HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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HOPES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS
ONE of the principal drawbacks, if not the greatest, of early frontier life in central Iowa was the absence of convenient markets and suitable means of exporting farm products or importing articles for farm and household use. Neither railroads nor steamboats had yet reached Marion County.
The only agency of regular communication with the outer world at first was a United States postroute and post-office. When the Hollanders arrived upon their newly-purchased lands, the American settlers were accustomed to get mail at an office on the Des Moines River, but when the postmaster sold his farm to Scholte, his office came to an end. "Recognizing the need of a post-office," wrote Scholte, "with the other members of our Council I wrote at once to Washington requesting, with an assignment of reasons, that the old office and route be removed to Pella, at the same time recommending a competent person for the postmastership. We received. a speedy and favorable reply and the necessary authorization." The Hollanders were thus enabled to obtain mail twice a week from the eastern States and from relatives in The Netherlands. They also received assurance that another post-route to the county seat would be relocated in such a way as to pass through Pella.(85)
But in the matter of establishing commercial and trade relations with such distant markets as Keokuk and St. Louis the Hollanders, like most other Iowans, experienced no little inconvenience. To be sure, their agricultural products found ready consumers in the increasing population of their neighborhood - a cause which continued to afford a market at every man's door for two or three years. But when they had surplus products, such as grain and pork, or if they had money and desired to raise their standard of living, they needed access to larger markets.
The city of Keokuk, one hundred and twenty miles away, situated at the foot of the Des Moines rapids of the Mississippi River, had become one of Iowa's most considerable ports and places of business. Steamboats for the transportation of passengers and merchandise plied regularly in large numbers between New Orleans, St. Louis, and Keokuk, where goods destined for points farther north had to be unloaded and conveyed over the rapids in light keel-boats.
In the early development of the vast resources of Iowa the Mississippi River came to be the most important agent. As the main avenue of trade, it placed the pioneers of Iowa in direct touch with the markets of the world. Grocery supplies, farm implements, mill machinery, dry goods, and hardware were shipped by sea from New York City to New Orleans and northward, or by the Ohio River route to St. Louis, and thence to the Iowa country.
The most reliable means of communication between Keokuk, the "Gate City of Iowa", and Pella was the State Road - an excellent highway running along the ridge between the valleys of two rivers. In 1848 this road was extended by law to include the nearest and most direct route to Fort Des Moines. And until about the year 1865 this thoroughfare was used for the transportation of Pella products to Keokuk and St. Louis and of manufactured goods to Pella. As a means by which merchandise could be received and produce exported the overland route was long and tedious; at the, same time the Hollanders found it better than the roads of Holland, except after heavy rains. Under ordinary circumstances they paid seventy-five cents per hundred pounds of freight, and $1.12 1/2, per hundred pounds when the road was at its worst.(86)
Shortly before the Dutch settled in Marion County Congress gave ear to the agitation in Iowa in favor of the improvement of the Des Moines River. Farm products of the Des Moines Valley had increased to such an extent that some rapid export route became absolutely necessary. Accordingly, it 1846 the government took what at the time promised to be one of the most important steps ever taken to develop Iowa's resources: all alternate sections of land in a strip five miles wide on each side of the Des Moines River from its mouth to its source were granted as an appropriation to provide for a system of slack-water navigation from Keokuk to Fort Des Moines. (87)
One year after Congress made such munificent provision for the internal development of Iowa, Scholte and his association of Hollanders indulged in the expectation that, since one-half of the distance to be made navigable had been surveyed and the sites for dams and locks had been selected, the expense of transportation to and from Pella in the future would be greatly lessened and the means of transportation would be facilitated.
Hardly had the town of Pella been platted when Scholte was requested by his American neighbors to lay out another town to be called Amsterdam. To this request he assented by selecting some land on the banks of the Des Moines River at a point where the stream was easily forded, where a dam and lock would later be necessary, and where a considerable harbor was expected to grow up on account of its position half-way between Ottumwa and Fort Des Moines. When the river should once be made navigable for ships and steamboats, this town promised to become the port of Pella and vicinity: "the recollection of what Holland's Amsterdam once was and of what the American Amsterdam (now called New York) is coming to be induced us to give this place in Iowa the same name, since it was both of Dutch origin and also intended for trade." And it was also hoped and suggested in 1848 that as soon as regular navigation became possible on Iowa's greatest river, a small body of water, called Lake Prairie, east of Amsterdam would present unusual opportunities for the construction of factories run by waterpower.
