Discover Michigan: State History Conference heads to Holland

By: Jennifer Sigouin | C&G Newspapers | Published August 29, 2017


The city of Holland will say “welkom” to anyone wanting to delve a little deeper into the area’s rich Dutch history when it hosts the annual State History Conference Sept. 22-24.

Presented by the Historical Society of Michigan, the conference is held in a different location each year and is open to both history buffs and professionals from historical organizations. The event gives attendees an in-depth look at each year’s host city as well as Michigan history in general.

Nancy Feldbush, director of communications for the Historical Society of Michigan, said that for those who want to visit Holland, the conference is a great way to “immerse yourself” in the area’s culture. She noted that about 60 percent of the conference will be Holland-based, and the rest will cover other statewide topics.

On the first day of the conference, Friday, Sept. 22, participants can attend one of three guided tours: a tour of Holland’s Dutch-American historical sites, a tour of the city’s “Big Red” lighthouse on Lake Michigan, or a tour of the Holland Museum and the DeZwaan windmill.

The windmill, located at Holland’s Windmill Island Gardens, will likely be a popular excursion.

“It was the last historic windmill to leave the Netherlands, and it’s here in Michigan,” said Feldbush.

The windmill tour will be led by Alisa Crawford, a certified miller who operates the windmill.

“The two major icons for the greater Holland area are the windmill and the lighthouse,” she said. “When people see them, they connect to our region.”

Crawford explained that the windmill was brought to Michigan in 1964 and is fully operational. It’s both educational and functional, as it is still used to grind grain.

“It’s well-integrated into the community,” she said, noting that the grain she grinds there is locally and regionally grown.

The windmill’s products are used locally too. Customers include Holland-area restaurants and bakeries, which use the windmill’s flour; and New Holland Brewing, which uses windmill-ground rye for a special beer that’s brewed for the city’s annual Tulip Time festival.

Crawford said that those on the tour will not only get a rare behind-the-scenes look at the windmill, but they may also see a dedication of the windmill’s new state historical marker.

“I certainly think that they’re going to get a taste of the Dutch heritage that founded the community,” Crawford added.

Conference attendees will have more opportunities to learn about Holland’s Dutch heritage on Saturday, Sept. 23, during a keynote luncheon titled “Welkom to West Michigan,” followed by a series of breakout sessions and workshops, all held at the Haworth Inn & Conference Center at Hope College.

“Of course, we’re going to have a session on tulips,” Feldbush said, referring to a presentation titled “Tiptoeing Through the Tulips.”

Other Holland-centric sessions include “Grist for the Mill: The DeZwaan Windmill,” “Crafting an Industry: Holland’s Boat Builders,” and “Sizzle and Scandal: The Holland Furnace Company.”

Michigan history buffs may also be interested in Saturday morning’s opening keynote address on western Michigan’s role in the Arsenal of Democracy, as well as other sessions throughout the day. Topics include “1967: The Grand Rapids Uprising”; “Saugatuck: Creating the Art Coast of Michigan”; and “Finding Home: The Settlement of Chief Waukazoo’s Band,” which is about the Odawa Indians.

“I’m thrilled there’s going to be someone giving a discussion on the Odawa Indians that were here before the Dutch,” said Crawford. “They have a remarkable story, and I’m so glad it’s being told.”

Saturday’s events will conclude with a closing banquet at the Holland Area Arts Council, featuring a presentation titled “Fatal Crossing: The Disappearance of Flight 2501,” which will take a look at the mystery surrounding a plane that disappeared over Lake Michigan in 1950.

The conference will wrap up on Sunday, Sept. 24, with a morning tour of Holland’s historical downtown.

The State History Conference is open to everyone, and standard registration costs $169 for Historical Society of Michigan members or $199 for nonmembers. Friday’s guided tours cost an additional $20, and the closing banquet costs an additional $35. Standard registration runs through Sept. 10, and late registration runs Sept. 11-18. After Sept. 18, registration will only be available at the door, and meal tickets will not be available. For registration details and a full conference schedule, visit Registration can also be made by phone at (800) 692-1828.

Feldbush added that metro Detroiters who want an immersive history experience closer to home can look forward to the southeast Michigan history conference, Michigan in Perspective: The Local History Conference, March 23-24, 2018, in Sterling Heights.

Our Discover Michigan series explores Michigan’s most road trip-worthy destinations and events. Where’s your favorite place to travel in the mitten? Leave us a comment or email We may use your suggestion in an upcoming feature.