Home  Publications

Robert P. Swierenga -- Publications

From Colony to City: Holland's First 25 Years

Robert P. Swierenga, Research Professor, A.C. Van Raalte Institute, Hope College, 2004

[Published as "From Colony to City: Holland's First Twenty-Five Years," Origins 16, No. 2 (1998): 11-16]

In 1872 the reverends Albertus Van Raalte of Holland and Cornelius Van der Meulen of Zeeland, the founding pastors in the Holland colony, addressed an Old Settlers' celebration of the first quarter century. Numerous Dutch and American flags in the crowd signaled the gradual transformation of these Hollanders into hyphenated Americans. In words that sang with satisfaction: Van der Meulen declared:

Have we accomplished our purpose? Our answer is: We have grown up in this land; we have increased in number; our cattle have multiplied by the thousand; our woods have been transformed into fruitful acres. Accordingly in every respect there has been progress. But our greatest asset is the large group of youth who were born in this country and have grown up in it. A number who came here in their early years now are even men of power in government and administration, especially in school and church. What a change in twenty five years! It is scarcely believable, nor can it be easily imagined.

Van Raalte was equally effusive in his commemorative message: Is there anyone who can visit our villages and townships, covered with the richest farmsteads, and not be astonished? It is impossible to estimate the value of our ships, fisheries, mills, factories, and fruit farms.... We possess shipping lines and railway communications. In truth God has wrought great things for us!

The pioneer dominies touched on all the important themes--population growth, farms and factories arising from forests, the coming of age of the second generation, the founding of religious and educational institutions, the triumph over poverty and adversity, and the marvel of railroads that reduced travel time by a factor of eight over ox-drawn wagons. Holland had become "simultaneously a market place, a harbor town, and an industrial center."

What the clerics failed to mention in their celebratory sermons was the downside of progress, namely rivalries, divisions, and religious conflict. Their leadership had been challenged in church, government, and business. Religious unity had given way to plurality; church secessions as early as 1851 and a major split in 1857 rent the colony and divided families. This was significant because the church stood at the center of everything. In public life, elected officials had come to power and theocracy gave way to democracy. The handover of power from dominie to mayor in 1867 engendered painful discord.

The very success of the colony undermined the spirit of cooperation and piety that ruled in the first years; warm hearts had become cold. And rapid population growth had run up the price of farmland. Families had to send their adult children to distant daughter colonies, mainly near Cadillac 120 miles to the north. Even the mother tongue was losing ground to English, which was spoken in the public schools and increasingly in factories and shops.

Development stages

Immigrant communities typically pass through developmental stages and Holland was no different. The first decade was a time of mutual dependency because of the language barrier, strange environment, and poverty. The immigrants then acted co-operatively, led by Van Raalte who served as town planter and promoter, land dealer, business entrepreneur, doctor, educator, newspaper editor, and unofficial mayor.

Van Raalte founded the town in February 1847 and had the county surveyor plat it several months later. Interestingly, the dominie gave none of the streets Dutch names but he did follow the Dutch practice of setting aside open squares for a central market and a fish market. In 1848 he obtained a post office and presided at the organization of the first school district, and the following year Holland Township was organized in Van Raalte's home by ten trusted American residents who divided the offices among themselves because the Dutch could not vote until they had applied for "first papers" after the mandatory two and one half years of residence.

To handle civic matters during their legal minority, the Dutch created a town meeting form of local government, known as the "volksvergadering" or people's assembly, which continued until 1851 when the Dutch gained the franchise and could participate in township government. The Volksvergardering met weekly to discuss and act on everyday concerns. It directed the construction of roads, bridges, and a schoolhouse; required pigs to be penned until November; and banned unnecessary work on Sunday. Closing the several saloons that florished in town was a major goal of the assembly. It required all of Van Raalte's rhetorical skills to get the offending places closed. When the state legislature in 1855 enacted a general prohibition law, Van Raalte saw to it that Holland remained dry, although Detroit and other cities openly violated the act.

In 1849, at the instigation of the Assembly, Van Raalte took title to all town lots in his own name, and assumed all debts and liens, in order to ensure passing sound deeds to the colonists. He had to do this because the Board of Trustees appointed by the People's Assembly to hold title was not incorporated and could not act at law. This necessary arrangement later opened Van Raalte to much unfair criticism. As sole owner Van Raalte used his authority to block a plan by four Dutch merchants to speculate in lands "to make money" at the expense of the community.

