DeZwaan windmill celebrates half-century in Holland

Andrea Goodell
Holland Sentinel

Holland — Every Holland schoolchild knows about DeZwaan, the 200+-year-old Dutch windmill dismantled and reassembled in Holland in 1965.

However, the story you’ve heard is just the beginning.

“That story is much more fascinating, complicated and interesting than you would have believed,” Holland’s miller Alisa Crawford said.

For her new book, “DeZwaan: The True Story of America’s Authentic Dutch Windmill,” being released in time for the historic machine’s golden anniversary in Holland, Crawford has traveled to the Netherlands and delved into corners of DeZwaan’s history previously unknown, including how old the windmill really is.

The book’s launch will coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration, a day of free events Saturday.

In 1964, DeZwaan was dismantled, loaded on an ocean liner and shipped to Muskegon harbor. The pieces came to Holland on several semi-trucks. It took another six months to reassemble it in Michigan.

Craig Rich, local historian and former Holland city councilman, remembers being a 9-year-old boy standing among the “giant windmill,” men in suits and lots of mud as DeZwaan was dedicated.

“My Aunt Mary took me. It’s one of those memories that sticks out,” Rich said. “It was kind of like visiting a construction site. I don’t remember if it rained that day, but I remember it was windy, which is probably pretty good for a windmill.”

DeZwaan spent 80 years in Vinkel, a small town in southern Netherlands, before suffering substantial damage during World War II. Unable to afford restoration on his own, the mill’s owner looked to area governments for help, but couldn’t get all of them to agree and was forced to sell the mill.

The city of Holland purchased the windmill for 8,000 Gilders ($2,800), but that was a fraction of the cost of the $450,000 project to dismantle the windmill, bring it across the ocean and reassemble it on a new base in the newly created Windmill Island.

In 2013, the city raised $750,000 to restore DeZwaan after extensive damage was discovered in the cap.

The windmill now runs better than it has in 50 years, Crawford estimates — “It’s in beautiful shape. Runs like a top.”

Wheat from local farms is shipped to DeZwaan in 50 pound bags. It is ground down and some of the bran sifted out to be sold separately with a recipe for bran muffins. The remaining whole wheat flour is packaged in two and three-pound bags with their own recipes, volunteer Bryan Dozeman said. No preservatives are added, he emphasized.

“The thing about windmills, they have a heartbeat,” he said of the machinery. “It’s just amazing. It’s like this thing is alive.”

DeZwaan’s heartbeat is felt throughout the community in a dozen quiet ways. The flour produced by the mill is used by area eateries.

De Boer Bakery uses the wheat flour to make its oat bran bread, honey bee bran muffins and its Dutch balkenbrij. The Beechwood Inn’s Dutch broaster chicken uses DeZwaan flour in its breading.