Book Cover and Front Matter: "Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City
Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City
The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America
in Cooperation with the
Van Raalte Institute
Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City
Robert P. Swierenga
Van Raalte Press
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, UK
[Book cover flaps]
Like the English Pilgrims, Dutch Reformed immigrants had a clear sense of destiny and a providential faith to sustain them on the Michigan frontier. Their “Moses,” the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte, gave voice to their vision and shaped the Holland Colony he founded on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in the Lake Macatawa watershed. In keeping with that vision, the Dutch “Dominie” platted the city and established congregations and schools, including Hope College. He led in developing the harbor and trunk roads, founded two newspapers, formed business partnerships to erect mills and factories to exploit the region’s rich wood resources, and loyally supported the Union cause in the Civil War.
Van Raalte’s Vision recounts Holland’s remarkable history from its humble origins as a Dutch immigrant settlement and college town into the largest and most prosperous city in the lakeshore region from Muskegon to Benton Harbor. By dint of hard work, thrift, and sharing, the enterprising Dutch developed thriving industries in leather, fine furniture, food processing, and in the twentieth century, shipbuilding, automotive parts, and office furniture. The All-American “city of churches,” with a high rate of homeownership and rated second nationally on the Happiness Index, is rich in churches, public and Christian schools, social services, and cultural and leisure opportunities. The town-gown relationship is strong and the senior citizen center is unparalleled nationally. Eighth Street—Holland’s “Main Street,” is alive with shops and eateries, while the nearby mall, once deemed to be the city’s death knell, is struggling to survive.
With the publication of Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City, Holland is that rare city with a comprehensive account of its history from Indian habitat to multiethnic city. Nearly nine hundred photographs, documents, maps, and charts illuminate the text and make this monumental work a “big splash” in a small city.
ROBERT P. SWIERENGA is Albertus C. Van Raalte Research Professor at the A. C. Van Raalte Institute, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, and professor of history emeritus at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio. A specialist in Dutch immigration history, he is the author of eight books, including the widely acclaimed Dutch Chicago: A History of Hollanders in the Windy City (2002). Besides a twenty-eight year career at Kent State, Swierenga taught at Calvin College, Hope College, University of Iowa, and Catholic University Leuven. He was twice a Fulbright Fellow at Leiden University. In 2000 Swierenga was knighted by Queen Beatrix in the Order of the Netherlands Lion, and in 2003 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus by the Alumni Association of his alma mater, Calvin College.
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Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America
Copy Editor: JoHannah Smith
Commission on History
To my grandchildren
Jacob Mark Groenhout
Trent Alan Groenhout
Jillanne Alyce Groenhout
Sydney Marie Swierenga
Henry Robert Breems
Louis Andrew Breems
Katherine Rebecca Breems
1. Before the Dutch: Ottawa Indians and Old Wing Mission
2. From Colony to City
3. Americans among the Dutch
4. Reformed Churches
5. Americanization and Reformed Churches: Cultural Change and Ethnic Diversity
6. American Churches and Other Religions
7. Public and Charter Schools
8. Christian Higher Education
9. Christian Day Schools
10. Roads, Railroads, and Airports
11. Port of Holland
12. Primary Industries—Milling, Tanning, Foundries, Metals
13. Furnace Town
14. Furniture for Home and Office
15. Industrial Diversification: Automotive, Boats, Chemicals, Electricals
