, Dutch Village opened for the first time, The Holland Sentinel reported. It only had two guests and made $12.73. The next day, on July 4, they had five customers and made $11.65.

Despite the slow start, the business began to grow and slowly they built one building and then another, slowly adding attractions through the year as well.

The next step was to develop a place to eat because at the time, customers were leaving to find a place to eat.

“For no other reason than that, they built a cafe,” Nelis said. “They started making lunch for people so they wouldn’t leave. That was how the Queens’ Inn restaurant was born.”

Through the years, the business purchased an organ, added Dutch dancing and soon learned they could charge admission. It started at between 25-50 cents per car load and then went to a per person basis charging at the entrance into the park.

The original tulip farm remained in business through the years along with Dutch Village, but then, in the 1970s, Joe’s father closed the tulip farm, opting instead to focus full time on Dutch Village.

For Joe, his memories of Dutch Village date back to when he was eight or nine years old, when he would peel tulip bulbs. Then by 10 or 12, he worked at the park for 25 cents an hour. From then on, it was truly a family affair and as his two brothers and two sisters got old enough, they took on roles, whether it was Dutch dancing, working in food service or picking up cigarettes.

After going off to college, the five children returned to Dutch Village and filled various roles within the business. Joe’s sister Sue was president until 2005 and following that Joe took over as president and has been since.

Through the years, Dutch Village has continued to grow and change. In December 2017, the Queens’ Inn and the windmill on top of it were taken down and today, the business now includes everything from a petting zoo and 90-foot zip line all the way to a Dutch chair swing ride and a rentable event space.

As for the 60th anniversary celebration, Nelis said the business has a packed schedule, extending to Halloween.

“We started having meetings a year ago,” Nelis said. “At first, you think you have all the time in the world and then by the end of last year, we knew we had to get going. I set a goal to have everything ready by January 1.”

Throughout the year, Dutch Village plans to hold a number of events ranging from the 60th birthday celebration on July 3 which will include a vintage car show to Grandpa Nelis’ 84th birthday which will include an employee reunion for employees of any of the family businesses through the years.

Also new this year, at each event held throughout the year, Dutch Village will partner with a local nonprofit organization to help raise money and awareness for the organizations. Featured nonprofits include Eighth Day Farm, Community Action House, Grant Me Hope, Heights of Hope and many others.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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