Zeeland celebrates 175th birthday with week of festivities

The city of Zeeland will celebrate 175 years of community with a week of festivities to honor its history. 

To mark this milestone, the City of Zeeland and Zeeland Historical Society will host a week-long celebration. Anniversary activities will conclude with Zeeland’s annual Pumpkinfest, the community’s largest and most cherished festival.

“We are excited about this series of memorable events that have been carefully curated to highlight the heritage of the Zeeland community,” says Abby DeRoo, Zeeland’s marketing director.

Creating a new home

The Ottawa County community began when 457 members of a church from the Netherlands, seeking religious freedom, arrived in West Michigan looking for a new home for their church.

The First Reformed Church of Zeeland was organized in the Netherlands in the 1840s during the Separatist movement. This group met regularly in Jannes Vande Luyster’s barn in Borssele, in the province of Zeeland. The congregation was led by the Rev. Cornelius Vander Meulen. Together, these two men organized the migration of their church community, with Vande Luyster as the financier and Vander Meulen as the spiritual leader. 

Within two years of arriving, a village plat was recorded on April 17, 1849, consisting of four quadrants.

The village was originally governed by the “Volksvergadering,” or the People’s Assembly. By 1851 the citizens of Zeeland were eligible to vote, and the first official election was held at the Zeeland church. 

This election resulted in the organization of Zeeland Township. In 1875, Zeeland was incorporated as a village, and Dr. Daniel Baert was elected as its first president. In 1907, 60 years after the first settlers arrived, the village of Zeeland was incorporated as a city, and P. H. De Pree was elected as the city’s first mayor.

From 1840-1850, 5,718 Dutch families immigrated to the U.S., with one-third of them settling in what is now Holland and Zeeland Townships. Subsequent waves of immigration from the Netherlands to the United States occurred in the following decades. 

The city’s Dutch heritage is evident in the community’s architecture, churches, history, and in many of its people. 

The City of Zeeland and Zeeland Historical Society are celebrating the city’s birthday with a weeklong community celebration.

Sunday, Oct 2, 5 p.m.
Organ and trumpet recital
Second Reformed Church, 225 E. Central Ave., Zeeland.  

The anniversary week will kick off with a chamber music recital and reception with Great Lakes Duo. Rhonda Edgington is organist and Brian Reichenbach will play trumpet. 

Monday, Oct. 3, 3-6 p.m
Self-guided walking tours
Dekker Huis Museum
Brochures with the route for the one-hour, self-guided tour through some of the most historic sites in Zeeland and Groningen will be available at the Dekker Huis Museum. Complimentary
Dutch treats will be offered upon conclusion.

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 4:30-7:30 p.m.
Free Community Celebration Dinner and narrated story of Zeeland’s founding
Vande Luyster Square, corner of Church Street and Central Avenue
Enjoy the outdoor family event and buffet-style meal with 1,500 fellow Zeelanders. Experience heritage storytelling by Kit Karsten, live music by Michigan IO, face painting, and children’s crafts. Limited-edition commemorative anniversary merchandise will be available for purchase.

Harvest and Ministries Food Drive 
Event attendees are asked to bring nonperishable pantry items to donate at the Celebration Dinner site.

Wednesday-Thursday, Oct. 5-6
Historic trolley tours
First Reformed Church parking lot
Hop aboard a traditional trolley for a 45-minute tour to learn about Zeeland’s history, architecture, and local fun facts from a knowledgeable tour guide.
Wednesday: Every hour, on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Thursday: Every hour, on the hour from noon to 6 p.m.
Reservations are encouraged at www.feelthezeel.com. 

Friday, Oct. 7, 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Traditional tea social
Historic New Groningen Schoolhouse, 10537 Paw Paw Drive, Zeeland
This Celebration Tea promises social time, curated displays of Zeeland’s history, and time to share with friends new and old. Tea, coffee, and light refreshments will be provided.
Reservations are required at www.feelthezeel.com. 

All anniversary events are free; however, in lieu of event tickets or payment, the community is asked to generously stock the Harvest Stand Ministry Pantry with nonperishable items by bringing a can or box of nonperishable food for each person to the Community Dinner. 

This reflects a tradition of generosity that goes back to Zeeland’s founding. When the Zeeland-bound immigrants left the Netherlands in 1847 for the new world, they came debt-free due to the generosity of Jannes VandeLuyster, who paid their debts before they got on the ships. After their arrival, settlers were helped with basic needs and resettlement through the assistance of indigenous people and earlier settlers who gave advice and support, food, and housing. 

Wrapping up with Pumpkinfest

Anniversary activities will conclude with Zeeland’s annual Pumpkinfest, the community’s largest and most cherished festival. Pumpkinfest will be packed with family-friendly activities and entertainment and will recognize Zeeland’s 175th Anniversary through the Avenue of Art exhibit and parade theme.

Additionally, the oldest living descendants of Zeeland’s settlers will be honored as the grand marshals of the Pumpkinfest parade.

Keepsakes and limited edition commemorative anniversary merchandise will be available for purchase at events throughout the week.  These collector’s items include anniversary apparel, Zeeland landmark prints and notecards by local artist Cindy Bender, and Fire Wing tulip bulbs.


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.