While the town trustees wielded administrative and legislative powers, the church consistory held judicial power and enforced the Biblical code of conduct. A woman who slandered another had to make a public confession, and a troublesome mother-in-law and a teenager who fled from her stepfather were admonished. An elder criticized a woman whose dress was not properly closed at the collar. A man whose son had cut down a neighbor's tree was sent home and ordered to read the Biblical account of Eli, the judge of Israel who failed to discipline his two wicked sons. When the circus came to town, two elders posted themselves at the entrance to the tent, which so inhibited traffic that the promoter in frustration left "this d___ hole". A major problem was the remarriage of widows and widowers before waiting a proper time after burying a spouse, which happened all too often in the early days when death came early and children needed two parents. Church consistories deliberated this issue at length and after five years Classis Holland came to a consensus: widows should wait nine months and widowers three months before remarrying. In economic matters, the people as Christian brothers and sisters pooled their resources according to the "community of goods" principle. At Van Raalte's instigation and with the financial assistance of Jannes van de Luyster, a wealthy Zeelander, they collectively financed a colony store stocked with goods fetched from Albany, New York; a colony ship (the 100 ton A.E. Knickerbocker) to ferry the goods and also new immigrants; a fishing vessel; a communal farm in Saugatuck; and a shingle factory. The cooperative business ventures failed due to lack of capital and poor management. Some immigrants who came from Chicago on the ship refused to pay for their passage, claiming that it was a "colony-vessel," hence community property. Van de Luyster lost heavily on the vessel and Van Raalte on the store. Leaders in the Dutch Reformed Church in the East rescued Van Raalte from bankruptcy and he plunged ahead. In 1848 he invested in the first factory in Holland, an ashery to manufacture pearl ash and baking soda (salertus).

Van Raalte was the man in this founding period of Holland. The first historian of the colony, the newspaperman Gerrit Van Schelven, aptly described the situation: "The People's Assembly at Holland was Van Raalte, the consistory at Holland was Van Raalte, the Classis of Holland was Van Raalte." This was necessary, given the circumstances, and "it was the best way," said Van Schelven. "But the inevitable outcome was this; since there was no appeal for the dissatisfied, justly or unjustly, there was little recourse besides secession." Netherlands historian Jacob Van Hinte observed wryly that "not everyone was in favor of this theocracy and many saw in the 'democracy' of Van Raalte actually his 'autocracy.'"

In the second phase of development, which might be viewed as a time of adolescence, legal and social changes occurred in Holland that made the founders no longer "undisputed lords in their own castle," as Van Hinte put it. The formation of Holland Township, for example, had created a rival government for the consistory to deal with. Since neither body had clearly delineated authority, the township officials and consistory had to tred carefully so as not to walk on each other's turf. Fortunately, church members guided by Van Raalte served in both bodies and they could maintain a measure of harmony. After ten years, in 1859, Van Raalte's church consistory decided no longer to act in matters that properly belonged to the civil government.

The major social change was that new immigrants continued to arrive who could not appreciate the founders' struggles for survival that had bound them together so tightly. The newcomers challenged the founders for economic and political power, and the dominies, willingly or not, had to step back. As early as 1852 Hermannus Doesburg, a maverick school teacher, gained editorial control of Van Raalte's newspaper, De Hollander, and began criticizing the dominie in print, despite pressure from Van Raalte's consistory to desist. Doesburg published an anonymous article that referred to Van Raalte and his consistory as "the Pope and his cardinals," and titled another article "Playing Boss." The consistory denied Doesburg the right to take Holy Communion until he repented, which he finally did, but Van Raalte was so hurt that he considered leaving Holland for the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

A second critic was the Reverend Koene van den Bosch, who arrived in the colony in 1856 to serve the Reformed Church at Noordeloos, a village five miles northeast of Holland. Within months he charged Van Raalte with religious apostasy and led a secession in Classis Holland, which gave birth to a rival denomination, the Christian Reformed Church.

Gradually, the newcomers and the "in-between generation"--children who were no longer truly Dutch but not yet fully American either--took control and numerous institutions sprang up to direct everyday life. Holland reached its majority, its coming of age, in 1867 when Isaac Cappon, the city's leading industrialist, took the oath of office as mayor in the newly incorporated city.