16. Pioneer Farming, Agricultural Fairs, and Colonization
17. Farm Market Center
18. Shopkeepers City: Early Business and the Professions
19. Entrepreneurial City: Businesses and Professions in the Twentieth Century
20. The Progressive Era
21. The First World War
22. The Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression
23. The Second World War and the Korean War
25. Public Services
26. Public Safety: Fire and Police
27. City Institutions and Parks
28. Leisure Life: Recreation, Resorts, and Entertainment
29. Social Life: Clubs and Societies
30. The Arts
31. Social Services
32. The Press
33. Downtown Renewal
34. After the Dutch: A Changing Community
1. Population Statistics, 1850-2010
2. Area Churches
3. Area Schools
4. Street Name Changes
5.1 Auto Dealers and Garages, 1908-1940
5.2 Bakeries, 1894-1950
5.3 Cigar Companies, 1887-1938
5.4 Contractors and Builders, 1897-1929
5.5 Drugstores, 1864-1950
5.6 Hotels, 1872-1966
5.7 Photographers and Artists, 1860-1950
5.8 Physicians and Surgeons, Dentists, and other Doctors, 1870-1950
5.9 Restaurants, 1897-1950
5.10 Rooming and Boarding Houses, Tourist Homes, 1897-1954
5.11 Shoe Stores, 1872-1976
5.12 Saloons and Taverns, 1874-1974
5.13 Public Buildings and Private Blocks, 1921 and 2012
6. New Building Construction Permits, 1907-1953
7. Elections and Public Officials
7.1 Holland City Presidential Elections, 1852-2008
7.2 Holland Township Presidential Elections, 1872-1896
7.3 Holland City and Township Officials, 1867-2012
8. Police and Fire Chiefs and Marshals
8.1 Holland Fire Chiefs, 1867-1907; Fire Marshals, 1907-2012
8.2 Holland Town Marshals, 1867-1907; Police Chiefs, 1907-2012
Fig. 1.1 Michigan Indian Land Cessions, 1795-1836
Fig. 1.2 Old Wing Mission Indian Tracts, 1840
Fig. 1.3 Black Lake with the Indian Landing and Point Superior, 1840s
Fig. 1.4 Old Wing Mission and Western Michigan Region, 1840s
Fig. 1.5 Old Wing Mission Site, 2006
Fig. 2.1 Travel routes by water and rail to Holland Colony, 1848
Fig. 2.2 City plat of 1847 in A. C. Van Raalte’s own hand
Fig. 2.3 City plat of 1848
Fig. 2.4 Path of Great Fire of 1871
Fig. 11.1 Holland Harbor, 1847-1856
Fig. 11.2 Holland Harbor, 1857-1897
Fig. 11.3 Holland Harbor Tonnage, 1945-2003
Fig. 19.1 New Building Construction Permits, 1907-1953
Fig. 24.1 Ward Map, 1867
Fig. 24.2 Ward Map, 1871
Fig. 24.3 Ward Map, 1893
Fig. 24.4 Party Enrollment by Ward, 1912
Fig. 24.5 Ward Map, 1915
Fig. 24.6 Ward Map, 1941
Fig. 24.7 Ward Map, 1961
Fig. 24.8 Ward Map, 1972
Fig. 28.1 Males and females by age cohorts, Holland city population, 1886
Table 2.1 Van Raalte Land Purchases, 1847-1876
Table 2.2 Van Raalte Land Sales, 1848-1876
Table 2.3 Village Board of Trustees Land Purchases, 1847-1851
Table 2.4 Village Board of Trustees Land Sales, 1847-1851
Table 7.1 Holland Public Schools Superintendents, 1870-2012
Table 7.2 Holland Schools Enrollment, Kindergarten-Grade Twelve, 1950-2012
Table 9.1 Holland Christian Schools Superintendents, 1920-2012
Table 14.1 Holland Property Valuations, 1903
Table 18.1 Stores and Businesses after the Great Fire of 1871
Table 19.1 Auto Owners, 1927
Table 21.1 Hope College Student Enrollment during First World War
Table 28.1 Tulip Time Earnings, 1994-2012
Table 32.1 Newspapers and Periodicals in Holland, Michigan, 1850-2012
Table 34.1 Minority Population of Holland and Holland Township, 1970-2010
“Many hands make light work,” the adage goes, and that has been my happy experience in the writing of this work during the past decade. Dozens of people helped in one way or another, and they will be acknowledged below. But I am especially indebted to two colleagues at the A. C. Van Raalte Institute—JoHannah (Mrs. Kraig) Smith and Elton J. Bruins—as well as my good friend Randall “Randy” P. Vande Water, author and former editor of the Holland Sentinel, and Michael J. Douma, my Hope College student assistant in the early days. JoHannah Smith, editorial assistant and office manager at the Van Raalte Institute, copy-edited the manuscript with an eagle eye, bringing it into conformity with the latest sixteenth edition (2010) of the Chicago Manual of Style, which I swear she has committed to memory.
