The Danish Windmill
In rural Iowa, an imported 19th-century windmill overlooks an unlikely enclave of Danish culture.
In Elk Horn, Iowa, a city with around 650 residents, Danish flags line Main Street and sandwiches are served open-faced. The town’s Danish heritage derives from immigrants who settled the town in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. To this day, 43 percent of residents claim Danish ancestry.
Elk Horn is home to an authentic 19th-century windmill that was shipped in pieces from Norre Snede, Denmark. In 1976, it was reassembled in Elk Horn by over 300 volunteers. The windmill is open to the public for tours, and has a gift shop stocked with imported Danish products. The community’s Danishness has been preserved in part by its rural location, and also a dedicated effort by the townspeople to celebrate their heritage.
Other Danish attractions in Elk Horn include the Museum of Danish America, the annual Tivoli Fest and Julefest events, and the Danish Table restaurant. Many local residents cook Danish specialties like aebleskiver (pancake balls) and frikadeller (meatballs), and some incorporate Danish elements into their Christmas celebrations and household decor.
Elk Horn’s commitment to its Danishness made it the star of Denmark on the Prairie, an award-winning Danish television documentary that came out in 2013. The film—along with a 2014 sequel and two episodes of the Danish cooking show Spise med Price—inspired a small but steady stream of Danish tourists. About 1,500 per year visit the small Iowa town.
Know Before You Go
The windmill is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Tours cost $3 for adults and $1 for children under 12.
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