About 175 years ago, 457 people from the Netherlands who were seeking religious freedom arrived in West Michigan and eventually settled in what is now known as Zeeland. The first thing they did was establish a church. The First Reformed Church of Zeeland was formed before the city of Zeeland was even founded. It had been 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. The year 1847 marked their arrival in what would become Zeeland, Michigan.
When the 457 Zeeland-bound immigrants left the Netherlands in 1847 for the new world, they came debt free due to the generosity of Jannes VandeLuyster who paid their debts before they got on the ships to resettle in Zeeland and the surrounding area. After their arrival, settlers were helped with basic needs and resettlement through the assistance of indigenous people and earlier settlers who gave advice and support, food and housing. This spirit of helpfulness and generosity remains a high value in the Zeeland community.
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 a doctor, Daniel Baert, was elected as its first president. In 1907, 60 years after the first settlers 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 in 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,churches, its history and in many of its people.
In honor of its 175-year history the City of Zeeland and Zeeland Historical Society will be hosting a week-long celebration for the community starting this Sunday and culminating with Zeeland’s annual Pumpkinfest, with family-friendly activities and entertainment–and will recognize Zeeland’s 175 th Anniversary through the Avenue of Art exhibit and parade theme. Additionally, the oldest living descendants of Zeeland’s settlers will be honored as the Grand Marshals of the Pumpkinfest Parade.
Sunday, Oct. 2
Great Lakes Duo organ and trumpet recital and reception. Rhonda Edgington, organist and Brian Reichenbach on trumpet will perform at the Second Reformed Church, 225 E Central Ave, Zeeland, at 5 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 3
Self-guided historic walking tours of Zeeland start at Dekker Huis Museum, 37 E Main Ave, Zeeland. Stop in for the tour route guide. The walk takes about an hour allows visitors to see some of Zeeland and Groningen’s most historic sites. Complimentary Dutch treats at the conclusion of the tour, 3-6 p.m. at Dekker Huis Museum.
Tuesday Oct. 4
Community celebration dinner and narrated story about the founding of Zeeland.
The dinner takes place 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Vande Luyster Square, located at the corner of Church Street and Central Avenue in Zeeland.
The free, outdoor, buffet-style meal will be served for 1500 Zeeland residents along with story-telling by Kit Karsten, live music by Michigan IO, face painting and kids crafts. Limited edition commemorative anniversary merchandise will be available for purchase.
Food Drive – Harvest Stand Ministries is asking for donations of non-perishable pantry items: a can or box of non-perishable food for each person who attends the dinner.
Wednesday, Oct. 5 and Thursday, Oct. 6
Historic Trolley Tours
Hop aboard a traditional trolley for a 45 minute tour to learn about Zeeland’s history, architecture, and local fun facts from a knowledgeable tour guide.
Every hour, on the hour, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Wednesday and noon – 6 p.m. on Thursday. Meet in the parking lot of the First Reformed Church, 148 E Central Ave., in Zeeland.
Reservations are encouraged for this event.Visit the Feel the Zeel website to make a reservation.
Friday, Oct. 7
Traditional Tea Social
This Celebration Tea promises social time, curated displays of Zeeland’s history, and time to share with friends-new and old. Tea, coffee, and light refreshments are provided. The tea will take place at two times: 10:30 a.m.and again at 1:30 p.m. at the historic New Groningen Schoolhouse, 10537 Paw Paw Dr, in Zeeland.
Reservations are required for this event. Visit the Feel the Zeel website to make a reservation.
All anniversary events are complementary, however, the community is asked to generously stock the Harvest Stand Ministry Pantry with non-perishable items, in lieu of event tickets or payment.
Zeeland’s annual PUMPKINFEST takes place Friday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 8. For a full list of events, visit the website.