Elton Bruins, founding director and Philip Phelps Jr. research professor at the Van Raalte Institute and the Blekkink professor emeritus of religion at Hope College, spent two months reading the completed manuscript with a sharp eye for errors of fact and “inconsistencies.” He is the international authority on Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte and of the religious history of Holland. His extensive knowledge of the city and region began in the 1970s, when he cataloged the manuscript collections of the Holland Historical Trust that are now safeguarded in the Holland Museum Archives. I “picked his brains” often about items that puzzled me, and he could always put his finger on the document I needed in his complete collection of Van Raalte manuscripts. His personal knowledge of people and events, especially concerning Hope College, Western Theological Seminary, and the Reformed Church in America over the past sixty years, is quite amazing.
Randy Vande Water, a third-generation Hollander and renowned local historian, read every chapter, some more than once. He willingly shared his prodigious memory of people, places, and stories since the 1940s that only an insider could know. Nor did his editorial pen leave him; the early drafts came back marked liberally with missing words, commas, periods, and capital letters. He was equally generous in sharing his vast collection of historic photographs, some from his father and grandfather, and some of which he salvaged from the dumpster when a new regime came to power at the Holland Sentinel and did not appreciate their value. Michael Douma, author of Veneklasen Brick (2005), has a nose for finding historical “nuggets” in archival collections, and he found many to my advantage. Douma roughed out first drafts of chapters 10, 20, 22, and 29-31, and he later proofread several chapters. He gave me the boost that I needed early in the project. David Boeve of Audio Memories recorded lengthy interviews with seventeen Holland residents who were involved in major businesses, economic developments, and city administration, all of which Lori Trethewey, secretary and receptionist at the Joint Archives of Holland, tediously transcribed. These interviews are now part of the permanent collection at the archives.
Fritz L. Kliphuis, Michael Lozon, Joel Lefever, and Paul A. Den Uyl, all authorities on Holland history and authors of books and articles on various aspects of it, also read selected chapters. Kliphuis, a master of Holland’s Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and City Directories and a fount of knowledge about city history—especially the fascinating minutiae—read chapters 7, 10, 12, 15, and 19 with a meticulous eye. He saved me from numerous mistakes involving locations and postal addresses. Kliphuis graciously allowed me to publish in appendix 5 thirteen lists of businesses from auto dealers to saloons that he laboriously compiled from the Sanborn maps and the Holland City Directories from 1883 to 1950. These lists are an invaluable resource. Lozon, business reporter for the Holland Sentinel in the 1990s and author of company and community histories (Jack DeWitt’s Big Dutchman, Marvin DeWitt’s Bil-Mar Foods, B. J. W. Berghorst & Sons, Trans-Matic, and Vision on Main Street) read chapters 14, 15, 17, 19, and 33 and raised issues for me to consider. Lefever read the first six chapters and pointed me to photographs in the collections of the Holland Museum and the Joint Archives of Holland that might illuminate the text. Den Uyl, historian of Holland’s fire department, in which his grandfather served, read chapter 25 on the fire department and helped me get the details correct. He indexed his book, The Holland Fire Department: The First Fifty Years, 1867-1916, partly for my benefit.
Robert “Bob” Vande Vusse, Holland city councilman and a specialist on Great Lakes shipping and Michigan railroads, read the sections on those topics in chapters 9 and 10. Philip Miller of the Howard Miller Clock Company read the chapter on industry and shared his keen interest in Holland business history. Huug van den Dool of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) read the section on the Holland Fire of 1871 and provided historical weather information pertaining to the week of the fire.
