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Iowa History Daily: May 16 - First Pella Tulip Time

Iowa History Daily: On May 16, 1935, Pella first invited Iowans to tiptoe through their tulips as the first Tulip Festival got under way. An annual showcase of the southeastern Iowa town’s Dutch roots, Tulip Time continues to invite visitors to marvel at elaborate gardens, architecture, and events centered on the town’s heritage.

Following a production of a small operetta ‘Tulip Time in Pella,’ during the spring of 1935, local leaders Irwin Lubbers and Lon Wormhoudt urged the Chamber of Commerce to host a celebration centered on Tulips. Although no bulbs sprouted in the six weeks leading up to the first festival, local woodworker George Heeran constructed 125 4’ tall wooden tulips to decorate the event. A program featuring Dutch costumes, antiques, speeches, songs, and other events made up the programming for the first event.

The following fall local citizens got to work burying 85,000 tulips in preparation for a larger celebration the following spring. A five-day festival debuted in 1936, incorporating important community elements including the community’s numerous churches and Central College. Pella residents crowned Lonora Gaass, a great granddaughter of town founder Dominie Henry P. Scholte, as the town’s first Tulip Queen. Even though the festival shortened to the current three-day format over time, many of the events and traditions of the first two years still endure today.

By 1937, twenty-seven local committees devoted time to the annual festival and Tulip Town Park (modern Sunken Gardens) greeted visitors wishing to see hundreds of thousands of tulips grown from bulbs imported from the Netherlands. 1940 saw the erection of the first Tulip Toren, a wood stage for community functions featuring a distinctive architecture and design.

Although the original rapidly deteriorated, a more enduring structure rose in 1968 and continues to greet guests today.

The lighted evening “Volks” Parade started during the 1960s, and the Pella Historical Society continued to serve a vital role in ensuring the preservation of the town’s past by purchasing the Wyatt Earp House to grow the Historical Village. Other infrastructure and building projects continued to add to the Dutch character of the area including the completion of the Molengracht and canal in 2000, as well as the 2002 completion of the massive Vermeer Windmill.

The celebration continues to draw a crowd eager to sample Dutch delicacies prepared by various community organizations, watch the school children belt out “We are the Kids from Pella, Iowa USA,” and partake in a wealth of other traditions. Estimated attendance at the recent 2022 festival: 202,000. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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