Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City, Robert P. Swierenga. Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.

Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City, Robert P. Swierenga. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014. Three volumes; pages xxviii + 2618. Hardcover. $150.00. [Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.]

In three hefty volumes, Robert Swierenga provides us with a comprehensive and definitive history of the city of Holland, MI and its surrounding area.

He sketches the big picture in 9 chapters. The history begins in the late 1830s when the Congregationalist and Presbyterians began a joint mission work among the Indians, called the Old Wing Mission (chapter 1). Then comes the history of the Dutch settlements and the beginning of their Americanization (chapters 2-3). Chapters 20-23 treat the history from 1900 to 1960, and chapters 33-34 the history from 1960 to the present.

The other 25 chapters focus on specific aspects of life and society in Holland. Chapters 4-6 treat the history of Holland’s churches, and chapters 7-9 that of public and Christian schools, and of higher education. Appendices 2 and 3 list each church and school in the city’s history.

Chapters 10-11 are devoted to the subject of transportation—roads, railroads, airports, and the Port of Holland. Industry is covered in chapters 12-15, in detail. I am no industrialist, but I was intrigued to read of the variety of manufacturing in Holland, the number of industrial innovations that originated there, and the role that the “bonus committees” played in attracting industry. In these chapters is a miniature history of manufacturing in West Michigan.

Chapters 16 and 17 treat the history of farming and agriculture in the area, and the next two chapters the history of other shops and businesses. Appendix 5 lists almost every business that has been housed in Holland from its earliest days. Politics, public services, fire and police, parks and other city institutions, are the subject of chapters 24-27; chapters 28-32 cover the history of recreation and entertainment, clubs and societies, the arts, social services, and the newspaper.

As I said, these volumes are comprehensive and definitive. Anyone else who may have thought to write a history of Holland up to the present may lay down his pen. The history has been written.

One cannot read 2,700 pages in one sitting, of course; but I found the volumes hard to put down, and always looked forward to the next free hour or two when I could resume my reading.

These volumes deserve a far more detailed review than I can give here. Let me give a few reasons why readers of the Standard Bearer might well find this book interesting.

First, chapters 2, 4, 5, 8, and 9 chronicle the beginning of the Reformed faith in Michigan, and the formation of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in 1857. One will find enough evidence here to assert that the formation of the CRC was church reformation, and in her earlier years the CRC was consciously striving to be distinctively Reformed and antithetical. One critique is to the point: Swierenga uses the word “schism” as a synonym of “secession” or “split” in referring to the formation of the CRC and the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) (188, 214, 218, and 270). I would argue that “schism” is not synonymous with “secession” or “split,” and that the formation of the CRC and PRC was not the result of schism.

Second, not only does Swierenga present a brief history of Holland PRC (270-271), but he also refers to Herman Hoeksema, whose first pastorate was in Holland’s Fourteenth St. CRC. Swierenga mentions Hoeksema’s rejection of common grace (252ff.). Later, without drawing attention to the fact that this was when Hoeksema was her pastor, he treats an aspect of this congregation’s history when some members left Fourteenth Street because their support for public education was not appreciated (326). Then, in the chapter on World War I, he has a section on Hoeksema and the flag controversy (1526-1534).

Third, repeatedly imbedded in this history is biographical information about Albertus C. Van Raalte. As the pastor of the Dutch immigrants, he was expected to take the lead role in developing society, business, and industry. Consequently, he came to own much property, and he also financially backed numerous commercial endeavors. The outcome was not always happy. Here one must be charitable to Van Raalte, bearing in mind the situation of that day. Still, Swierenga’s account repeatedly reinforced in my mind that a pastor must put aside any secular vocation or avocation that would hinder him doing the work of the pastorate.

Finally (because of space constraints), anyone who views labor unions as an evil invention will find plenty of supporting evidence in these volumes. If not the labor unions themselves, then certainly the mentality that underlies their existence affected Holland’s industry negatively.

The set retails for $150, though it can be obtained from other sources for less (check amazon.com or our seminary bookstore). Still, consider that an investment that will repay annual dividends of information. To buy this set is not like spending $100 at a restaurant or for admission to some recreational event, which buys you two hours of physical pleasure and a lifetime of fading memories; to buy this set is to have something worthwhile to read, later to reread, and always to consult, as long as one is alive and well.

To borrow the set is probably a more practical option for most. Especially if you live in West Michigan, look for it in your local public library or in your church library. If the library does not own it, personally tout the virtues of the book to the head librarian, and donate the first $10 toward the purchase, with the understanding that you be the first to read it!