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Fresh from the Netherlands, a small nation dotted with dikes, ditches, deltas and dams, the Dutch who settled here in early 1847 well knew the terrors of living next to the sea. But because they also understood the enormous importance of waterways for trade, farming and transportation, they bought acreage at the head of Lake Macatawa Bay, about 6 miles east of the point where the bay joins Lake Michigan.
Fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, the 60 emigrants came to western Michigan with their leader Albertus Christian Van Raalte, a Protestant minister who earlier had scouted the swampy, mosquito-rich territory with six compatriots. To their dismay, the newcomers soon learned access to their Great Lakes lifeline was blocked by a sandbar, so they hand-dug a channel. Hundreds of men, women and children who arrived from the old country during the next few months rolled up their sleeves and pitched in.
The story of how these industrious, God-fearing pioneers and their heirs persevered during hard times to secure a respected place in American society is told today by the Holland Museum and the nearby Cappon House Museum through collections of farm implements, home furnishings, church-related items, clothing and other artifacts. Visitors also will find records of additional channel construction, for which the state helped pay, that eventually brought ships bearing tourists and goods to the scene, as well as photos and descriptions of Holland's Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of a devastating fire that struck on Oct. 8, 1871, the day of the Great Chicago Fire and another that enveloped Peshtigo, Wis., claiming 1,200 lives.
The Holland Museum began as the Netherlands Museum, established in 1937 and housed in a building provided by the city. The initial collection boasted 19th Century Dutch materials related to the town's original settlers. With public support and that of the Netherlands government, it gradually acquired large numbers of Dutch-related items both here and abroad.
Following an extensive fundraising campaign, the city bought the old, 18,000-square-foot U.S. Post Office and remodeled it to showcase the area's cultural, social, economic, religious and maritime heritage. Renamed the Holland Museum, the agency moved to these quarters eight years ago. Delft, dollhouses and decorative arts are among the treasures on display, highlighting immigrants and industry, faith and fire, ships and sand dunes.
Cappon House, the other Dutch treat, is an Italianate-style mansion built in 1874 at a cost of $10,000 by Isaac Cappon, who arrived from the Netherlands in 1848 at the age of 18. Elected the city's first mayor, he established the Cappon & Bertsch Leather Co. with his partner, John Bertsch, earning a fortune through U.S. Government Civil War contracts.
The city bought the house in 1978 for use as a museum; Lavina, one of Cappon's 16 children, willed the city the contents, which represent about 80 percent of the original furnishings. Filled with patterns of the past, the house echoes the daily life of a prominent Victorian-era family.
Operating under the umbrella of the Holland Historical Trust founded in 1986, both museums are listed on the Michigan State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Holland Museum is open daily during Tulip Time (May 11-21, 2000); otherwise closed Tuesdays and major holidays (New Year's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas). Regular hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Tulip Time hours: noon-5 p.m. Sunday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. other days. Admission: $3 adults, $2.25 seniors/students, $7 family; combo ticket with Cappon House, $4 individual, $8 family. Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible. Miles from downtown Chicago: 152. Address: 31 W. 10th St., Holland, MI 49423. Phone: 888-200-9123.
The Cappon House Museum is open the first Saturday of the month from November through May; open Wednesday through Saturday from May through October; open daily during Tulip Time. Regular hours: 1-4 p.m. Tulip Time hours: noon-5 p.m. Sunday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. other days. Admission: $2, $5 family; combo ticket with Holland Museum, $4 individual, $8 family. Accessibility: Not wheelchair accessible. Address: 228 W. 9th St., Holland, MI 49423. Phone: 616-392-6740.
Area information: Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-506-1299.