Netherlanders

From the windmills and tulips of the Netherlands to the windswept prairies of North Dakota is a long journey, and it must have seemed so to the group who left there in the early 1900's to go to America in search of a better life and more opportunities.  However, their first stop was in the area around Fulton and Albany, Illinois.

There was disappointment there also as they were farmers and the price of land or renting it became so costly they could not make a good living.  In March of 1914, five families traveled to the area around Wimbledon, North

Dakota where farms were available for rent and soon all were settled there.  These were the families of Martin Rose, Claus Huizenga, Ben Iervelt, William Kamphuis, and Art VenHuizen.   In the years following, more families from Illinois joined them, and younger people married and began their own homes.

The Dutch are a deeply religious people, so on their first Sunday in North Dakota they held services in the Martin Rose home, continuing this for four years until the group became too large.  It was decided to build a small church.  Land was donated and each family gave the proceeds of one acre of potatoes toward the building expenses.  It was truly a joint effort as the men did all the carpenter work while other items were purchased such as a second-hand organ, a pulpit and altar chairs.  The church was dedicated in the summer of 1917 and after that services were held every Sunday with Sunday school following.  The services were in the Dutch language, the old Dutch Psalms were sung, and now and then a minister was sent by the church board of Dakota Classes.  Otherwise a sermon was read by one of the elders.  Later a seminary student came during the summer months to conduct two services every Sunday, plus leading a young people's group.  In 1956 they jointly called a pastor with the Presbyterian Church of Courtenay and this continued for six years; however, by the fall of 1963 the congregation had become very small.  There had been deaths in the families, some moved back to Illinois, young people married but joined other churches.  The last service was held in September of 1963, and the building became the Dover Township Hall.

Most of the remaining members joined the Methodist Church in Wimbledon.  Their religious devotion is evidenced by the fact that this small church of twelve families existed for fifty years without a regular pastor, and as a rule there was almost 100 percent attendance at each service.  It wasn't always comfortable as the building was heated only by a large round stove in the middle during the cold months.  The person taking the collection used a long pole with an open box at the end, which he passed down each pew.  He was quite adept at using it, but once in a while would misjudge the distance as he pulled it back, and some unlucky worshipper would receive a poke in the head.

The Hollanders retained the use of their native language to a great extent.  All spoke English by the time they came to North Dakota, but whenever a group was together visiting, they reverted to the Dutch language.  There were different dialects called High Dutch or Low Dutch, depending on the area in the Netherlands.  Some English and Dutch words are almost the same.  Many parents spoke in Dutch if there was something they didn't want the children to know, but this didn't work too often, as the youngsters could soon understand the meaning even if they couldn't speak the language.  Many parents were determined to teach their children the language so it wouldn't die out, and usually the first-born did learn to some extent, but today among the third and fourth generation it is almost non-existent.

In the early days, many of the customs, traditions and way of life of the Mother Country were preserved, but later American customs took over.  At the time the first families settled here, the Sabbath was strictly observed.  Any work except that absolutely essential, was a sin.  The Dutch are a friendly, hospitable people, although often a bit reserved in manner.  They did much visiting back and forth with relatives and friends.  There was a feeling of closeness within the group, as they were a minority, and they had shared many things together.  They were deeply afraid of debt and were cautious in their business dealings but also they were honest and dependable.  They were very thrifty, making over clothing, saving wherever possible.  Each family had a large garden and much canning and preserving was done, but they also had a love of beauty and every garden had room for a patch of bright flowers.

Most of the women did needlework as embroidery, tatting, crocheting and knitting.  Girls were taught to knit at an early age in Holland.  Most made their own quilts and would have a get together to tie quilts to quilt by needle.

Many of their foods were from old Dutch recipes.  A favorite was buttermilk soup, made by cooking barley in fresh buttermilk and served with sugar.  Others were Snert (a thick pea soup), Mousse (green kale cooked with potatoes and mashed together), Potarten (brown beans cooked and served with bacon fat), Spek (similar to side pork) cabbage and potatoes cooked together, Oliebollen (deep-fried balls of yeast dough rolled in sugar), Speculas (spiced ginger cookies), pickled meat.  Some families served hot cinnamon chocolate with cake on birthdays; especially a milestone as the twenty-first birthday.

Many times the old Dutch family names were Americanized to make them more pronounceable.  Grandma Rose's name was Trientje (Theresa); Mrs. Art Venhuizen was Grietje (Grace); Mrs. Henry Smith was Anje (Annie); Epa Hoek (changed to Hook); Harm Bultema (Harry).  Many others were also changed.

Mrs. Grace VenHuizen was seven when she left Holland, so she could remember much about her early childhood there.  Skating was a favorite pastime and all ages skated.  They wore the traditional wooden shoes, which were white with a pointed toe, but for dress they had a smaller, lighter shoe painted black, often with carved decorations and a strap across.  Girls as young as two years had their ears pierced and wore earrings consisting of a bead on a wire.  This was considered healthful.  Their home was a sort of duplex with a long hall between.  Large windows faced the street and curtains were not drawn as passers-by might think something suspicious was going on inside.  Beds were built in a wall, some so high a chair had to be used in climbing into it.  At the end of the hall was a sort of barn room where two goats were kept and their milk sold to others.  They traveled third class on the boat to America and were restricted to a certain area on deck by a fence of sorts.  Grace, her sister and brother would often stand by the fence and sing, and people on the other side would give them oranges or often hardboiled eggs.

And so the industrious, thrifty, God-fearing and law abiding Dutch people contributed their share to the "Melting Pot" which is America.

Shirley Johnson

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 48

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