Statistics of growth

The Holland colony had about 6,000 inhabitants by 1867, due to steady immigration from the old country. Growth had been especially strong in the first three years, reaching 3,000 by 1850. In the first six months alone, 1,500 people arrived. This put a tremendous strain on the settlers to provide food and lodging for the newcomers and was Van Raalte's greatest challenge. People straggled in from all directions. Most came by steamer from Chicago and Milwaukee to Grand Haven and then by small boats to the beach at Holland, where a few crude shelters had been built. Others arrived on foot or ox-cart from Kalamazoo, the train terminus, via Allegan.

To find such primitive conditions after the ocean crossing and a thousand miles of crude inland transport was a shock indeed! With no sawmill and few skills with the ax, the Dutch built houses with difficulty. Newcomers had to double or triple up with those already in houses, or live in tents and lean-tos. Every available structure was pressed into service, including abandoned Indian huts and an Indian church. Within a year Holland counted 100 houses; it was making great strides.

During the first generation population growth from new immigrant arrivals and internal increase from the proverbial large Dutch families filled in the unoccupied lands between the initial settlement and the American neighbors. "Relentlessly," said Lucas, "the Hollanders pressed upon the American population, bought their farms, and took their places." The "land-hungry" Dutch spread out like a giant oil slick. They offered higher than market prices to the willing sellers, backed with large cash down payments, took out mortgages at 6 percent, and set to work with their families to become independent farmers and fulfil their dream of landownership.

Within a generation the Dutch had expanded from their three initial townships--Holland, Zeeland (Ottawa County), and Fillmore (Allegan County), southward into Laketown township, east into the townships of Overisel, Jamestown and Georgetown (now Hudsonville and Jenison), and north into Olive, Blendon (now Borculo), and Allendale townships. The core "Dutch Colony" covered more than 2,000 square miles by 1870, not counting numerous settlements in neighboring and even distant counties--Muskegon, Kent, Kalamazoo, Newaygo, and Missaukie.

Property values in the colony totaled $1 million in 1870. By then, the pioneer school in town had been augmented by schools in all the surrounding villages, with the capstone being the Holland Academy (the future Hope College), which was already flourishing on its own campus. Dutch churches in the colony increased from the 7 in 1848 to 26 in 1870.

Roads and harbor improvements

&#Energetic improvements in the roads made this expansion possible. The colonists devoted half their time in the early years to building roads, bridges, and a lake harbor. In the very first month, Van Raalte attended a session of the legislature in Lansing to petition for funds for a pier at the mouth of Black Lake. Governor Epaphraditus Ransom, it was reported, "entertains such a favorable opinion of this colony that he will readily give his immediate sanction to any appropriation which the legislature may grant." The legislature obliged, granting 400 acres of federal internal improvement lands to finance building a bridge across the Black River, which the colonists constructed themselves under Van Raalte's personal supervision. The next year (1848) the lawmakers granted 4,000 acres of internal improvement lands for constructing a pier and wharf, and another 3,000 acres to open three roads linking Holland to Hamilton and Allegan in the south, Grand Haven to the north, and Zeeland and Jenison to the east.

In 1849 Van Raalte went to Washington to lobby for funds and the Whig Congress appropriated $8,000. But this was the last money from Washington because the Senate in 1851 killed the rivers and harbors bill and then the Democratic party came to power and opposed public improvement funding. In January 1855 the state-financed pier was swept into Lake Michigan by a violent storm. Van Raalte then called a meeting of all the townships and proposed a tax levy of $20,000, with Holland to contribute 60 percent. The voters in all the townships approved the proposal by overwhelming majorities and the state legislature in 1858 passed a special law allowing the townships to float bonds and raise taxes for the harbor project. Van Raalte held one of seven seats on the newly created "Haven Board" which let the contracts. By 1861 two 700 foot piers were completed and the harbor was ready to take ships drawing 8 feet of water, with all the work done by Hollanders.

Van Raalte meanwhile had returned to the statehouse and obtained a 14,000 acre swamp land grant in Olive and Blendon townships, which were drained and sold to pay for the harbor improvements. To complete the harbor took more than ten hard years, but it allowed the city to become a major lake port for all kinds of agricultural and commercial products. The harbor increased Holland's trade fourfold and its population soon doubled. In 1867 the state of Michigan took over the management of all harbors, including the one at Holland, which ended Van Raalte's hand in the project.