Earl Wm. (Bill) Kennedy and his wife, Nella, my colleagues at the Van Raalte Institute, shared their respective areas of expertise, Bill as a Reformed church historian and Nella as the institute’s official Dutch-language translator. Nella translated countless Dutch-language documents and newspaper articles at my request and checked the English translations and spelling of Dutch words and phrases in the book. Jacob (Jack) E. Nyenhuis, director of the Van Raalte Institute and provost and professor of classical languages emeritus at Hope College, graciously assigned Hope College student research assistants to support me in various ways. More important, he put the resources of the institute behind my research, including underwriting the publication of this work, without which this book would never have seen the light of day. Michael Van Beek conducted research on the history of Holland Public Schools, work that prepared him for his present position as director of education policy at Michigan’s Mackinac Center. Brigid Maniates assembled a preliminary bibliography, and Anthony Bednarz and Kara Robart assisted in indexing the book, checking quotations for accuracy, and other related tasks. Mark Cook, director of the Hope College bookstore and a graphics expert and historian, created all the maps and charts, notably the city ward maps and early Holland harbor maps. The latter required extensive research in original sources.
Librarians and archivists were always generous with their time and expertise. Geoffrey Reynolds, director of the Joint Archives of Holland, shared his knowledge of boats and the boating industry, connected me with people I needed to interview, and made available the electronic archives of photographs from the collections. Lori Trethewey, located archival materials in the Joint Archives and patiently scanned photographs for me from numerous collections and from community members who lent me personal photos. Deborah Postma-George and Catherine Jung, archivists at the Holland Museum, drew on their intimate knowledge of the collections to find information on request. Ms. Jung scanned dozens of photographs from the rich collections of the Holland Historical Trust and assisted me in identifying persons, places, and dates on photos lacking such crucial information. She proved to be an able detective with a nose for ferreting out the information I requested.
Mary VanderKooy, genealogy and reference librarian at Herrick District Library, instructed me in the use of the Holland Sentinel electronic files and facilitated the use of the Donald van Reken Collection, which she allowed to be moved for safekeeping to the Joint Archives of Holland. Ann Prins, former genealogy library assistant, compiled the Holland city federal population census of 1870 at my request and shared her detailed knowledge of local history. I thank Marlene (Mrs. Elmer) Veldheer and Kit Karsten of the Zeeland Historical Museum for photos from their collections. Marlene Veldheer passed away unexpectedly in June 2012, only weeks after assisting me. Jessica Hronchek, research and instruction librarian at the Van Wylen Library at Hope College, searched web-based sources to track down information for me, and the inter-library loan staff obtained books that I needed from libraries across Michigan and beyond.
Unsung volunteers who patiently clipped articles from the Holland Sentinel over the years deserve special commendation. I made liberal use of the files of Elton Bruins at the Van Raalte Institute, of Sue Brandsen at the Joint Archives of Holland, and of the anonymous “clippers” at the Holland Museum archives and at Herrick District Library. Sue Brandsen also corrected information concerning Holland Christian School buildings in appendix 3.
Individuals who shared information and made historical records available include Steve Vander Veen, David Koster of the board of public works, Kay Walvoord, Eugene Westra, Calvin Langejans, Rev. Bob Terpstra of Immanuel Church of Holland, Rick Tucker of the Community Action Council, Janet De Young of Good Samaritan Ministries and later of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, Maryam Komejan and Dwane Baumgardner of Donnelly Corp., and former Hope College president Gordon Van Wylen of Riverview Group in Holland. Other individuals whom I interviewed in person or by telephone are noted in the relevant footnotes. Myron “Mike” Van Ark generously made available his incomparable postcard collection of historic Holland. The numerous acknowledgments appended to the photo captions testify to the extensive use I made of his four-volume collection. Larry B. Massie allowed me to scan many photos in his extensive photo archives, as did Randy Vande Water, who salvaged countless photos from the Holland Sentinel files before they were discarded.Timothy Ellens designed the eye-catching dust jackets for all three volumes, as he did so admirably in my earlier book, Dutch Chicago: A History of the Hollanders in the Windy City (2002). If the dust jackets sell the set, Tim did his part.
