175 years ago 457 people from the Netherlands, seeking religious freedom, arrived in West Michigan.
They eventually settled in to what is now known as Zeeland, and established their church. The First
Reformed Church of Zeeland was actually formed before the city of Zeeland was even founded; it was
organized in the Netherlands in the 1840s during the Separatist movement.
This group met regularly in Jannes Vande Luyster's barn in Borssele, Province of Zeeland. The congregation was led by Rev. Cornelius Vander Meulen. Together, these two men organized the 457-person migration to Zeeland, Michigan USA, with Vande Luyster as the financier and Vander Meulen as the spiritual leader. It is thought that this was the only other group of people besides the Pilgrims that immigrated to the United States, as an organized church. They arrived in 1847 and this became Zeeland, Michigan.
The separatist movement led to a wave of immigration of the Dutch to North America. Nearby to Zeeland, Reverend Van Raalte had settled in Holland, MI earlier the same year in 1847. Van Raalte wrote letters to churches all over the Netherlands inviting them to come to Michigan. A letter from Van Raalte sent to the Zeeland church was one factor in their choice of Michigan.
When they arrived at the plot of land that would become Zeeland, MI, they were greeted by dense forest. Zeelanders started from scratch, chopping down trees, building their homes, and planting crops. The very first building they raised was a church, demonstrating their commitment to their faith. On April 17, 1849 the village plat of Zeeland was recorded. The original town consisted of four quadrants.
The village of Zeeland was originally governed by the "Volksvergadering" or the People's Assembly. By 1851 the citizens of Zeeland were eligible to vote, and the first official election was held at the Zeeland Church. This election resulted in the organization of Zeeland Township. In 1875 Zeeland was incorporated as a village and Doctor Daniel Baert was elected as its first president. In 1907, 60 years after the first serrlets arrived, the village of Zeeland was incorporated as a city and P.H. De Pree was elected as the city's first mayor.
From 1840-1850, 5,718 Dutch families immigrated to the U.S., with one-third of them settling into what is now Holland and Zeeland Townships. Subsequent waves of immigration from the Netherlands to the United States occurred in the following decades. The City of Zeeland was established by the labor of these immigrants. Of course, Zeeland now has a diverse population, but the Dutch influence can be seen in its architecture, in its churches, in its history and in many of its people.
For such a small town, Zeeland boasts a strong industry background. Zeeland would grow to be the home of many successful businesses such as Herman Miller, Gentex, or Zeeland Farm Services. It would be a hub to chick hatching and clock making, making a big name in the world for such a small community.
Clock manufacturing in Zeeland has a long history. The Dutch were known for their woodworking skills and found plenty of trees for furniture and clock making when they settled here. With Grand Rapids already featuring a robust furniture industry, Zeeland quickly developed their own furniture manufacturers. Through the years, Zeeland became a leader the clock industry. The four clock companies in Zeeland were Colonial Manufacturing, Herman Miller and Howard Miller, Trend Clock Company, and H.L. Hubbard. Although Howard Miller is the only clock manufacturer left in town, highly collectible clocks from all four companies can still be found in homes and museums throughout the United States.
Zeeland´s origin as a major center for the poultry industry dates from 1906, when farmer Douwe Wyngarden purchased two mail order incubators and started the area´s first commercial chicken hatchery. Thirty years later, with Zeeland hatcheries leading the way, the Zeeland-Holland area produced millions of chicks. In 1947 the Michigan Tradesman hailed Zeeland as the chick capital of the state and reported that 10 million chicks were shipped annually from forty area hatcheries. The magazine stated that the area was "nationally recognized as the quality chick center of the United States". The industry's importance was reflected in many aspects of Zeeland´s civic life. The high school´s sports teams were named the "Chicks"; (later, "Chix"), and an annual pageant crowned Zeeland "Chick Queen". (From Historic Sign located in Church Street)
For more information on the history of Zeeland and how to do research yourself, visit www.zeelandhistory.org