Civil War contracts spurred the development of Holland's leading industry, tanning hides, which employed more men and used more capital than any other business. The leather company of Isaac Cappon and John Bertsch, formed in 1857, grew by 1875 to 50 employees who consumed 2,000 cords of bark to tan 30,000 hides. This and other extractive wood product industries such as sawmills, stave factories, and shingle mills, confirmed Van Raalte's initial vision that the virgin woodlands were as good as money in the bank. The first generation raised cash from the forests until they were largely denuded by 1875. Mother nature gave the Dutch a hand in clearing the land for farming when a great fire roared through the settlement in October 1871 and consumed much of the brush and undergrowth. By the 1890s Holland had to import coal for its fuel needs.

&#Interregional transport remained a problem until the 1870s. In 1870 direct Chicago-Holland steamboat service began and the Pere Marquette Railroad first arrived from Allegan, although passengers could disembark at Grand Rapids already by 1857 and Grand Haven the next year, and then proceed to Holland by stage. One stagecoach per week ran from Grand Rapids to Holland until 1869. In 1871 Holland got a rail connection to Grand Rapids and Van Raalte could then boost of a "complete system of railway lines," besides the "best navigation." These transportation improvements had a major impact. "Next to politics," said Van Hinte, "it was the railroads that terminated the 'colonial' character of the settlements" and opened the Dutch to the outside world.

Even the great fire barely gave the Dutch pause. In Holland alone 76 businesses, all the churches except Van Raalte's Pillar Church, and 243 homes were destroyed, leaving 1,294 people homeless. Hundreds of farmsteads were also lost. Only one life was lost to the fire, that of an elderly woman. By 1880 Holland had been rebuilt in brick and frame lumber, replacing the log cabins that had gone up in the flames.


Life in the settlement revolved around diversified farming on lands laboriously wrested from the woods. The farms were small and cultivated intensively with less machinery and more oxen than Americans used. A farm census in 1854 in Zeeland reported 184 work oxen to 18 horses, a ratio of 10:1. Money was so scarce that most trade was by bartering farm and forest products and exchanging labor services. Only gradually could the Dutch afford to mechanize; expensive machines like horse-drawn threshers were purchased communally. In 1851 the dominies and leading men in each settlement organized biannual market days to buy and sell livestock and machinery, and held the first fair to promote new farming methods.

Every farmer raised pigs for cash and kept dairy cattle for milk, butter, and cheese, which the women and children produced and marketed. This provided almost the only steady source of cash income for families. Field crops alternated between clover, hay, and grains, with corn favored over wheat by 2.6:1. The Dutch learned from the Americans to plow clover under for soil nutrition, but unlike Americans they spread stable manure as in the Netherlands to improve corn yields. Every farm had a fruit orchard and grapevines; grapes, apples, and peaches were shipped to Chicago. In general, says the Holland native, Henry Lucas, the Dutch farmer "sought to adapt to American methods, though modifying them by his own experience and understanding."

Farm development in Holland Township was retarded in the early years by marshy soils and land speculation. Almost one quarter of Holland's lands were considered worthless for timber or farming, compared to only 8 percent in Zeeland Township. In 1855, eight years after the initial settlement, nonresidents and the state and federal governments still owned 84 percent of Holland lands, three quarters of which were suitable for cultivation, whereas in Zeeland Township nonresidents only owned 30 percent of lands suitable for cultivation. Holland's 156 farms averaged 60 acres with 50 percent improved, and Zeeland's 174 farms averaged 65 acres with 40 percent improved. Each year the farmers cleared more land for crops and pastures and the proportion of improved lands climbed steadily toward 100 percent. After 25 years, the settlement was largely developed. But Holland native Henry Lucas embellished a bit when he declared: "In the span of one lifetime the immigrants from the Netherlands had cleared the forests, laid out their farms, built their houses, barns, and churches, and founded a community unique in the annals of American immigration."

The first export from the Holland colony had actually been its youth. In the desperate early years, sons and daughters set off in search of work from Americans on farms and in the nearby cities. These young people were the first to learn English and they brought into the colony their wages in cash or more often in kind--meat, grains, clothing, or furniture. The boys learned American methods of farming and mastered the English commands to drive oxen. The girls did food preparation and other household chores. But working and boarding away from home often had deleterious effects on the moral and spiritual development of the youth. The typically close-knit Dutch families were disrupted and a generation gap developed. Five years after the founding of the colony, Classis Holland considered the problem of waywardness and spiritual disinterest among the young people. The problem lessened in time as parents could afford to bring their children home.

