1 Lincoln Ave
Holland, MI 49423
History of the Mill
Standing on foreign ground upon an island all its own, De Zwaan (The Swan) continues to grind grain the way it did decades ago, serving as both a tourist attraction and a living history museum. The people of Dutch-influenced Holland, Michigan are incredibly proud of their heritage and the story De Zwaan has survived to tell. The mighty windmill can be seen for miles around and is the subject of several photographs.
The origin of the windmill is a somewhat controversial topic, both in the Netherlands and in Holland, Michigan. According to the Dutch mill database, a windmill by the name of De Zwaan was constructed back in 1649 as an oil press in Krommenie. But by about 1653, a few owners sold their shares of the business, and the windmill was converted to a hemp mill. The hemp business was very important to the Dutch, who used hemp to make the rope and sailcloth of other windmills. De Zwaan remained in the hemp business for decades.
In 1739, the nearly 100-year-old windmill was restored by its owners and was retrofit with grinding machinery. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground from a lightning strike on May 27, 1761. It was then that construction began on the De Zwaan that still stands today. Although the windmill enjoyed many more decades of successful business, the owners sold their shares and disbanded the company in 1865. The windmill and its machinery were sold two years later; the mill served its remaining time in Krommenie as a storage shed.
If the facts hold true, then the windmill was slowly deconstructed, relocated, and reconstructed by a new owner, P. Van Schaijk, in Vinkel between 1884 and 1887. It is generally agreed that the Vinkel windmill was relocated from another location because it was not new construction; however, the origins of the windmill are unclear. Because of its architectural style and beard, many argue it was from Dordrecht (including the grandson of Van Schaijk), while some argue it is the windmill from Krommenie.
Van Schaijk reconstructed De Zwaan as a thatch-covered grist beltmolen. Because the internal machinery was sold by the previous owners, it is likely that De Zwaan contains parts from the windmill Nooit Gedacht (Never Thought) that was disassembled in 1883 (those parts were originally constructed around 1800). The rebuilt De Zwaan operated as a successful grist mill until World War II. De Zwaan suffered extensive damage and could no longer be operated.
Holland, Michigan residents Willard Wichers and Carter Brown had the idea of erecting an authentic Dutch windmill to celebrate the town’s heritage. But rather than commission construction of a new windmill, they sought to purchase an existing Dutch windmill.
Of the over 9,000 windmills that once operated throughout the Netherlands, fewer than 1,000 were still operable after World War II. Dutch law prohibits the sale or demolition of any windmill, as they are now regarded as national landmarks. De Zwaan was an exception: because it sustained such heavy damage and was on the brink of destruction, it was allowed to be sold and relocated to by special permit.
The windmill was disassembled in 1964 and erected atop a three-story brick base on Windmill Island. At the time, the island was undeveloped and surrounded by marshes. Construction of the windmill included landscaping to beautify the grounds and construction of museum buildings. By 1965, De Zwaan was again turning in the breeze to grind grain.
Its metal sail stocks, which were replaced in 2005, now sit on the ground so that visitors can see how they are riddled with bullet holes from World War II. There have been many additions to Windmill Island, which now includes gift shops, restaurants, dancers, a carousel, and a Dutch drawbridge. Weddings are now held on the grounds, and there are many opportunities for interesting photographs.
Dutch Windmill Database (www.molendatabase.nl) records 3182 and 1837
cutaway diagram and history pamphlet from Windmill Island
personal records / observations
De Zwaan, May 2009.
Photo by Tom Haskell
Open and operating.
Tours are available during open hours. Admission is $9.00 for adults and $5.00 for children and students
Mid-April - October
Daily: 9:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Tulip Time (second week of May)
Daily: 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.
Closed / non-operational in winter.
Ground floor only.
57' (original) 90' (relocated)
(1649 - 1653) Oil
(1653 - 1761) (1762 - 1865) Hemp
(1865 - 1884) Storage
(1887 - 1940s) (1965 - present) Wheat
(1887 - 1940s) (1965 - present) Corn
(1761 - 1762) Reconstruction
(1884 - 1887) Relocated / Restored
(1964 - 1965) Relocated / Restored
Engel Barentsz (Original)
P. Van Schaijk (Relocated / Restored)
Jan Diederik Medendorp (Relocated / Restored)
Note: there are far too many people to list as De Zwaan's original owners in the Netherlands.
City of Holland, MI (1964 - present)