EARLY DUTCH SETTLEMENTS IN WISCONSIN

Twilah DeBoer
June, 1999

 

alto_windmill_1915_tdb.jpg (54235 bytes)
The Alto windmill served as
Zoellner's grist mill prior to the turn
of the century (courtesy
Twilah DeBoer, Brandon
Historical Society)

The Dutch emigration to America began in earnest in the 1830's and 1840's. Thethree main reasons that provided incentive for them to leave their homeland were economic conditions, the potato famine and the religious persecution of the group known as Seceders. Many of these emigrants settled in Wisconsin. There were settlements in the following counties: Brown, Columbia, Dodge, Fond du Lac, La Crosse, Marathon, Rock, Sheboygan, St. Croix, Walworth, Washington, and Wood. Some of these were quite large, and others were very small settlements.

As early as the Colonial Days, Dutch fur traders were interested in Wisconsin territory. There is some debate as to when Little Chute in Brown County was first settled by the Dutch. Fred Holmes states in the book, Old World Wisconsin, that a community of Dutch Catholics under the leadership of Father Theodorus J. Van den Broek were already a large community by 1844. In another account about the Dutch Catholic settlement at little Chute, Netherlanders in America, Henry Lucas says that Father Van den Broek, who had been in the United States since 1830, left Little Chute in 1847 and returned to the Netherlands with the sole purpose of taking a group back to Little Chute to start a Catholic colony. In his book, Americans from Holland, Arnold Mulder states that Father Van den Broek started his missionary work to the Indians in 1834 and that he returned to Holland in 1847 to gather a group of Catholics to bring back to Wisconsin. The ship, Maria Magdalena, left Rotterdam on March 18, 1848. The group arrived in Little Chute on June 10th. Upon their arrival they found another group of Dutch Catholics had arrived in Little Chute on May 22nd. They were led by a Franciscan Father named Godhert. The village of Hollandtown became the only purely Dutch settlement in the Fox River Valley area when Father Godhert brought a group of people to the area where they founded Hollandtown.

Some of the early names of the settlers included Petrus Bongenaar, Wigman, Lochman, J. C. Van Neil, Verboorts, Speel, Versteegen, Verwyst and Vanden Berg.

In 1850, the Reverend Gerard J. B. Van den Heuvel arrived in Little Chute with about 200 people from North Brabant, Holland. Some of the Dutch settlers later moved to De Pere, where they became successful businessmen. In this area, as in many of the other Dutch settlements, people who immigrated and became farmers soon moved into nearby villages and cities to work in factories or businesses. Many of them eventually went into business for themselves and became very successful because of their thrisfty ways.

St. Norbert College in De Pere was founded by Dutch clergymen. Following World War I, the Roman Catholic press disappeared from the area. Those papers were Onze Standaard (Our Standard) and De Volksstem (The Voice of the People). J. Kuypers, who had emigrated from Noord Brabant, became the owner of the De Volksstem and also the Brown County Democrat, an American paper. Kuypers also served De Pere as mayor for a time. Kuypers in De Pere and Wigman in Green Bay were two of the laymen in the area who played a leading role among Dutch Catholics in Wisconsin.

rock.gif (1120 bytes)

Probably the earliest settlements of the Dutch in Wisconsin other than in Brown County were in Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties. Early in the 1840's, Hollanders named Wessink or Wissink and Lukwilder or Luitweleer came to Milwaukee. Lukwilder possibly came to America in the 1830's and lived in the Rochester, New York, area before coming to Milwaukee. An Arnoldus (also known as Nellis) Hollendijk, the J. W. Loomans family and Albertus Meenk came to Milwaukee, having emigrated in 1844 and landed in New York. Albertus spent the winter of 1844-45 in Chautauqua, New York. Possibly the Loomans family and Hollendijk traveled on to the Milwaukee area yet that fall. Albertus came to Milwaukee in the spring of 1845 and met a man who told him about the good land around Alto, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. He went and looked around and decided to settle there. The Lomans family and Hollendijk joined him in 1846.

Some of the early settlers in the Milwaukee area were Andreis De Mez, Hendrick Bruggink, Jacobus Tak, Jan Pleite (Pleyte), Jacobus Ameele, the Siefield (Zeeveld) family, Roelof Sleijster, Jan Brusse family and Domenie Hubertus Jacobus Budding. Many of these people settled in the northwest corner of Milwaukee that became known as Hollandeshe Berg (Dutch Hill). Near Milwaukee, there were two other areas where the Dutch settled, Town Eight and Franklin Prairie. Franklin Prairie was located south of Milwaukee.

