In 1846, Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte
led a group of Dutch immigrants from Rotterdam
to New York on a ship called the Southerner
. European immigration was reaching a fevered pitch, and several nothern European groups had settled across the northern states of the growing US. VanRaalte was initially planning to settle in the Wisconsin area, which had already attracted large groups of Dutch
immigrants, but was convinced while wintering in Detroit, MI
to consider new lands opened on the shore of Lake Michigan
near a small inland lake called Black Lake
. In January 1847 VanRaalte went to Black Lake and decided to move his colonists there.
On February 9, 1847 VanRaalte arrived at the shores of Black Lake with 8 colonists and enough tools and supplies to start building essential structures that would allow for the rest of their group to attend. The group was helped by a local missionary, a government Indian agent and, as usual, a local tribe of Ottawa Indians. By the Summer of 1847, between 700 and 800 immigrants had moved to the new settlement. Since the area around Black Lake was a natural marsh, the settlers had incredibly difficult times growing enough food to be self-sustaining. Close conditions and mosquitoes helped spread smallpox and cholera. The local Ottawa were getting suspicious of the vast influx of Europeans, though Black Lake still largely separated the two groups. The Indians occupied the north shore, and the Dutch the south.
This segregation was not able to mitigate the effects of nearly 4,000 new immigrants appearing in Holland by 1848. The Ottawa, led by Chief Waukazoo and missionary George Smith relocated to Northport, Michigan, in the Leelanau Peninsula. On the north side of Holland there remains a suburb called Waukazoo Woods and an elementary school called Waukazoo as well. The Holland tribe of Ottawa still reside in Northport.
By 1852, just 5 years after VanRaalte pulled up to Black Lake, renamed by this point Lake Macatawa, Holland sported 7 stores, a couple of hotels and various manufacturing businesses. Easy access to water made tanneries a popular business in Holland, leaving Lake Macatawa polluted at a far earlier time period than one would suspect. Through these early years, VanRaalte was the spiritual, financial and political leader of the settlement. He received permission to start a church under the Reformed Church of America, which was known at the time as the Dutch Reformed Church. This group had initially left the Netherlands due to their conservative beliefs and a schism with the more liberal Dutch church of the time. The Holland, Michigan RCA was very conservative, with strong and typical protestant doctrine. In 1857, Pillar Reformed Church was built and is still in operation today. In fact, nate was married there recently. Although originally a Reformed Church of America edifice, in the 1880's it switched to the Christian Reformed Church due to convoluted and somewhat dry doctrinal differences.
Also in the 1850's, the Volksvergadering, or ruling body of the new settlement, tried to get government help in building a channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. The two lakes were close, and should a channel be built the new colony could take advantage of the brisk shipping trade that took place on Lake Michigan, since Lake Macatawa would provide a superb natural harbor. After years of negotiations, some initial work by the Army Corps of Engineers and the eventual collapse of government funding, the industrious Hollanders went out and dug the channel themselves.
In 1862, the first classes at Hope College were taught, and by 1866 it was an officially chartered institute of higher learning. Originally, the college was intended to give religious training, and still remains a religiously focused liberal arts college. Albertus VanRaalte, of course, was the first president of the college.
Holland received its incorporation as an "official" city in 1867. By 1871, the railroad had come to Holland. Things were looking good for our Dutch heroes. Unfortunately, the fall of that year had been dry, and on October 9, 1871 fire destroyed 80% of Holland, resulting in numerous deaths and tremendous destruction of property. Even worse, this was the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, meaning that those Hollanders who did have insurance (the majority did not for religious reasons) had them in newly bankrupt Chicago agencies. The city was all but destroyed.
With the help of some industrialists from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Holland survived. Most of the town had been rebuilt by the time VanRaalte died in 1876, and by 1890 building around the channel turned Holland into a popular resort destination, especially for the Chicago yachting crowd. The population grew from 3,945 in the 1890 census to over 9,000 by 1897. The Holland tourism trade flourished through the 1920's, and remains a vital part of the city's identity.