I thank Donald J. Bruggink, professor emeritus at Western Theological Seminary and the founding general editor of the Reformed Church in America Historical Series, under whose auspices this book was published, for his careful shepherding of this book from idea to actuality. I also acknowledge other key links in the publication process: the staff at Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, notably Willem Mineur who designed the cover, and most essentially, the indefatigable Russell L. Gasero, archivist of the Reformed Church in America at the New Brunswick Seminary, who converted over 1,400 pages of single-spaced manuscript and nearly nine hundred images into the three-volume work that you hold in your hands.
None of the dozens of specialists who assisted me in one way or another, particularly those who read and copy edited the manuscript, bear any responsibility for errors that remain. “The buck stops here,” as any author will readily acknowledge.
I thank my wife Joan Boomker Swierenga for her support and understanding. When friends would ask her; “How’s Bob doing?” Her reply often was, “His head’s in the computer.” How right she was. Many an evening she sat alone upstairs while I wrote in my study downstairs. The book is dedicated to my grandchildren. They are the best kind of children—all pleasure and no responsibility. Mine keep me young and bring pure joy.
Finally, I cannot close without recalling the countless conversations with my colleagues at the Van Raalte Institute during our fabled morning coffee times, when I would raise issues concerning my research or ask questions about matters that stumped me. The collective knowledge of Dutch American history, especially regarding Albertus C. Van Raalte and associates of the founding generations, is unrivaled anywhere in the world. My gratitude and thanks go to Jack Nyenhuis, Elton Bruins, Don Bruggink, Bill Kennedy, and Nella Kennedy for their patience in listening to more about the history of Holland then even they ever wanted to know.
When I moved to Holland in 1996 to join the A. C. Van Raalte Institute at Hope College, I looked for books to introduce me to the history of this historic city. I found a number of very readable popular histories by Larry Massie, Randall Vande Water, Donald van Reken, and Sara Michel, and more recently, newspaper articles by Steve Vander Veen, a professor of business at Hope College. Massie’s histories, in particular, are lavishly illustrated with eye-catching photos, and his writing style is unsurpassed. There is, however, no comprehensive history of Holland with citations of original sources that one trained in the discipline of history might come to expect.
This is surprising, given the annual Tulip Time historic tours and the marking of city anniversaries in 1872, 1897, 1922, 1947, and 1997. Teachers at secondary schools and colleges have kept local history alive, and all the necessary documents and newspaper files that tell the story of Holland are available in libraries and archives. Even the language barrier was of little consequence until at least the 1950s, since many educators and amateur historians were fluent Dutch speakers.
This book is an attempt to provide a fresh and comprehensive history of Holland from its pre-history as an Indian colony to the increasingly diverse community of today. After telling the story of the Old Wing Mission and Chief Wakazoo’s Ottawa Indian band, the topical chapters here recount the coming of the Dutch, the Americans who chose to live among them, and the history of religion, education, roads and public transportation, harbor development and lake shipping, industry and commerce, agricultural industries, retail and wholesale businesses, city services, social services, politics, social and cultural life, and the modern city. The complexity of this story after 1900 suggests an “historical period” format, that is, the Progressive Era, First World War, Interwar Years, Second World War and Korean War, downtown renewal, and the rise of a multi-ethnic community. The text is based mainly on original documents and newspaper files in the Joint Archives of Holland, the Holland Museum Archives, the Calvin College Archives, and Herrick Public Library. The primary sources are augmented with interviews, unpublished accounts, and secondary works of all kinds. Readers interested in the documentation on which the account is based will find extensive notes and a comprehensive bibliography. Several appendices provide lists of churches and schools; statistical information on Holland’s mayors and township officials, population trends, voting patterns, commodity prices, and other data; and lists of historic businesses and the professions.
