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Dutch Treat

July 1, 2010 By:
Lauren Kramer, JE Feature
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Walk a million miles for the Smiles Playground or tilt at windmills in Lynden.

Dutch boy, coming out! Everyone outta my way!"

With these words, Gary Vis, a first-generation American and executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce, steers his vehicle onto Front Street, the city's downtown historic core.

Is this really Washington State?

The four-block downtown is a place where Dutch ancestry is touted loudly in windmills, Dutch-style architecture, a public notice board called Dorpsnieuws or "town news," and, of course, food.

Vis seats himself down beside me in the Lynden Dutch Bakery, orders kant koekjes, known to Americans as florentines, and catches up with friends and acquaintances around him. The bakery is an informal meeting place with a good selection of Dutch delicacies that are popular in this city of 12,000 residents, 40 percent of whom claim Dutch ancestry.

There are traditional favorites like Dutch apple pie, amandel koekjes (almond cookies) and speculaas koekjes (spice cookies), and at lunch time the Dutch lunch of pea soup, Dutch rye and gouda cheese is in high demand.

A two-and-a-half hour drive north of Seattle, the commute to Lynden doesn't become scenic until you leave Interstate 5 and head east. At this point you're surrounded by farmlands, much of it raspberry fields. Lynden has 8,000 acres of berry fields and quietly supplies about 70 percent of the country's raspberries.

In the first half of July, you can find this delicate fruit at local grocery stores in the county and at roadside farm stalls, or you can pick your own at local farms.

Drive through Lynden and you feel like you've stepped back 100 years in time, or into a movie set depicting small-town America. Forty-foot maple trees line the streets and homes are modest, quaint and picturesque. The downtown core is filled with character, charm and an ambience that feels familiar and friendly.

Lynden is an emphatically Christian city with traditional values. That means if you're going to visit, you'd better come on the Jewish Shabbat, not the Christian Holy Day. On Sundays merchants close their doors and spend the day at one of the city's 38 churches, and with their families.

"We've heard stories about local Dutchmen warning new businesses that if they open on Sundays, they will not be supported," says Vis.

"From a Chamber of Commerce perspective, we want our members to be successful. But if they refuse to open on Sundays because their values and family time are more important to them than making a few extra dollars, then we support them in that decision."

Easy Job for Census Takers
There's only one Jewish family in Lynden, and their ancestors have been in this city in the Pacific Northwest for some 96 years. Sol Lewis left his San Francisco pickle business and moved to Lynden in 1914 with a dream of owning a local newspaper. He purchased the Lynden Tribune, a weekly newspaper, and hosted a radio show called "Parsnips Corner" during and after World War II.

His son succeeded him and today, his grandson Mike has been at the helm of the Tribune for 30 years, making it the oldest family-owned business in Washington State's Whatcom County.

Dutch descendants came to Lynden in two waves, after the first and second World Wars respectively, and their influence is evident all around town. There are windmill-shaped chocolates at the Lynden Candy Shoppe and dutchwiches for lunch at the bakery.

The town's slogan is "Visit Holland Without a Passport" -- though at times you feel like they're trying just a little too hard to push the Dutch connection.

The history of those Hollanders is difficult to trace in the Lynden Pioneer Museum. "It's hard to tell the Dutch story because once they arrived, they tried to be as American as possible," says Troy Luginbill, the museum's director.

Expecting a small, poky, dusty space, I was pleasantly surprised to find a 28,000-square-foot museum where historic Front Street has been vividly recreated to resemble the way it looked between 1885 and 1935.

Visitors can poke their heads into the local diner and check out the drug store, its shelves stocked with original drug boxes and prescription medicine.

Downstairs is the largest display of horse-drawn buggies west of the Mississippi, including rare pieces like an original hansom cab. Coupled with a display on the history of emergency response, it offers a vivid illustration of the development of transportation from horse-drawn buggies to automobiles.

A highlight for younger visitors to Lynden is the Million Smiles Playground inside Lynden City Park. Built in 2007 by an army of 2,000 local volunteers in nine days, the park is full of innovative climbing equipment.

One way to drag the kids away from the park is to entice them with a visit to the annual Northwest Washington Fair, held in Lynden in August. The 100-year-old fair features a rodeo, a horse show and carnival rides.

But if you're crowd-phobic like I am, head out to the farms. You can sample garlic gouda, oregano tomato quark and other innovative flavors of Dutch cheese at the Apple Dairy Farm, or nosh on berries at one of the berry farms until your fingers are stained.

Just don't forget to say "dank u wel" when you leave.

For more information on Whatcom County Tourism, visit: www. bellingham.org.

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