Political developments

The pietistic Calvinists of West Michigan have traditionally been conservative and localistic in politics as in religion. And they took their politics seriously. Since the Civil War the Dutch consistently voted the Republican ticket, but in the first years they were staunch Democrats. The transition from Democrat to Republican after the Civil War is another marker of the maturing of the colony and signals the passing of the pioneer leader as the dominating community force. It also reveals the growing pace of Americanization, since the Republicans represented the dominant Yankee culture.

As soon as the Dutch became eligible to apply for citizenship (after two and one half years), Van Raalte had the county clerk come from Grand Haven for a "wholesale naturalization." Some 440 men, almost every male of age in the 1847 contingent of colonists, turned out. The clerk gave them a "volume discount" and cut the fee in half for processing the first papers. At the next local election, held at the Zeeland log church in 1851, the Dutch turned out the Americans and fought over the spoils of office in a raucous assembly that pitted Holland against Zeeland. The chair, Rev. Van der Meulen, could barely keep order with cries of "Broeders! O, Broeders!" Van Raalte stood on top of the pews to be heard. There was strong language and scuffles both inside and outside the sacred precincts as the outlying villagers vented their spleen against the dominance of "de stad" and Van Raalte's autocracy. Surprisingly, Zeeland men captured all the best offices, even though Holland's 300 voters should easily have outvoted Zeeland's 140 voters. Zeeland organized that year as a separate township and this allowed Holland politicos to control their own offices.

In national politics, Van Raalte led his followers into the Democratic camp, which was firmly entrenched in Michigan. Very likely, he was encouraged to do so by Democratic party leaders, such as Detroit attorney Theodore Romeyn, Kalamazoo state senator Nathaniel Balch, Allegan judge John Kellogg, Ottawa County sheriff Henry Pennoyer, and the Post brothers, Henry and Hoyt, of Holland. All these close friends of Van Raalte in the early years indoctrinated him in the standard political doctrine that the Democratic party befriended immigrants while the Whigs were tainted with nativism. Holland's first newspaper, De Hollander, founded by Van Raalte in 1850 and controlled by him, endorsed Democratic candidates. In the presidential election of 1852, the first in which the Dutch could vote, they cast 123 Democratic ballots to 5 Whig ballots in Holland Township; in Zeeland Township the outcome was 128 to 11 in favor of the Democrats. In the words of old timer, Derk Vyn, the "Republicans were as scarce as hen's teeth."

The next year at a special election, Holland Township voted against a Whig sponsored prohibition referendum by a more than three to one margin. This is surprising given the early opposition to saloons in the People's Assembly, but the nativist overtones of the prohibition movement likely soured the Dutch, who after all liked their beer.

The vote against tee-totalers brought nativist attacks down on their heads. John Wilson, a Michigan Republican, charged in a speech that "not one single throb of patriotism" beats in the hearts of foreigners. "Some tell me that many foreigners are intelligent; yes intelligent," Wilson cried. "How in the name of Almighty God can they say it? Look at the Dutchman smoking his pipe, and if you can see a ray of intelligence in that dirty, idiotic face of his, show it to me."

Rhetoric such as Wilson's kept the Dutch in the Democratic camp, despite their growing disappointment with the party's refusal to support internal improvement grants and its increasingly southern pro-slavery stance, especially on the controversial issue of the extension of slavery into the territories. By the midterm election of 1854, Dutch dissatisfaction with the Democracy was evident; their 96 percent support of 1852 dwindled to only 64 percent in 1854, and this same level held in the 1856 presidential race, but in the 1858 general election their support climbed dramatically to 81 percent.

In 1859 both Van Raalte and Hendrik Scholte, his counterpart clerical leader in the Pella, Iowa colony, switched to the Republican party over issues of funding internal improvements and slavery. While no admirers of the Peculiar Institution, the two Dutch dominies were essentially constitutional unionists who condemned abolitionism more than slavery, since the radicals embodied the greater threat to the survival of the Union. Van Raalte changed party allegiance rather quietly, as befitting a minister of the Gospel. But Scholte, who by this time was active in state politics, switched in such dramatic fashion that his name appeared in Iowa newspapers statewide. Although he was elected a delegate to the state Democratic convention in Des Moines, Scholte instead appeared one day earlier at the Republican convention in the same city at the head of the Marion County delegation! The convention then chose him as a delegate to the Republican national convention in Chicago, where he voted to nominate Lincoln for president. Subsequently, in the fall campaign Scholte made a political swing through the Dutch communities in western Michigan speaking at Republican rallies and preaching in several Reformed churches, including Van Raalte's Pillar Church.

