First to Arrive
The first to arrive in the locality of present Drenthe was Jan Hulst, with his wife and family. Jan left his home at Staphorst and arrived at Baltimore on April 27, 1847. There he purchased an ox team and cart and arrived in Zeeland Township in the middle of June, the journey lasting about six weeks. He then purchased land in Section 28 of Zeeland Township and seems to have been the first settler in the Township. He was soon followed by others from Drenthe, some settling near him and some a few miles farther east. A few of these newcomers were quite well-to-do, but others were very poor, so the wealthier members of the group employed men so split rails for a two-mile fence along their property.
Beginning of Farm Land
Bit by bit, with much suffering and hardship, the land was cleared and the people could begin their farming --- the occupation they understood well. These early farms prospered on the virgin soil of the area and the settlement soon became a thriving community. By the early 1900's Drenthe could claim a flourishing creamery, a canning factory, a post office, three general stores, a blacksmith shop, a harness shop and --- dare we mention them? --- three salons. However, the heart of the community was its church which was organized in 1848 as a Reformed church under Classis Holland.
Farm Community at Heart
Drenthe is still a farming community at heart, although many of its people work in factories and other places of business. Even though many Dutch customs and ideas can still be traced throughout the community, the descendants of these rugged pioneers have blended well into the American scene and have shown much love for this country. (Information compiled by the late Mrs. Gerrit J. Kemmel...published in 1972.)
Vriesland, Michigan. As is the case with most of the early settlements made in this area, the origin and history of Vriesland evolve around the church and the school. The Vriesland Reformed Church was organized in the year 1846 by a group of Friesians in the Netherlands who were planning to migrate to the United States of America.
Picking a Settlement Location
On April 7, 1847 a company of 49 persons left Rotterdam, Netherlands, on the English ship named Vesta. They chose the Rev. M. Ypma to be their spiritual leader. Six weeks after the first group left Rotterdam, a second group of Friesians left Amsterdam on the ship to Albatross to join those who had gone on before. They all arrived at Holland, Michigan at about the same time as a group of Zeelanders did, whereupon a mutual agreement was made that neither party would interfere with the other in selecting a settlement location.
Separated by Swamp
The Zeelanders decided to stay on the west side of the swamp, so the Friesians went to the east a few miles and named their settlement Vriesland. The fact that these Friesians chose the heavier clay soil of Vriesland rather than the lighter soil to the north showed the character of these settlers, who were not afraid of hard work.
In the spring of 1848 a group of immigrants from Gelderland arrived and chose to settle Vriesland, one-half mile east and north of the Friesians. They shared the church, school, and store with the Friesians.
Sad Losing of Three Families
During the first year there was much suffering and sickness. Before it had ended, twenty-seven of their number had died. Three entire families had died.
First Church & School
The first meetings of the Vrieslanders were held in the open air, with the sky overhead and the trees forming the walls. Before winter, a log building was erected about one-half mile south of the center of Section 22 of Zeeland Township, which was used for both church and school.
Vriesland School District
The Vriesland School District was organized on June 17, 1853, at the home of Rev. C. Vander Meulen. The first schoolhouse was built of logs. On September 24, 1860 another school was built about one-half mile south of the village. The site was rented for $3 a year, and the building was erected for $450. (Information compiled by the late Carl Schermer...published in 1972.)