Our story began in Beverwyk, Netherlands in 1910 when Frederick Nelis asked his son Harry, who was 17 at the time, to travel to America and search for some rich farm land. World War I was just over the horizon and times were tough all over Europe. The Nelis family was hoping to make a new start in the "land of opportunity."
Young Harry departed on the S.S. Noordam in October of 1910 and three weeks later arrived at Ellis Island. Following his father's instructions, he traveled to Missouri, purchased land, and began to grow vegetables. In September of 1911, the rest of the Nelis family, which included 11 siblings ranging in age from 6 months to 16 years, joined him. Growing vegetables proved to be unprofitable, so the family moved to Chicago in search of more opportunities.
After working at various jobs for a few years, they heard about a settlement in Holland, Michigan and decided to visit the young Dutch community. Upon arriving, they were impressed with the beauty of the area and decided to purchase 80 acres just north of the town. It was purchased in 1922 by Harry Sr's father, Frederick Nelis, after working the land for 5 years already.
In the early years, the Nelis family grew vegetables to sell locally and also made frequent trips to the Chicago produce markets. During the depression the family decided to switch from growing vegetables to the nursery business.
By the late 1930s, the family's tulip farm had become a "hot spot" for tourists flocking to Holland for the new Tulip Time Festival. As time passed the tulip farm became increasingly popular and a large windmill and souvenir shop were added. Soon Holland souvenirs were as popular as the tulip bulbs.
The present location of Nelis' Dutch Village was purchased in 1952 and began as a retail outlet for bulbs and souvenirs. The 40 acres purchased were on the newly constructed US-31 highway. Harry Sr.'s two sons, Fred and Harry Jr. became involved daily in the family business. Harry Jr., who had just returned from Naval duty in 1958 at the age of 24, and his older brother Fred built the first building in what would become Nelis' Dutch Village.
In the 1970s a wholesale division was added and imported Dutch goods began to be marketed nationwide. In the 1990s the Internet mail order department was created making it possible to sell Dutch goods internationally.
Currently there are over 30 structures in the Dutch Village, with architecture representing different provinces in the Netherlands. Costumed klompen dancers, street organs, a carousel, carillon bells, heirloom quality gifts, souvenirs, and many other Dutch treats await our guests.
Harry Jr. directed all business operations until 1999 when he retired. The fourth generation of Nelis' has now taken over the operation of Nelis' Dutch Village and is continuing to preserve the history and culture of the Netherlands for generations to come. All five of Harry's children have worked in the family business after graduating from college. They include: Harry III, Suzanne Bladek, Steve, Joe, and Julie Steggerda.
We are planning to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Nelis Family in Business in Holland, Michigan this year. We are very proud of our 4th Generation family business, and we intend to honor Grandpa Harry Nelis Jr and the two generations before him, Harry Nelis Sr, and Frederick Nelis with a nice party in August.
Stay tuned for details.
While it is impossible to predict the weather, there are typically tulips in bloom from the last week in April through the third week in May.
They are available in our gift shops from July through December.
We take orders face-to-face beginning with Tulip Time in May.
Tulips should be planted in the fall before the ground freezes.
Yes, they should be refrigerated prior to planting for 6-8 weeks.