Those with ties to Holland and vicinity will find family members and friends among the thousands noted in the text or appendices. Most would be surprised to be publicly acknowledged. The Dutch are an unassuming lot, known for living quietly and avoiding the limelight. They follow the advice of King Solomon, “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth” (Prov. 27:2, KJV). I am that man. My aim is to give praise where praise is due. Condemnation I leave to the judge of all the earth.
During the month of October 2011, the city of Holland commemorated the bicentennial of the birth of the city’s founder, Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte, with considerable public fanfare, special events, and an academic conference at Hope College, which continued early that November in the city of Ommen, province of Overijssel, where Rev. Van Raalte had nurtured a Separatist congregation from 1840 to 1844 and planted churches as the “apostle of Overijssel.” To honor the founding father, whose impressive statue in bronze adorns Centennial Park, was fitting because the city was shaped in large measure by Van Raalte’s vision and imprint.
The Dutch Calvinists who settled in 1847 on the shores of Lake Michigan at the mouth of Black Lake (renamed Lake Macatawa in 1935) considered themselves to be a people set apart by God for His glory. Like the English Pilgrims in the Netherlands, who set out on the Mayflower centuries ago, the Dutch Separatists, who had seceded in 1834 from the Netherlands Hervormde Kerk (Reformed Church), had a clear sense of destiny. God would do great things in their New Jerusalem, if they were faithful servants. This Providential vision led them to keep careful records of the life of the colony and to preserve key documents for posterity.
The colonists and their leader were intent on founding a Christian community guided by the Dutch Reformed faith and “salted” with a few Americans of Protestant persuasion. The freedom to establish churches and schools without government interference was a key goal. Within two years, every village in De Kolonie had a church, and Holland quickly earned a reputation as “a city of churches.” Within ten years, Van Raalte had established a Christian preparatory school, the Holland Academy (1857), which soon evolved into Hope College (1866). More Americans came to the Holland colony than the pioneers expected; Americans, in fact, comprised one-third of the population by 1880. But all desired a community guided by Biblical principals, just like the Dutch Reformed. Most were Calvinists in the English Reformed tradition—Methodist, Congregational, Episcopal, and Presbyterian—besides a few Lutherans and Roman Catholics.
In the last fifty years, since the 1970s, Hispanics and Asians have settled in Holland in increasing numbers, and they now comprise more than one-third of the population. Most Hispanics are Roman Catholic, and most Asians are Buddhist. Despite the cultural differences, the newcomers share with the Dutch a strong work ethic, pride in homeownership, and conservative family values; some have joined Reformed and other Protestant churches.
Van Raalte was a man of letters and a careful administrator of the settlement. For the first decade or more, Van Raalte’s quill pen and steady hand recorded the minutes of the key organizations—the consistory of the First Reformed Church of Holland; the regional church assembly known as the Classis of Holland; the People’s Assembly, a type of town hall meeting that existed from 1847 to 1850; and the local school board. Van Raalte, the only university graduate in the colony, also kept meticulous ledgers of his lands, real estate mortgages, taxes, and business investments. And he helped start two local Dutch-language newspapers, De Hollander (in 1850) and De Grondwet (in 1860) to promote the colony and document its progress. With the demise of the Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Nieuwsbode (1849-61), the first Dutch immigrant sheet, De Grondwet, dubbed the “Republican Bible,” became the most influential Dutch-language newspaper in North America with more than 5,500 subscribers nationwide by 1892. The Holland Fire of 1871 destroyed countless records, including the back files of both newspapers, but church and college records survived.
Celebrating the story of the colony is a tradition in Holland. Beginning with the twenty-fifth anniversary in 1872, when Van Raalte and his fellow founders, the “old timers,” recounted the pioneer days with pride, the city has marked every quarter century with parades, newspaper retrospectives, publications of histories and memoirs, and reunions where the original settlers recounted the “way it was.” County judge and newspaper editor Gerrit Van Schelven in 1882 published the first “Historical Sketch of Holland City and Colony” as part of the first general history of Ottawa County. The semi-centennial of 1897 far surpassed the 1872 commemoration. City fathers generously spent tax dollars to stage elaborate parades and memorial events. That year saw the writing of a full-length history of the colony by Dingman Versteeg of Holland, entitled Pelgrim vaders van het westen (Pilgrim Fathers of the West). The manuscript, valuable as it is, has never been published, but an English translation by Clarence Jalving, is available in typescript.