Two years later, in 1850, a store opened at Amsterdam; many people bought lots and built houses; while two brick-kilns and a lime-kiln made the town temporarily of some importance. But in the midst of promise came the memorable floods of the spring of 1851. A blight settled upon the hopes and prospects of the promoters of the young city when they began to perceive that the improvement of the Des Moines River was an ideal never to be realized. High water at once revealed how stupendous and impracticable was the task of rendering the Des Moines River navigable. Furthermore the position of Amsterdam upon the river's banks proved to be unhealthful: this fact retarded its growth. Indeed, the great Dutch name is no longer on the map of Iowa: only corn fields mark the spot where Amsterdam was expected to rise.(88)
Although steamboating on the Des Moines River continued to appeal to Iowans of that day and several boats succeeded in navigating the uncertain channel at different times, as a means of transporting produce to southern markets the river route failed dismally to satisfy the needs of the settlers. The man who probably ranked next to Scholte as the most public-spirited citizen among the early Dutch settlers in Iowa was A. E. D. Bousquet. He met with serious reverses in his efforts to make the Des Moines River a suitable outlet and waterway. In the flood year of 1851 he and other Pella merchants conceived the idea of shipping great quantities of corn down-stream in flat-boats to St. Louis. Their venture was only partially and accidentally successful and their plan was henceforth abandoned as impracticable.
Two years later Bousquet organized the Des Moines Steamboat Company, and again he met with disappointment. It was written of him that he "loved the new country in which he had cast his lot; for its prospects seemed golden to his eyes. He had considerable means . . . . and deemed it the better part to spend his money in developing the country rather than in buying great quantities of land and making himself rich by advancing prices . . . 'If I should do this I should be as great a curse to my community as the eastern speculators! ' " He also undertook to lay a plank-road from Keokuk to Pella, and is said to have completed from twenty to twenty-five miles.(89)
Railroad agitation in the years immediately following Iowa's admission into the Union reached the Hollanders of Marion County 'and led to no little speculation among them. They prided themselves on the advantageous situation of their colony when it became generally known that Pella was to be only fifteen or twenty miles southwest of the recently chosen site for the State capital. Certain State commissioners had been appointed with authority to select a place nearer to the geographical center of the State of Iowa than Iowa City then was.
Inhabitants of the Des Moines Valley had been especially interested in the removal of the seat of government from Iowa City, and as a consequence of the general dissatisfaction and agitation the commissioners caused five sections of land near the southern boundary of Jasper County to be surveyed, platted into lots, and sold at public auction during the latter part of October, 1847. They called the new capital Monroe City. The Hollanders, who perceived the advantage of living so near, were greatly disappointed when the work of the commissioners was later rendered null and void. When the agitation in favor of relocating the State Capital revived the Hollanders themselves for many years petitioned the State legislature to locate the seat of government at Pella, Scholte offering to donate land to aid in the construction of State buildings.
After Monroe City had been selected as the site for the new capital of Iowa, talk of a railway from Dubuque to Council Bluffs became more insistent, causing the Hollanders to hope and believe that Whitney's proposed railroad across the continent would either pass through or at least very near Pella. Further hopes were raised when dissatisfaction was expressed concerning the situation of the county seat at Knoxville. Indeed, many American settlers urged this as a reason why Scholte should lay out the town of Amsterdam, convinced that if the matter ever came to a vote the people would undoubtedly select this place as the seat of justice.(90)
Such were some of the hopes and aspirations of the Dutch inhabitants of Iowa during the first five years of their residence in the State. In every instance time revealed that anticipation was more pleasant than realization; but despite their disappointments the Hollanders plodded along and grew in strength and numbers.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(85) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 34.
(86) For a discussion of the transportation problem see the writer's article on The Roads and Highways of Territorial Iowa in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. III, pp. 178, 199-203; van Stigt's Gesehiedenis, Part II, p. 70; Laws o f Iowa, 1848, p. 47; and Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 24, 25.
(87) United States Statutes at Large, Vol. IX, p. 77.
(88) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 21,
25, 26, 27; also Scholte 's Tweede Stem uit Pella, p. 9, which
was written in the month of November, 1848; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis,
Part II, pp. 49, 50, 51, 74, 75. Amsterdam lay one mile south of a
village now called Howell Station. In 1860 the site of. Leerdam was
surveyed near the Skunk River north of Pella, but the town never got any
farther. Des Moines River improvement is still considered feasible. --
See The Register and Leader (Des Moines), November 29, 1911.
(89) Annals of Iowa, Third Series, Vol. IV, pp. 348, 349, 355; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 68-70, 76. Mr. H. P. Scholte of Pella doubts whether his father had a part in the plank-road scheme, as van Stigt alleges.
(90) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 20, 26, 27, 58; Shambaugh's Iowa City, pp. 110-116; House Journal, 1848, p. 245, and 1850, pp. 69, 160; and Senate Journal, 1852, p. 97.
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