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Not far from the big city, historic Lynden offers a peaceful retreat into a town of windmills, raspberry orchards and Dutch-inspired food and artifacts
One of Lynden’s many windmills
The Interstate I-5 to Seattle is fast and efficient, but let’s face it: it’s deadly dull, especially that stretch between the border and Bellingham. Getting off the Interstate at exit 270 – the Birch Bay-Lynden Road eight kilometers south of the border – dispels those blahs and tickles the imagination.
Big city tensions left me the minute I turned onto the two-lane blacktop. Drifting past dairy farms and raspberry bushes, I noticed how orderly it was – rows and rows of raspberry orchards (a cash crop in these parts) and modest but well-kept houses, often with toy windmills turning in the wind. Americans of British and Dutch heritage settled here in the 1800s, but it’s the Dutch who left their mark.
As I drove into the town of Lynden, 15 kilometres east of exit 270, I was struck by the manicured lawns, the many churches and the cleanliness of it all. Lynden is home to one of the largest Dutch-American populations in the United States and they’ve certainly left their mark especially along Front Street, the town’s main drag, in the historic part of town. I met two residents coming out of the post office. Postkantoor, the sign above the door proclaimed.
“Does everybody here speak Dutch?” I asked. “Not so much anymore,” I was told. While Dutch may no longer be part of their everyday language, native residents have kept their culture alive. A huge windmill dominates historic Lynden. Antique shops and Dutch-themed eateries complete the picture.
The Dutch influence felt throughout the city of Lynden (Image: John Thomson)
I popped into Lynden’s Pioneer Museum also on Front Street. I expected a modest collection of postcards and knickknacks – after all, Lynden’s a small town of 12,000 people – but I was overwhelmed with its complexity. A full-sized replica of Lynden’s 1912 main street filled the first floor. Twenty-two establishments vied for attention, everything from Lynden’s turn-of-the-century fire hall to the sheriff’s office to the Methodist Church. The saloon looked like it belonged in rough and tumble Montana until I saw the rack of delicate, Bavarian beer mugs on the far wall. A touch of Europe in pioneer America.
I followed the stairs to the basement where another surprise greeted me: 54 horse-drawn wagons, buggies and tandems, and in another room, four antique tractors, eight automobiles and a steam-driven thrashing machine. In fact, it’s one of the largest private collections of rolling stock west of the Rockies.
I completed my Front Street visit by having lunch at Dutch Mothers restaurant. Greeted by a friendly waitress with a sense of humour.
“I’m not Dutch,” I told her. “We’ll seat you anyway,” she said with a smile.
I was led to a rustic pine covered booth where I dined on Kreten brood met erwten soep, a raisin bun with sliced ham and Gouda complete with red cabbage and Dutch pea soup.
Windmills are a common sight in Lynden (Image: John Thomson)
Lynden is a hotbed of summer activities: Farmers Day in June, a regional Raspberry Festival in July and the Northwest Washington Fair later in August.
Visitors looking for a unique lodging experience can rent one of three rooms inside the windmill that dominates Front Street. Heidi, the manager, let me have a look around and they’re larger than you’d think. There are B&Bs and a campground nearby, plus a motel on highway 539, which of course is capped with yet another windmill. Sigh.
I counted 16 windmills of various sizes during my time in Lynden and while it would be easy to dismiss the town as a kitschy theme park, I enjoyed my time in Dutch-themed Washington.
The folks were friendly and genuine and the food was great. Whether a day trip from Vancouver or a diversion on the way to Seattle, a visit to Lynden introduces visitors to BC’s Dutch neighbours.