The desire for a change of scenery and some rest and relaxation, created a trip to Holland.
This is not the Holland that is found in the Netherlands, but rather it is a distant cousin found in Michigan.
The history of Holland Michigan is a classic American tale of hard work, resilience, and triumph. From its very beginnings, Holland provided a refuge for those seeking freedom of expression and a more vibrant economy. Persuaded by religious oppression and economic depression, a group of 60 men, women, and children, led by Albertus C. Van Raalte, prepared for their 47-day trip from Rotterdam to New York. Van Raalte intended to purchase land in Wisconsin, but travel delays and an early winter caused the group to layover in Detroit. After hearing about available lands in west Michigan, Van Raalte decided to scout the territory. They reached their destination on February 9, 1847 on the banks of Black Lake—today’s Lake Macatawa.
The hundreds of Dutch immigrants that followed expected to find their promised land, but instead found a swamp and insect-infested forest. Although food was scarce, and the log sheds they built were unable to hold everyone, the settlers persevered. VanRaalte realized the practical and economic potential of the dense forest: trees could be felled to build homes and businesses, while the excess lumber could be sold to purchase farming supplies.
In the early years of Holland history, the settlers set out to conquer several projects. They knew that if Lake Michigan was to provide growth and development, it had to be made accessible by an adequate channel. After trying in vain to receive government aid, the determined Hollanders took up picks and shovels and went about digging the channel themselves. The immigrants also cleared a one-block square of land in the center of the colony—today’s Centennial Park—to serve as a market square.
By 1871, two railroads extended spurs to Holland, indicating that this was a stable city with a growing future. However, in October of that year, a wind-fed fire struck the city and all of Holland was ablaze. With their hard-earned possessions destroyed, Holland was bankrupt and its people reeled from the toughest blow of all. But not even this calamity could diminish the hopes of the stout-hearted citizens. Plans for a twenty-fifth anniversary proceeded vigorously, and the citizens held a great celebration in September of the following year.
Over the next several years, Holland made a slow but steady revival with help from surrounding communities. Once back on its feet, Holland introduced many conveniences to its residents, including the city’s first telephone system, public water system, electrical service, and free mail delivery. And at the end of the 19th century, Holland’s excellent transportation facilities spurred much economic growth, including new furniture and other manufacturing plants, lumber-related industries, and a thriving agricultural market.
This era also marked the beginning of the long history of Holland as a tourist destination. Visitors were attracted to the picturesque sand dunes at the mouth of the Black River and the miles of dazzling sugar sand beaches stretching along Lake Michigan.
The beginning of the 20th century brought even more industries to Holland. Soon, the city was noted not only for its furniture manufacturers, but also many other famous businesses such as the Holland Furnace company, Heinz Pickle factory, and the Bush and Lane Piano Company. After World War I, these and other businesses thrived, as did the tourist industry.
The 1920’s also brought Holland’s most enduring and famous festival—Tulip Time. In 1927, Lida Rogers, a biology teacher at Holland High School, suggested the planting of flowers as a community beautification project. In 1928, the city imported tulip bulbs from the Netherlands and planted them along the street curbs and in the parks—a tradition that continues to this day.
In 1961, Holland businessman Carter Brown conceived of transplanting an authentic windmill from the Netherlands as a memorial to the city’s Dutch heritage. Prolonged negotiations with Dutch officials, and authorization of $450,000 in revenue bonds, finally resulted in permission to remove one of the ancient windmills and transport it to Holland. Its new location became known as Windmill Island, and it remains a major tourist attraction and Tulip Time venue.
As late as the 1950’s, Holland still boasted of its ethnically homogeneous population, with ninety percent Dutch heritage. But during the Vietnam era, the city that had so successfully retained its traditional atmosphere also found itself a community in transition. New industries and the resultant population growth produced a building boom. Old traditions, such as closing downtown shops on Wednesday afternoons, gradually succumbed to more mainstream practices. Through the sponsorship of various churches, there was an influx of Latino families and Southeast Asian refugees.
Holland became a community in flux in other ways as well. Dozens of suburban housing developments spread across the surrounding townships. Fast food restaurants, outlet stores, and shopping centers increasingly lined the U.S. 31 corridor.
After the turn of yet another century, Holland continues to both honor its traditions and refine, update, and expand its appeal. In the last decade, Holland has received many prestigious awards, including one of the country’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” and a “Great American Mainstreet” from the National Trust for Historic Preservation; “All America City” from the National Civic League; “One of the Top Five Places to Retire” from Money Magazine; and “One of the Top Ten” in A.G. Edwards’ Nest Egg Index.
With it’s location being right between Chicago and Detroit and twenty minutes from Grand Rapids, Holland is a popular place not only to visit but to reside. After all its challenges, Holland not only evolved into what its founders had hoped and struggled for, but continues to rise well beyond their expectations