HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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PROSPERITY AT PELLA
THE years of the decade from 1850 to 1860 were years of prosperous trade conditions in the Pella colony. With an abundance of work, high wages, and good prices for produce, few people complained of poverty. Townspeople and farmers, all began to realize profits from their investments after many years of waiting. From year to year the city of Pella spread out in every direction. Although unfamiliar at first with the soil and with American agricultural implements and unused to the severity of the climate, Dutch farmers by their zeal and industry rapidly attained to a prosperity such as they never could have achieved in The Netherlands. In meager circumstances when they left Holland, many became in America men of considerable wealth.(100)
Pella, however, was not destined to remain a place of settlement for the Dutch alone. A German with his family accompanied the Hollanders from St. Louis in 1847 and at once engaged in business. He was followed by other enterprising Germans, many of whom as business men played a noteworthy part in improving and building up the city. Moreover, a few French families came to Pella.(101)
One of the greatest boons to the city was the decision of the Iowa Baptists in 1853 to found a college in Pella. Central University, as it was called, attracted numerous families of Americans. Indeed, by the year 1860 so many Americans had found homes at Pella that the population of the city was about evenly divided between Dutch and Americans. (102)
Not all the original American settlers of Lake Prairie Township sold their claims to the Hollanders in 1847. A number, moreover, remained in adjoining townships until they sold out to newcomers from Holland, when they entered business life in Pella. The Hollanders were thus enabled to come into close relations with American farmers and American business men neighbors who gave generously of their store of knowledge gained from years of experience in pioneer methods and ways. Many American farmers gladly furnished lodging to those of the first immigrants who needed it, and many Hollanders by working as hired men for Americans obtained an acquaintance with the methods of American agriculture which stood them in good stead when they began farming for themselves. The names of the original American settlers were long held in grateful remembrance among the first Dutch pioneers.(103)
In 1856 certain letters were written in Dutch on "The Hollanders in Iowa". They contained a very complete account of the resources and condition of Iowa, and were apparently intended to attract emigrants from Holland by giving them to understand just what sort of a State Iowa was. The writer, whose name has always been shrouded in mystery, described Pella in 1856, informed his fellow-countrymen about the progress of the youthful Dutch colony, and assured them that in America more than anywhere else in the world every man could find work to match his talents and. enjoy life according to his industry: employment was open and inviting in every branch of activity, and agriculture was remunerative and profitable. He showed the certainty of reward which had attended the efforts of industrious Dutch immigrants in a fertile country where land was abundant and therefore cheap, and where the wealth, dignity, and power of the government were based upon the prosperity of the people.
Pella resembled all the towns of this western wilderness for many years and had no easy time establishing and maintaining physical orderliness. Scholte's English garden was famous throughout the countryside for its beauty, and people came miles to see it. His walnut grove became the place where annual old settlers' reunions were held. Garden Square with its pretty shade trees was also attractive; but in general the log cabin or frontier stage of society prevailed for many years among the Dutch settlers in both town and country. It has been well said that "nature's ways are different from man's ways; she is reluctant to submit to his control; she does not like to have her hair trimmed and her garments confined; she even communicates to man, in his first struggles with her, a little of her own carelessness, her own apparently reckless and wasteful way of doing things."
In 1855 Johnson County and Iowa City were congratulated at Pella for having taken the commendable step of voting in favor of a "hog law", whereby owners were compelled to keep their hogs locked up or run the risk of seeing them impounded. An editor at Pella bemoaned the fact that Marion County had no such law and that Pella was not incorporated as a city, and added: "It is a great drawback to this and other, inland towns that stock of all kinds throng the streets, giving the town. limits the appearance of a monstrous stock farm." One year later the same writer made the following announcement . "The only corporate building is a hog pen, in the western part of the city, for the use of the City Marshal, to shut up the snoring and grumbling loafers about town."
The "Gelderschman" author of the letters of 1856 explained how the Hollanders had grown prosperous in farming and business in America and referred to the recent growth of population. He told of the incorporation of the city of Pella and of the first election of city officers - all of whom were Dutch except the mayor and three councilmen. A German was then justice of the peace; an American and two Hollanders, Scholte and Henry Hospers, were notaries public; and a Hollander was postmaster.
