Grand Rapids Herald - Magazine Section - 29 April 1928 - p. 5

Several Other Lands Are Well Represented In Cosmopolitan City

Holland Leads in Numbers of Native Born, Descendants

Who Have Contributed to Cityís Stable

Development; Privations of Their Pioneering Described

That Grand Rapids is a thoroughly cosmopolitan city is shown by the fact that no fewer than a dozen foreign nations have more or less goodly-sized representations among its populace, with a sprinkling of several more with lesser representations.

Holland leads in numbers of native born and their descendants whose activities have helped make their adopted city "a good place in which to live." Next comes Poland, with Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Lithuania, Greece, Italy and Sicily, Armenia, Syria, China and others following. It has been estimated in past years that persons born in. The Netherlands and their descendants constituted fully one-third the bulk of the cityís population. This proportion today is variously estimated at from 40 to 50 per cent.

The influx of Hollanders into Grand Rapids in the late forties and early fifties is given credit in large part for the stable, conservative growth of Michiganís second city it was these, who had known the most rigorous privations and hard ships as pioneers in the wilderness of western Michigan, who made the most of opportunities afforded by a growing community and whose unremitting efforts helped place Grand Rapids in the forefront of progressive American municipalities.

Knickerbocker Descendants

Prior to the migration to Grand Rapids of members of the Van Raalte, Steketee and VanderMeulen-Vanden Luyster colonies, who had settled at Holland and Zeeland in the spring and summer of 1847, there were other Hollanders who had assumed places in the cityís development. These were descendants of the Knickerbockers, who had established themselves on Manhattan Island, which became New York city, and who had arrived in Grand Rapids in 1842 or thereabouts.

Historical data on the first Grand Rapids residents who came direct from Holland or were descendant from the Knickerbockers of the east is largely lacking, according to authorities. A reason for this is that records of the first Reformed church established in the city, of which the pioneers were organizers and members, were destroyed by fire. One of the pioneer families, it is known, was that of Francis Van Driels, whose descendants for many years conducted a flour and feed business on Bostwick ave. Another was the Hodenpyls. The Hodenpyl woods was a gift to the city from a member of that family, Anton G. Hodenpyl, about, 15 years ago.

Erected in 1842

The First Reformed church was erected in 1842 at the southwest corner of Michigan St. and Ottawa Ave. The building still is standing., but is now occupied by a second-hand store. Foundations of this structure and part of the first story were built of natural stone dug out of Grand river. The remainder of the building was constructed of brick. Services were held for many years in the basement of the church. The Second Reformed church was built some years later on Bostwick ave., and was occupied until the merger of that congregation with the Third Reformed church several years ago. The former Second church is now headquarters of a fraternal organization.

The first real Influx of Hollanders to Grand Rapids came in the early fifties. They were members of the colonies which had settled in 1847 on the west shore of Lake Michigan. Some had gone to Nunica, Ravenna and other points in Western Michigan, but were attracted here by the growing cityís business and commercial opportunities. John Steketee, whose father, John; headed a colony which founded Zeeland, was among these arrivals. He came in 1850. His brother Paul , founder of the Steketee Dry Goods company, came two years later.

Consul Many Years

John Steketee was the father of Jacob Steketee and was for many years consul for The Netherlands here, being succeeded in that post by the son. He was one of 10 children, all of whom, except one, came from the Netherlands with their parents to Zeeland. Besides John and Paul, the other brothers were George, Peter, Andrew, Cornelius and Bastiaan. The daughters were Mrs. Ellen Hofman, Mrs. Joanna DeVries and Pauline De Hult. Of the original 10 children of the elder John Steketee, Zeeland settler, only two are living, Bastiaan Steketee, and Mrs. Ellen Hofman, both residents of Holland.

All 10 brothers and sisters attended the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Zeeland, which was held in that city in 1897. There had not been a death among them in half a century, considered a most remarkable family statistical record.

For many years several of Grand Rapids Holland families followed many of the quaint customs of their native land, but gradually these were discontinued until now, only some of the old details of religious worship and teaching are carried out in their churches as they originally were instituted in their homeland. In the Reformed churches here the various holidays.

Wearing of wooden shoes was not a general practice even in the old country, according to Rev. G.M. Vanlíernis?, pastor of Ninth Reformed church. He says that only a few were addicted to them and these were in the rural districts. The urban Hollander, during his boyhood days, he assorts, dressed much like the inhabitants of all European and American cities. He says that his mother, a resident of Holland, Mich. keeps a pair of wooden shoes, which she occasionally dons to clean out the basement of her home or to scrub the kitchen floor, but that she never would think of appearing on the street with them.

