Saturday, December 3

Nelis family celebrates 100 years of farming, entertainment in Holland

HOLLAND — Nelis’ Dutch Village is perhaps the most well-known entertainment destination in Holland, but the 64-year-old amusement park is only a piece of the puzzle.

In truth, the Nelis family has been in business in Holland since 1922. Four generations later, many have forgotten the story began in 1910, when 17-year-old Harry Nelis Sr. came to America on behalf of his father to search for farmland, according to an article Joe Nelis wrote in November for the West Coast Chamber.

More:Locals rush to save animals during blazing barn fire at Nelis’ Dutch Village

More:Holland’s only amusement park has big plans going into the off-season

As the story goes, Harry Nelis followed a Dutch priest to Missouri before the other 13 members of his family joined him in 1911. But dry and arid soil pushed the family to move to Chicago, where odd jobs provided income until the family relocated to Holland in 1917.

They farmed vegetables on leased property on Lakewood Boulevard until purchasing that property in 1922. In the mid-1920s, Harry switched from vegetables to flowers and nursery stock — daffodils and tulip bulbs. And thus, the family contributed to Holland’s identity.

Nelis' Dutch Village is working with an architect to plan the rebuilding of the park's animal barn after a devastating June fire, which killed numerous animals and toppled the structure completely.

Tulip Time began in 1929. As the festival grew, so did Nelis Tulip Farm, which came to fill close to 80 acres between tulips and parking along Lakewood Boulevard. Permanent buildings and a windmill were constructed in the 1930s.

Such was the popularity of Nelis Tulip Farm that, in 1952, the family purchased 40 acres along U.S.-31 at James Street. When sons Fred and Harry Jr. returned from military service, they built a “market” with a row of shops and a windmill on top, which had its first day of sales in 1958.

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