In 1856 Pella prided herself on three church congregations - Baptist, Methodist, and Christian Reformed. Poor-house there was none. The Pella Gazette was edited and published by Scholte and Edwin H. Grant. Americans owned the hotels. Of the doctors, three were Americans and two were Hollanders. Druggists were evenly divided between the two. Nine out of fourteen stores and four out of seven blacksmith shops were Dutch-owned; while Germans monopolized the hardware business. Besides ordinary artisans there were two Dutch wagon-makers, three coopers, several wooden-shoe-makers, while carpenters were legion. Pella also claimed several sawmills, three on the Des Moines River, two near Pella, and one on the Skunk River. Two new corn-mills now relieved farmers from hauling their loads long distances. Three brick-kilns and two lime-kilns were also mentioned, and in conclusion the writer said of Pella: "We pride ourselves on not having those pest-holes, saloons, in our midst."
About this time a citizen of Pella, looking back over the years since the Hollanders had come to Iowa, wrote these lines:
That Pella was not an out-of-the-way place was further shown by the fact that Pella lay on the stage route from Burlington via Fort Des Moines to Council Bluffs. But the Western Stage Company did not serve the public acceptably as is evident from the country editor's complaint:
But even so the editor had no kind words for stage coaches in which, he asserted, "a man can neither stand, nor sit, nor lie down, but in which his body is squeezed and distorted into the most unnatural attitudes; which have windows too small to look out of them in the daytime, and just enough chinks and apertures to let in the cold, damp air at night, and which - laying claim to speed - travel at the rate of four miles an hour."
Improvement of the Des Moines River channel proved to be an empty dream. The stormy career of this wonderful project having come to an end, the General Assembly of the State of Iowa in 1853 appropriated an extensive area of land in the Des Moines valley for the construction of a railroad. Railroad construction in Iowa was very much retarded by the panic of 1857 and the Civil War. By the month of August, 1859, the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad reached Ottumwa, forty-three miles from Pella; but it was not until the month of January, 1865, that the first locomotive on the Des Moines Valley Railroad appeared in Pella, though the hopes of Pella's citizens had been raised to a high pitch many times before when surveying parties mapped out the route.
Much jubilation prevailed among the Hollanders when Pella secured a railroad connection with eastern markets, because business men had for years depended on the hauling of goods from Keokuk with ox or mule or horse teams. The completion of a railroad through Pella to Des Moines in 1866 was placed to the credit of enterprising Keokuk citizens. People of the surrounding country came from far and near to sell their produce and buy necessities or luxuries in Pella, until Knoxville welcomed its railroad in 1875. Then business fell off to some extent; but the Hollanders of Pella and vicinity were generally satisfied, because their lands and property had more than doubled in value.
For a quarter of a century the Hollanders had lived and worked together in Iowa. They had assimilated much that was American; but throughout they retained their qualities of thrift and industry. Holidays and festive occasions in which all participated had been few. To be sure they honored the Fourth of July, but not without the singing of Psalms. During the winter, like true sons of Holland, they enjoyed skating races for prizes on the lake near Amsterdam. When the month of August, 1872, arrived, the pioneers of Pella made preparations for a jubilee celebration. On the morning of the 28th of August they assembled at church, engaged in prayer, joined in the singing of Psalms, listened to addresses of a historical nature, and then sat down to a big church dinner, which was followed by choir music and more addresses in the afternoon. Such was the quiet observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the coming of the Hollanders to Iowa.(105)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(100) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 90, 91; and De Hollanders in Iowa, pp. 118, 11.9.
(101) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 39, 55, 80, and Part III, pp. 10, 42.
(102) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, p. 87.
(103) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 33-37, and Part III, pp. 3-7.
(104) De Hollanders in Iowa, pp. 116-142; The Pella Gazette, April 19, October 18, 1855, and March 15, May 1, 1856; van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, p. 45; and Phillips' Mahaska County, p. 241.
(105) Parker's Iowa Handbook, pp. 183, 184; Laws of Iowa, 1858, p. 195; van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part III, pp. 55, 56; and The Pella Gazette, May 3, 1855, January 17, 1856, and January 22, 1857. For Scholte's interest in Des Moines River improvement see The Pella Gazette, January 22, 1857; and for "railroad" meetings to consider the matter of voting a county subscription see The Pella Gazette, April 30 and May 14, 1857, and Pella's Weekblad, January 7, July 15, and August 1.0, 17, and 31, 1871.
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