From the Danish Windmill, to the Museum of Danish America along with shopping, wine and great food, Elk Horn has it all! My husband and I had the chance to visit this western, Iowa Danish village. We learned the story of this community on a hosted visit. I found I love everything about Elk Horn and its sister town Kimballton!
Lodging and Supper
We arrived late Friday afternoon and checked in to the Tivoli Inn and Suites. The hotel was welcoming and quiet. Hotel manager D.K. was delightful. Relatively new to Elk Horn, D.K. came from Lima, Ohio and said he loved his job here in Elk Horn.
D.K. assisted us in ordering dinner from downtown Larsen’s Pub. Lisa Riggs of the Danish Windmill arranged our visit. She said that Larsen’s is famous for their Pork Tenderloin, which has been rated #1 in Midwest Magazine!
D.K. added that the broasted chicken dinner is AMAZING, and said that was what he was ordering. We followed his lead and walked the three or so blocks to pick up our meal. Currently Larsen’s is only offering curbside service. During our walk, I saw the Danish Windmill lit up. It was so lovely, it looked like a Christmas card.
The food was great, and we enjoyed sitting in the lobby area visiting with D.K . Our stay at the Tivoli Inn & Suites was peaceful, the perfect stop to rest up for our busy day Saturday!
The Drive Around
Breakfast wasn’t scheduled until nine, so we decided to drive around. We wanted an idea of where everything was before our scheduled meeting times. Plus, the countryside was just lovely. I had fun taking pictures of the local art like the mural near the War Memorial.
We soon found an interesting monument, a memorial to the Elim Lutheran Children’s Home. The home was open from 1890 to 1961. In an Industrial Park area we spied a neat piece of old iron on tracks. We’d love to know the story!
Art in Kimballton
I loved Kimballton from the moment we drove into town! Kimballton was founded in 1883 when Hans Jensen Jorgensen opened a post office. Today the word post office is in both English and Danish!
We went in pursuit of the Little Mermaid statue and what we found was so much more. We found the Hans Christian Andersen Little Mermaid & Sculpture Garden which has been on display since 1978. It is a replica of the famous statue in Copenhagan, Denmark! There are eight more sculptures created by Troy J. Muller added in 2013. Each sculpture depicts Andersen’s most famous fairy tales.
There was also a Freedom Rock,which was something new to me. According to the website, “The Freedom Rock (established in 1999) is a large (approx. 60+ ton) boulder located in rural Iowa that is repainted every year with a different Thank You for our nations Veterans to honor their service to our country. The artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, was inspired by the movie Saving Private Ryan, as well as, wanting to give Veterans a unique recognition on Memorial Day.”
If I understand correctly, there is one in every County and Bubba Sorenson has recently been elected as an Iowa legislator!
Breakfast at Pleasant Thymes Tea Room
Pleasant Thymes Tea Room is the dream of Sherry Gerlock. She makes that dream a dream for her customers as well! Keith and I were honored with a four course breakfast the likes we had never seen! The stories that Sherry shares as she serves the meal is as enchanting as the food itself. Sherry is a Jensen by birth with Danish roots and her mother is from Kimballton. Her husband Bill plays the fiddle and we would have loved to meet him!
“I spent every morning in the bakery with my grandma. She worked in a cafe in Casey, Iowa. She taught me to make noodles and pie crust. I dedicated this tea room to my mom and grandma,” Sherry said. The decorations at the tea room are lovely, and this really offered Pleasant times!
Our first course consisted of a cinnamon roll, smoked salmon around a pickle and a chilled raspberry soup! Yum. Next was an amazing ham and red pepper quiche, and a pumpkin walnut scone with coddled cream. “It was Queen Victorian’s recipe,” Sherry added.
We couldn’t eat it all and took some of it with us as we headed out with stories dancing through our heads as we headed to the Danish Windmill!
Tour of the Danish Windmill
Lisa Riggs provided a tour of this amazing 60′ windmill that was built in Denmark in 1848. After Harvey Sornson returned from a trip to Denmark he had the idea. He wanted to bring a windmill to Elk Horn and restore it! He saw many windmills in Denmark disappearing.
The Danish community got behind Harvey. Another Elk Horn resident Milo Andersen worked with his cousin Harry Petersen who lived in Denmark. Harry located a windmill in Norre Snede, Jutland.
Soon money was raised and agreements made. The windmill was dismantled and transported home. (Not quite that easily! Come tour and hear the whole story!)
Today the 60′ windmill is up after being rebuilt in 1976. The work was done by community volunteers. Keith and I had the amazing experience of climbing to the top of the windmill. There we saw the grinding stones and the gears! We watched the video explaining the story. Lisa shared details about this amazing historic preservation in the Danish villages of Elk Horn and Kimballton. These communities make up the largest rural Danish settlement in the US!
Along with the windmill, there is a great giftshop. There is also the VikingHjem, a 900 A.D. Viking smithy’s home. You will enjoy the Tiny Morning Star Chapel as well!
Museum of Danish America
The Museum of Danish America is a lovely building sharing the history of the Danes that came to the area. Keith especially enjoyed the film which shared the story of a farmer. The farmer was in his 90’s and told of his father coming to America and their family history.
I loved the porcelain and the exhibit of items brought from Denmark. There is a really cool Nimbus motorcycle for example. Inside the museum is also Victor Borge’s beautiful grand piano. This beautiful piece was donated to the museum.
