van raalte


Growing Industry

Holland, Michigan: 1870-1900


"Isolation was a means of keeping the colony intact in its early days. It was not easy to get in; once families reached the settlement, it was not easy to get out. Moreover, the isolated setting meant that the young colony stayed intact in the literal sence of the word's derivation: not touched. Van Raalte was establishing Holland in Amerika, and de Kolonie would stay Dutch while it was developing into a solid community."

- Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader and American Patriot


In 1870, the first railroad came through Holland, opening up the city to the rest of the world. At this time, Holland had 9 general stores and XX residents. The Civil War had brought about more Americanization of the city; however, many residents still spoke only Dutch and clung to their religious ideals. As Gilbert Haan observed, Hollanders were "extremely ignorant" of worldly affairs.

Tragedy struck Holland in October 1871 with a fire that burned down much of the city. Only one person died due to the help of private citizens, Hope students and fire fighters that worked to put out the fire. Much of the city's buildings were obliterated, but Hope College, two railroad depots, the Plugger mills, the southwest residential section, and Pillar Church escaped unscathed. Most Holland residents did not carry insurance, as they believed it was against the will of Providence. For this reason, as well as the rise in building materials costs caused by Chicago's rebuilding due to fire and the financial depression of 1873, Holland's rebirth stalled.

On November 7, 1876, thirty years after reaching American soil, Holland's visionary leader, Albertus C. Van Raalte died. His death signalled the end of an era. Right after Van Raalte's death, First Reformed Church split from the Reformed Church of America and joined the Christian Reformed Church, signalling an unfriendly religious dichotomy that would exist for many years.

After rebuilding during the 1870s, Holland's growth accelerated. The last two decades of the nineteenth century proved to be an industrial revoltion in West Michigan. In the 1890s, industry opened up with furniture companies such as XX taking the lead. Heinz built the world's largest pickle plant on Lake Macatawa in 1896, which is still in operation today. The Holland Furnance Company was founded in XX and continued to be one of the leading companies in Western Michigan until XX.

With the growth of industry came the first public water system in 1885 and electricity in 1894. Holland was no longer a village of log cabins and wooden shoes.

Despite this industrial growth, agriculture continued to be the backbone of the area's economy. Due to the Dingley Tariff Act of 1897, the area began growing sugar beets for the production of sugar.

Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte


Cappon Bertsch Leather Co.

Photos Courtsey of Joint Archives of Holland

  Contact: Madalyn Muncy

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities, Hope College

Madalyn Muncy, 2012