Much interest is being taken by Grand Rapids Hollanders and their families in an outdoor pageant which is to be given at Ramona Park late in May by Hope college alumni in celebration of the tercentenary of the Reformed church of America, the oldest Protestant denomination in the United States. This celebration will constitute a renaissance of old religious customs with the proper costuming and atmosphere. Five hundred persons will participate in the pageant. A large orchestra is now rehearsing every week for it and a chorus of 100 trained voices is being organized.

Recalls His Arrival

A few years before he died John Steketee, Netherlands counsel here, related in an interview his recollections of his arrival in the United States and some of his subsequent experiences as a member of the Zeeland colony of his father.

"I was just 14 years old when we arrived," he said, "but I remember that and subsequent, events very distinctly. After crossing from Antwerp in a sailing vessel to New York we came by way of Albany and Detroit, arriving in the latter city on the Fourth of July. Troops were parading in honor of the day, and I remember how frightened we were at the appearance of the soldiers. Father called some of the older ones aside and advised that we move out of there immediately, as there seemed to be some sort of a war on. But when we learned that the people were only celebrating the anniversary of their independence day we were glad

"We had come from Buffalo by a propeller steamer and we were in peril all the time because of the danger from fire. They kept some of us boys continually on the upper deck pouring water around the smokestack to keep the woodwork from catching fire. On the next trip after ours this steamer did catch on fire and burned to the waterís edge. We did not attempt to cross the state, but came around by water from Detroit to Mackinaw and down Lake Michigan, going first to Chicago. Our contract was for the steamer to carry us back to our destination on this side of the Lake, near where the other party had located, but they refused to carry us and we had to hire a lumber vessel, which landed us at the point where the channel now runs from Black Lake into the big lake at Ottawa Beach and Macatown park. It is a little singular that many of us now have summer cottages within sight of that very spot where we landed more than 50 years ago, and most of us in spite of the adversities of those days are now prosperous enough to enjoy our declining years in summer homes.

They Built Rafts

"We remained a short time on the lake shore, just long enough to secure lumber from Saugatuck. With this we made great rafts and carried our party and belongings up Black lake to the site of Holland city, where the Van Raalte party had been, established but a few weeks. We were received with much optimism, but wasted no time in frivolity. Ours was a stern mission and we resolved to push on at once. My father and us boys together with other men of the party; went on to the site of the present village of Zeeland, and there with the assistance of the Indians, we managed to get up our cabin. We went back for the women, and our family was the first of all to sleep where the hustling town of Zeeland now is.

"Then commenced an season of the most trying experience. For two years we were left there to starve, for there was little else but starvation for us. Few of us had any money, and what little there was gladly shared by the rest. But it was necessary to send from 20 to 40 miles for provisions and carry them in upon the back, for we had no horses and no roads. And we not only had no way of getting money, but we could not get provisions from the soil. Arriving in the middle of the summer, we were too late to get a crop that year, and by the time we could make a clearing it was too late to plant for the next year. We did manage to get in a little corn, but it was poor, and did not amount to much.

A Malarious Climate

"The succeeding year was as terrible as any pioneer or any immigrants in the world ever experienced. Here we were in a strange land, without food or money. It was a malarious climate with unwholesome food, untrained marshes and insufficient shelter. Sickness came and death followed. I donít know how we ever survived it, but I do know that if it hadnít been for our pastors we would never have stayed there. If they had deserted us, we would have disbanded and scattered. But they stayed by us nobly, rendering all assistance possible, and when the next spring came and health returned we were able to take up our work with a spirit of earnestness and thanksgiving.

The 10 sons and daughters of John Steketee, who headed the colony from The Netherlands which settled at Zeeland, Mich., in the spring of 1847. All except one came as children with their parents on a sailing vessel from Antwerp which required nearly nine weeks to make the passage to New York. Bastiaan was born in Zeeland two years after the familyís arrival. Two of the sons, John and Paul, played prominent parts in the early business development of Grand Rapids. All 10 sons and daughters were living in 1897, when they participated in the 50th anniversary of the founding of Zeeland, at which time this picture was taken. In more than a half century death had not visited them, considered a most remarkable family record. Only two are now living, Mrs. Ellen Hofman, 78, and Bastiaan, 72, both residents of Holland, Mich.

Left to right, standing-Peter, Andrew, Paul, John, Cornelius. Sitting-Mrs. Ellen Hofman,  Bastiaan, Mrs. Jonna De Vries, Mrs. Pauline DePult.

Below-Building at Michigan st. and Ottawa Ave., the first home of worship of Grand Rapids Hollanders and built in the late forties, it was the First Reformed church and was used for many years for services. The foundation and part of the first story were constructed of stone dug from Grand River.

Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 19 Dec 2010
URL: http://ottawa.migenweb.net/dutchrecords/Hollanders.html