The displays are self guided and fascinating. The museum was established in 1983. With the mission to celebrate Danish roots and American dreams, they are the only museum dedicated to the Danish-American experience.
Next to the museum is the Jens Jensen Prairie Landscape Park, which is quite lovely. In fact, the surrounding countryside sets this museum off like a diamond on a hill. The prairie was designed in 2011 and installed in 2012. Jens Jensen was a Danish landscape architect born in Denmark in 1860 . He immigrated to the US in 1884.
Although the community is only a bit over 600 people, we were impressed with the number of places we found to shop! Both the Danish Windmill and the Museum of Danish America had nice gift shops. There you can find cool Danish items. We purchased jewelry and a few Christmas presents.
The Nest Egg is a partnership. Stacey Luke formed with Carol of Back Alley Cuts. “I specialize in women’s casual ware and unique accessories,” Stacey explained.
Keith bought me lovely gloves here. We also found a Christmas present for my mom! Next we stopped at the Egg Krate, which has antiques, crafts, candles and jewelry! The Egg Krate is located in a former Egg Candle factory. “It was used as a factory until the 1980’s and started in the 1940’s,” owner Linda Goos said “We have been open since 1996.”
Sitting next to Linda at the counter was the mall mascot the elderly calico kitty Mama! I found a lovely jewelry set in this fun place that was decorated in spots for the Holidays!
The Log Cabin Quilt Shop is a wonderful shop with everything needed to sew! Owned by Jerry and Robin Hoffman, we met them and their daughter Kelsi. Jerry has a cool collection of antique sewing machines. Robin had lovely quilt examples that she sells hanging throughout the store. This former lumber yard and hardware store is a quilt shop that people come from all over the US to visit.
At the Log Cabin, they also offer rooms for rent. Several quilters come and stay and sew for a few days. You don’t have to be a quilter to rent a room. The rooms are clean and neat and make another cool lodging option.
Our last shopping stop was The Old Danish Workshop run by the wonderful Gene Thomsen. “I’ve been here 25 years, I retired from insurance,” Gene said. “I do a lot of refinishing and repair and I am 88 years old.”
Gene builds an array of wooden items and restores them as well. He had done work for Jerry at the Lob Cabin Quilt shop. We bought a lovely wooden cross there.
Grace on Main
We had a wonderful lunch at Grace on Main in downtown Elk Horn. Ilee and Mike Muller opened on March 18, 2020. “The day the Governor said carryout only. We started out serving through a window,” Ilee said.
Offering scratch-made hand-tossed dough, house-made sauces, and fresh toppings there is a lot to love!
The couple moved from California influenced by their friends the Dixon’s that own the Norse Horse Tavern where we had supper. “They are close friends and relocated from California.”
After hearing how great Elk Horn was Ilee said, “They invited us to come out and we fell in love with the simplicity here.”
What I so loved was the name. Ilee said everyone wants to know if it was named after someone named Grace. But she said, “It stands for “By the Grace of God” .
She explained that they feel that by His grace everything fell into place to open their restaurant.
At Grace on Main we had a great shared meal of salad and pizza. The pizza was supposed to be a small personal pan. However, it was more medium size and perfect for sharing. It was so GOOOOOOD!
Danish Countryside Vines & Wines
Part of the joy of finding the Danish Countryside Vines & Wines was the drive. The countryside is so lovely. It is even sweeter to know that the winery is in a restored 1913 barn!
The winery was started by Allan and Carol Petersen, but now is run by their son-in-law Loren Christenson and his wife Jennifer. Besides running the winery, Loren is also a Lutheran Minister.
Loren explained the land. He told us that the Germans settled here first and got the flat land, then the Danes came and got the higher land.
We sampled Countryside’s delightful wine. “Our best wine is our white fruit wine,” Loren said. It was also his birthday the day we stopped by. Friends and family were stopping to wish him well.
“The whole community had a part of this,” Loren said. “I think everyone in Elkhorn, and 20 miles has a Countryside bottle in it. We are a large/small winery, with 15,000 bottles a year.”
“All the little towns around here are Danish Villages too,” Loren added. “Elk Horn is the epicenter. You go ten miles further and it’s German culture.”
We took home a bottle of wonderful peach wine!
The Norse Horse Tavern
Our last stop before heading home was the fun Norse Horse Tavern. Arron Dixon and his wife Jodee opened this Viking themed tavern two years ago. “The building was a shed before. We worked on it seven days a week for seven months,”
The Dixon’s are also California transplants. “We moved here when my wife’s parents moved to Kimballton. We moved here from LA. There was no adjustment, we like the quiet and the space.”
Keith and I shared a plate of Nachos since we had basically ate our way through the Danish Villages. The food and atmosphere were wonderful. It was a great ending to the day. Outside I must admit I loved the art of the Norse Horse sign. Arron said it was Jodee’s idea for the name.
On the right side of the building is a cool mural. Arron said he didn’t know the history. However, since I arrived home, I had the picture of the mural on my Facebook page. An Elk Horn resident shared that the D & D stood for Durham & Durham Brothers. The gentleman shared that the store was owned by was his “best friends grandfather Russel Durham. He and I worked in the store some back in 85-86”.
If you get a chance, head to Elk Horn and Kimballton. It is a magical place. Thanks to the Danish Windmill for hosting us!