Early settlers in the Franklin Prairie area were P. Leenhouts, Hendrick Geert Klijn (Klyn), Jan Kotvis, P. Lankester, Huijssoon Kolyn, the De Pree brothers, the Moerdijk brothers and Adriann Zwemmer. By the turn of the centiry, the area had become extinct, with many of the people moving to the Milwaukee area. In 1852, Gijbert Van Steenwijk wrote back to friends in the Netherlands stating that there were now about 700 Dutch living in the Milwaukee area.

Albertus Meenk, as mentioned before, settled in the Alto area in the spring of 1845. His family joined him that summer. The family consisted of his father, mother, one sister and three brothers. One sister died on the trip from Milwaukee to Alto and was buried at Waterville, Wisconsin. One brother, Harmen, joined them in October, and another brother, Berend, along with his wife and two children joined them in 1850.

In 1846 they were joined by others, whose names included ter Beest, J. W. Loomans, Rensink, Vanden Bosch, Roelof Sleijster, Rikkers, Niewenhuis, Hoftiezer, Boland, Straks and Hollendijk. Some of these came with their families, some were single men, and some of them had families and in-laws that joined them later. In 1847, more emigrants joined them, including the Bruins, Booms, Veenhuises, De Groots, Veernhouts, Van Ecks, Kasteins and Walhuizens. Most of the families came from Winterswijk, Aalten and Dinxperlo in the province of Gelderland. Also joining them in the early years was the Duven family.

In 1846, the land was taxed at $2.00 a year for each 80 acres. Sleijster wrote back to friends and relatives in the homeland stating that anyone having the equivalent of $600 could soon become a wealthy farmer in America. The government at that time was charging $1.25 an acre for land purchased from the government.

One of the reasons many of the Gelderlanders came to America was to pursue the religion of their choice and flee the persecution that some of them had endured while living in the Netherlands. This did not change with their emigration. In June of 1848, Garrit Baaij came to Alto as their pastor. En route, he had stopped in Milwaukee, where he preached to the Dutch in the area. They tried to persuade him to settle in Milwaukee, but he had been asked by the Alto settlers to come and minister to them and continued on to Alto. Following Reverend Baaij's arrival, a Reformed Church was organized. However, disagreements surfaced soon afterward, and families broke away to form other churches, including several Christian Reformed congregations, the Zion Congregational and the Calvary Presbyterian.

By 1900, the Zion Church, now often referred to as the Stone Church, discontinued its services. The church building and cemetery remain and are well maintained by descendants of the original members, who have purchased and care for them. Services are now held once a year in August.

The Calvary Presbyterian Church, known in the early days as the Frog Kerk because it was located on the banks of a small river, disbanded in 1932, with most of the congregation joining the Alto or the Waupun Reformed churches.

At present, there are two churches in the village of Alto, the Reformed and the Christian Reformed. Some of the early settlers moved to nearby Waupun and Brandon, and there are fourteen congregations in the area that can trace their roots to the first church organized by Pastor Baaij in Alto.

Alto is now a sleepy little village dominated by a large cheese factory that provides employment for the area's families, many of whom are descendants of the early Dutch settlers.

rock.gif (1120 bytes)

Among the earliest records of Dutch settlers in the Sheboygan area are those of the Zeeveld family and Jacobus Smid, who arrived in the area in 1845 from Milwaukee. In 1846, they were joined by the families of G.H. Kolste, John Boland and Mrs. Aplonis Van den Driest, who also had with her a grandson, Jan Daane, whose family joined them in 1847. Other settlers in 1846 included Jan Calijou (or Caljouw), Hendrick Vrijheid, Jan Pleyte, Isaac Ver Duin, Pieter J. Lyzer and the Voskuil family, all of whom were Zeelanders. In 1847, in addition to the Danne family, at least twenty-three other families and several single men arrived from Zeeland and Gelderland. Most of these settled in Holland Township in Sheboygan County. The township was organized in 1848. One of the earliest villages established was Cedar Grove, named by the Reverend Zonne because of the many cedar trees growing in the area. The first schoolhouse was erected in 1846, the first Post Office in Cedar Grove was opened in 1848, and the first physician is believed to have been C. Van Altena.

Oostburg, a community five miles from Cedar Grove,was named after the original home of some of the emigrants from Zeeland.

A Fishing village was established at the mouth of the Bark River at the point where it flows into Lake Michigan. Hendrick Walvoord named the village after the large city in the Netherlands. In addition to its fishing industry, the village became a shipping port for lumber and cord wood. Fish became scarce soon after settlement, and farmers clearing the land reduced the supply of lumber. Combined with this reduction in lake industries, the advent of the Northwestern Railway between Milwaukee and Green Bay soon turned the community into a ghost town, with many residents moving further inland. Following the Civil War, a second village was established on the site of the first and named Gibbsville.