The lavish semi-centennial of 1897 did not suffice, and ten years later, at the sixtieth anniversary in 1907, the leaders of Holland and Zeeland staged yet another celebration that was more flamboyant than all the others. Recognizing that the pioneers were dying off rapidly, Holland’s first historian, Gerrit Van Schelven—a Civil War veteran, newspaper editor, justice of the peace, and postmaster (1899-1916)—invited the few surviving pioneers to write their memoirs. Dozens did so. Van Schelven saved every one and printed many in serial form in his newspaper. Some were translated and published in the Holland City News. Van Schelven intended to publish the pieces in a collected volume, but few readers submitted advance orders, and the plan had to be shelved (Holland City News, 11 Mar. 1902). Van Schelven, known by friends as “Van,” knew more about early Holland’s history than anyone in the community. Following the sixtieth commemoration in 1907, he published in 1908 Wat bracht U hier? (What Brought You Here?), which explains the reasons for leaving the Netherlands and of the founding of Holland. But he never completed a history of the colony, despite compiling copious notes.
Van Schelven’s efforts prompted the Holland City News editor Ben Mulder to begin publishing, as a regular feature, retrospective pieces entitled “Fifty Years Ago” and “Twenty-five Years Ago,” that Mulder continued until his death in 1947. These snippets refreshed memories and served to keep alive the past, as did the lectures delivered by William O. Van Eyck, Van Schelven’s intimate friend, successor as postmaster, and understudy as a local historian. Van Schelven joined the Republican Party after the Civil War, while Van Eyck, a second-generation Dutch American, led the local Democratic Party. Van Eyck, a Hope College graduate with a law degree from the University of Michigan, was a highly regarded city clerk (1897-1909), Holland postmaster under Woodrow Wilson (1916-24), First Ward alderman (1909-11), and Ottawa County supervisor (1923-34). Van Eyck, a fastidious bachelor, was one of the most popular lawyers and politicians in the area.
Early in his career as a lawyer, Van Eyck determined to fulfill the goal of his mentor and write a comprehensive history of the first sixty years of the Holland colony. In 1909 Ben Mulder and Nicholas “Nick” J. Whelan, owners of the Holland City News, offered to any budding historian ready access to their back issues from 1872—thirty-seven years worth—so that this “wealth of local history” would not remain a “closed book to the general public for want of a historian.” Van Eyck took them up on the offer and devoted a full year to indexing every issue of the city’s first English-language paper. He also compiled notes for projected chapters—on the post office, mayors and elections, harbor improvements, businesses, industries, craftsmen, professional people, roads and bridges, Tulip Time, and many other topics. Perhaps he was looking to the seventy-fifth anniversary in 1922 to complete the work. But his thriving law practice, political activities, and public service stymied him, like it had for Van Schelven. Van Eyck died in 1934 at age sixty-four with not one chapter completed. The Tulip Time celebration, which began in a modest way in 1929, quickly developed into an annual commemoration of the history of the city.
Peter Theodore “Ted” Moerdyke of Zeeland picked up where Van Eyck left off. When Moerdyke’s Zeeland haberdashery closed in the Great Depression, Willard C. Wichers, head of the Netherlands Museum, hired him under the WPA Historical Records Survey project to be the curator of the museum’s historical records, which position he held from the mid-1930s until the early 1960s. With the detailed notes and writings of Van Schelven and Van Eyck at hand, Moerdyke meticulously compiled his own research notes on Holland’s first century, including biographical sketches of nearly two hundred notables, dozens of businesses and industries, churches, wars, and many other subjects. His papers and hundreds of documents fill sixteen boxes in the Holland Museum archives. Although a master bibliophile and compiler, Moerdyke never wrote a narrative history of Holland.
