Long-ago immigrants to the United States sought reminders of home and hopes for prosperity in New World landscapes. Within the Midwest are small towns with big pride in their ethnic heritage. These places, population 3,500 or fewer, flaunt and invest in their cultural roots, as others homogenize or disappear with the passage of time.
Here are some of those charming cultural islands:
Elk Horn, Iowa
"Danmark pa Praerien" ("Denmark on the Prairie") is the name that Danish filmmakers gave their one-hour documentary on this village in 2013.
Next to cornfields at the outskirts of town is the Museum of Danish America, which has so many artifacts that storage units are rented off-site. This summer's opening of a $3million addition shows off more than before.
Expect a 30-acre museum park named after landscape architect Jens Jensen, stories about Danish immigration, the late Victor Borge's first piano, a genealogy center and a gift shop with popular Denmark products (Dansk place settings, Piet Hein glassware, Danish Modern home decor, woven Danish hearts).
Also in Elk Horn, 70 miles northeast of Omaha, Neb., is an imported 1848 windmill (60 feet tall and the town's welcome center), a 1908 Bedstemor's Hus (Danish grandmother's house) and a VikingHjem (replica of a Viking blacksmith's home). The Danish Inn (712-764-4250, danishinnrestaurant.com) routinely makes pretzel-shaped kringle (pastry with almond filling) and serves a Sunday buffet of Danish foods (open-faced sandwiches, braised red cabbage, medisterpolse sausage).
The June 21 Sankt Hans Aften, a midsummer celebration since Viking days, means singing and folk dancing around a bonfire. More elaborate are a re-created Viking encampment and a procession of locally chosen royalty at Tivoli Fest in late May. New this year was the leverpostej (liver pate) recipe contest.
Kimballton, population 322 and three miles north, is home to a sculpture garden with fairy tale themes: The biggest replicates "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen. 712-764-7472, danishvillages.com
Facing the Mississippi River 60 miles southeast of Dubuque, Iowa, and near the Great River Road is a 90-foot-tall windmill constructed in the Netherlands for this little town, whose first Dutch settler arrived in 1856. The building sits atop a river dike, above the 62-mile Great River Trail, a biking/hiking path that follows the riverfront from Rock Island to Savanna, Ill.
The windmill's grinding stones each weigh at least a ton and rotate to produce buckwheat. The flour and Delft pottery are sold at the Windmill Cultural Center (815-589-4033, tinyurl.com/fultonwindmill), home to 22 much smaller, European-style windmills.
Metal fabricator J.T. Cullen added a bigger-than-life happy fisherman wearing big wooden shoes. Look for the Blue Moo (painted in the blue-white Delft style for Chicago's 1999 Cows on Parade) at the Fulton Journal newspaper office.
For sale at Fulton Meat Market (211 11th Ave., 815-589-3213) are sweet-salty licorice, tea rusk (biscuits for dunking) and other Dutch treats.
Local historian Barb Mask has long orchestrated Dutch Days during the first weekend every May; among parade highlights are street scrubbing, ethnic dancing and a Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) visit. 815-589-2616, cityoffulton.us
Hillside vineyards flank this Missouri River town of brick buildings, set up in 1837 by the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia as a place to preserve German heritage and culture. Though the spot resembled the Rhine Valley, grapes were a crop of practicality more than sentiment: That's about all immigrants could grow on the rocky land.