In November, 1847, at least 127 Hollanders lost their lives when the steamship Phoenix burned off the shore of the harbor at Sheboygan. Only 25 passengers survived. It is believed that this disaster had a direct effect on the reduction in immigration to the area for a time.

One of the prominent early leaders of the Dutch community in the area was Peter Daan (Daane), who in 1842 at the age of seven can to America with his parents and settled in Pultneyville, New York. The family later settled on a farm near Oostburg. Daan was the first volunteer from the area at the outbreak of the Civil War, and he later became a successful businessman. In 1873, he was elected as a member of the Wisconsin Legislature.

By 1852, the area had more than two hundred farmsteads, and by 1855, the Dutch population of Holland Township was 892 out of a total of 1, 824 residents. Today, in the current communities of Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls, Cedar Grove, Oostburg, Gibbsville and Hingham, there are numerous Reformed and Christian Reformed churches that can trace their roots to the hardy original Dutch settlers in the area.

rock.gif (1120 bytes)

The Wisconsin counties of Dodge, Columbia, La Crosse, Marathon, Rock, St. Croix, Walworth, Washington and Wood also contained Dutch settlements, although most of these were smaller and were established later than the Little Chute, Oostburg, and Alto communities.

In 1853, a group of Frisians settled in New Amsterdam, Holland Township, Lac Crosse County. It was said that the bottomlands along the Mississippi River reminded them of their homeland. They came to America for economic reasons and were led by Oepke H. Bonnema, a wealthy grain dealer who was determined to help his needy friends and neighbors emigrate to America. He was assisted by Broer Baker Haagsma, a school teacher. On February 26, 1855, a group of ninety-two Dutch emigrants left Harlingen for England. They traveled by train to Liverpool, where on March 23rd they boarded a ship bound for America. They suffered a shipwreck in the Bahama Islands and finally arrived in New Orleans on June 9. They sailed up the Mississippi River, arriving in St. Louis on June 12. They continued up the river, stopping at Davenport, Iowa, and Galena, Illinois. From there they traveled to Minnesota and on to Prairie La Crosse, where they arrived on July 1. By November 15, 1853, they had built five frame houses in a settlement they called Frisia but later named New Amsterdam. Among the early settlers were Bonnema and Haagsma.

In 1861, about a dozen Frisian families settled in Dodge and Columbia counties in an area they named Friesland. Teunis Dowe Tillema and his family emigrated from the province of Friesland in 1854, settling in Town Eight near Milwaukee. He married Sarah Van der Velde and established himself in the area of the settlement of Friesland, joining two other Dutch families. He later relocated to Randolph Center. In these early years, a pastor from the Alto Reformed Church would travel twenty miles in all kinds of weather to minister to the Dutch settlers, and there are now churches of the Reformed and christian Reformed faiths in the Randolph and Friesland areas.

In 1887, a small group of twelve men from Sheboygan County settled in St. Croix County south of Baldwin. Dutch settlers from the Alto area joined them later, among them the Donkersgoeds, Stelsel and Stobbelaar families. The land was good for dairy farming, and in the center of the settlement they built their church and a cheese factory. St. Paul was a nearby market for their goods.

During the 1890's, a Dutch community was begun at Vesper in Wood County. This settlement was started by a Hollander from Maryland who wanted to grow potatoes and onions and felt that the soil was as good as any in Iowa.

In 1902, a Dutch colony was established by three brothers named Suweyn near Biramwood in Marathon County, near stands of timber that had become valuable, said to be worth three times the value of the land itself, which was selling for $10.00 an acre.

Among other small Colonies of Hollanders were settlements near Clinton in Rock County, Delavan in Walworth County and Barton in Washington County.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bruins, Dr. Elton. Origins, Vol. VII, No. 1, Hope College, Holland, Michigan.

Holmes, Fred L. Old World Wisconsin. Eau Claire, Wisconsin: E. M. Hale and Company, 1944.

Lucas, Henry S. "Reminiscences of Arend Jan Brusse on Early Dutch Settlement in Milwaukee" in The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 30, 1946.

Lucas, Henry S. "The First Dutch Settlers in Milwaukee" in The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol.30, 1946.

Lucas, Henry. Netherlanders in America. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Mulder, Arnold. Americans from Holland. Philadelphia and New York: J. P. Lippincott Company, 1947.

Rederus, Sipko F. "The Dutch Settlements of Sheboygan County" in The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 1, 1917-18.

Van Hinte, Jacob. Netherlanders in America. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

 

back.gif (2868 bytes) home2.gif (2897 bytes)