Party pros assumed that Van Raalte and Scholte would carry their followers into the Republican camp. After all, the immigrants could barely read English or understand the nuances of American political rhetoric and they would continue to need their dominies to explain and interpret the meaning of the ballot choices. Van Raalte even saw to it in 1860 that Hollanders had a new Republican paper (De Grondwet) in the Dutch language to tutor them, as Scholte did in his newspaper, The Pella Gazette. But to the great surprise of the politicos, in Holland and Pella most Dutch voters in November 1860 again cast Democratic ballots, although by smaller margins than previously. Holland Township voted Democratic by only 53 percent; Pella did so by 66 percent. In the 1864 election Holland again voted against Lincoln by 58 percent. Thus, the Dutch continued in the Democratic fold during the Civil War era.

But 1864 was the last Democratic victory in Holland, although Pella continues in that tradition to the present day. In 1866 Holland went Republican for the first time, by a slim margin of 52 percent. They were ten years behind the rest of Michigan, which had turning Republican in 1855, but it was a natural alliance. The Republican party was composed of men of New England Calvinist ancestry, Presbyterians and Congregationalists, backers of denominational schools and a Christian society.

The fefusal of the Dutch to follow Van Raalte politically during the Civil War years indicates the passing of their time of dependency. The immigrants would vote the way of their American neighbors and not their dominie.

Passing of the Van Raalte era

The colonists repudiated Van Raalte's leadership in church and community as well as politics. His correspondence during the War reveals the depth of his despondency; he felt he was stabbed in the back. In a confidential letter to a friend in the Netherlands in 1862, Van Raalte poured out his heart: "It is impossible for me to continue my work amongst this dissention." In 1866, after the War, he went to the Netherlands for several months and upon his return resigned as pastor of First Reformed Church, which he had founded and served since 1847. He also declined an offer to become a professor of theology at Hope College. The final blow came in 1867 when the citizens of Holland voted to incorporate, over the dominie's strenuous objections. City real estate taxes for another layer of government would fall heavily on the dominie due to his extensive land holdings, which included 300 city lots plus "swamp lands" east of town. So Van Raalte now stood in an adversarial relationship with the local governing body of his creation, the town of Holland. The transformation of Holland from colony to city was complete.

Van Raalte's clerical colleagues in the Holland area came to the rescue. In 1868 they appointed him chair of the church missionary committee to plant new colonies in the south which could replicate the Holland colony and prevent the dispersal of many new Dutch immigrants who were attracted by cheap lands there. Van Raalte toured the states of Tennessee, Alabama, and Virginia and ultimately settled on Amelia County, Virginia, where a New York land dealer, apparently a member of the Reformed Church, had in 1867 attracted about eighty Hollanders to his properties. Van Raalte had his doubts about the venture, because the people lacked adequate funding and farming experience, but in 1869 he left Michigan to lead the Amelia colony. He even founded an academy there modeled after Hope College. When things did not go well, the settlers unjustly blamed Van Raalte, who returned to Holland in 1870 "a broken man with little influence," in Larry Wagenaar's words. Van Raalte lived out his last six years in relative obscurity, devoting his efforts to his beloved college, which he served as president of the governing board.


When the pioneers of 1847 first met to form an "Old Settlers" society in 1878, more than half were gone, including Van Raalte, who had died in 1876. Their average age in 1847 was 29 years, now they averaged 60 years. Immigration is a young person's game and the founders had given their youth and the strength of their years to the colony. They could look back with satisfaction at what they had accomplished. The city had not yet recovered from the 1871 fire and the 1873 national financial panic, but farmers were thriving. A visitor from the Netherlands, Dr. M. Cohen Stuart, observed in 1873 that "everything bespeaks of prosperity and abundance but without excessive luxury." Farm fences were "horse-high, bull-strong, and pig-tight." This was the ultimate compliment for Dutch famers.

Van Raalte was right to be sanguine about Holland's future in 1872. "After a struggle of twenty-five years," he declared, "in spite of sin, misery, and severe discipline, we can nevertheless enjoy a beautiful festival. Because God has built, we live in the happy conviction that He has done well with us and granted our heart's desire."