Perhaps the most well known resorts at the time were Macatawa Park and Ottawa Beach. Though these resort areas deserve their own nodes, briefly they created a resort culture in northern and western Holland. The Hotel Ottawa was built in 1886, overlooking Lake Macatawa with Lake Michigan clearly visible to the west. It initially had 36 rooms, but expanded in the 1890's. Around this area, wealthy family built many cottages, and it was in one of these cottages that a writer named Frank L. Baum wrote sections of a fantasy story he had been working on.
Holland continued to grow. In 1928, the State declared the beach area to the north of the channel as a state park, and the Holland State park remains one of the states most popular parks. In 1910, Bert Getz, a Chicago businessman, bought a section of land on Lake Michigan north of the state park. He built an extensive zoo known alternately as the Getz Farm or the Lakewood Farm. The zoo featured exhibits from the many safaris Getz had been on, as well as creatures like zebras, elephants, big cats and so forth. The park closed in 1933, and the animals all were transported to the Chicago Zoo. One remnant of the property is a large tunnel built into the side of the Lake Michigan dune, so that during the summer the larger animals like the elephant could be walked down to the lake. That tunnel is still in use at a county park called, appropriately, Tunnel Park. Another legacy of the Getz Farm is a legend about an elephant buried somewhere north of Holland. Most boys growing up in that area, your narrator included, spent a good bit of time on amateur archeaological digs looking for that damned elephant.
Other industries grew up in Holland as the tourism business lagged in the face of the Great Depression and the World Wars. Furniture making became an integral industry for most of West Michigan, and the Herman Miller corporation, makers of the Aeron chair and the Eames Chair Lounger are located nearby.
Today, Holland tries to celebrate its Dutch heritage while encouraging its increasingly multicultural composition. By 1930 Holland had finally stopped publishing Dutch language newspapers and decided to celebrate their roots by planting tulip bulbs every year and organizing Tulip Time. Tulip time is a week long flower festival featuring all things Dutch, and has been visited by a bizarre range of celebrants including Dutch royalty, presidents, celebrities and war heroes.
In the mid-1940s, the first Hispanic agricultural laborers moved to Holland to work in the growing blueberry fields to the north of town. Many of these workers stayed, and by 1990 the composition of Holland was 20% hispanic. Cinco de Mayo celebrations have become increasingly large, and make May (the month Tulip Time is set in) one long cultural blitzkrieg. While there is obviously cultural tension between the Dutch and hispanic populations of Holland, it could be worse and they actually do a decent job of getting along.
According to the 2000 census, the population of the city of Holland (not including the many outlying townships) is 35,048 souls, 53% of whom are female. 22% of the population is hispanic, 4% asian (mostly Cambodian) and 3% black, which is 2.9% more than when I was growing up. The median age is 29, and the median income is around $42,000 a year.
Holland has 3 major school districts. Holland Public Schools, West Ottawa Public Schools and Holland Christian Schools, a private religiously affiliated school system.
Now for some fun facts:
- Rich DeVos, owner of Amway and a kajillionaire, lives in Holland.
- The Windmill Island hosts De Zwaan, a 240 year old operating windmill imported from the Netherlands.
- The main street of Holland is heated by underground hot water pipes, so it remains clear even in winter.
- Holland has over 75 churches, and remains a churchy sort of town.
- The next city south of Holland, Saugatuck, is the top gay vacation spot in the midwest. HAH!
- Holland's newspaper is called the Holland Sentinel.
- Holland's library is the Herrick Public Library.
- There is a fine of 500 dollars for picking a tulip from the public beds in Holland. They plant thick metal spikes in the beds to foil hooligans who have opened their car doors to mow down rows of the little buggers at a time.
Like most people, I have mixed feelings about my hometown. It was hard to be an atheist in Holland, and there was little to do on a Saturday night. Still, Holland worked its way under my skin, and will always be my compass for how I define a place. Sneaking into Tunnel Park at night and laying on the dune to watch the stars. Beach fires on Lake Michigan followed by a little nightswimming. Even the cheesey sentimentality of Tulip Time all sit lightly on my heart these days, and they all say "Welcome home."
I guess it should also be mentioned that our very own Everything2 began its life in Holland.