In a sense, the history of Holland has been overdone, but not yet finished. The centennial spawned several major historical works. Albert Hyma was commissioned to write the first English-language biography of the colony’s founder, titled Albertus C. Van Raalte and His Dutch Settlements in the United States (1947). Hyma, professor of history at the University of Michigan, had previously acquired the Van Raalte Papers from the family and based his biography on this rich resource. In recent years the Van Raalte Institute and the continuing research of Dr. Elton J. Bruins, founding director of the institute, has led to three new biographies, a family genealogical history, and a collection of letters written by Van Raalte to Philip Phelps Jr., the founding president of Hope College. These books are: Jeanne Jacobsen, Elton Bruins, and Larry Wagenaar, Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader and American Patriot (1996); Michael De Vries and Harry Boonstra, Pillar Church in the Van Raalte Era (2003), which focuses on the dominie more than the congregation; Elton Bruins, et al., Albertus and Christina: The Van Raalte Family, Home, and Roots (2004); and Elton Bruins and Karen Schakel, Envisioning Hope College: Letters written by Albertus C. Van Raalte to Philip Phelps Jr., 1857-1875 (2011). Since Van Raalte played a central role in the life of the colony in the first decade or so, these books, “narrow-cast” as they are, help illuminate the general history.
The centennial celebration also prompted Henry Lucas, another native son and historian by training, to compile the best of the writings that Van Schelven had compiled a generation earlier and publish them in a two-volume work, Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings (1955). Lucas also wrote a complete history of the Dutch immigration and settlement in North America, entitled Netherlanders in America: Dutch Immigrants to the United States and Canada, 1789-1950, which the University of Michigan Press published in 1955. This first comprehensive history of the immigration by a Dutch American complemented an older two-volume book under the same title, written in 1928 by a Netherlands socio-geographer and historian, Jacob Van Hinte, entitled Nederlanders in Amerika: Een Studie over Landverhuizers en Volksplanting in de 19e en 20ste Eeuw in de Vereenigde Staten van Amerika (Netherlanders in America: A Study of Emigration and Settlement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in the United States of America). Baker Book House of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1985 republished this seminal work in English with translation by Adriaan de Wit under my general editorship. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. reissued Lucas’ Netherlanders in America in 1989, under the aegis of the Dutch American Historical Commission. Lucas and Van Hinte mastered the source materials of their subject, both in Dutch and English, and devoted considerable attention to the history of Holland in their comprehensive histories. But neither wrote a detailed history of the city.
The sesquicentennial in 1997 again revived the historical consciousness of the community. Hope College published a modern biography of the city founder by faculty members Jeanne M. Jacobson, Elton J. Bruins, and Larry J. Wagenaar, Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader and American Patriot. The Peter H. Huizenga family and city council installed the first statue of Albertus C. Van Raalte in Centennial Park; it was a fitting fulfillment of the failed dream to erect a similar statue for the seventy-fifth anniversary in 1922. Pillar Church sponsored a lecture series by Robert P. Swierenga and Elton J. Bruins on the religious history of the colony, which was published under the title, Family Quarrels in the Reformed Churches in the Nineteenth Century. The Dutch American Historical Commission commissioned a revised edition of Henry S. Lucas, Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings, first published in the Netherlands in 1955.
Larry B. Massie, Donald van Reken, Randall Vande Water, Mike Luzon, Paul Den Uyl, Elton Bruins, Michael De Vries and Harry Boonstra among others, have written histories of the city and region, or particular aspects of it—Albertus C. Van Raalte, Pillar Church, major companies, business leaders, railroads, Lake Michigan resorts, the fire department, Holland Christian Schools, and the like. These are the broad shoulders on which I was able to stand while writing this book. Hopefully, in the future, others will use these efforts to flesh out the many stories left untold or incomplete. If this book keeps alive the memory of Holland’s history and inspires the next generation to dig into the history of this fascinating community, I will be fully rewarded for my efforts.