ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The house of one of the first settlers in Zeeland now tells the story of the town’s history.
Two years after its inception, the Zeeland Historical Society purchased the Dekker Huis Museum in 1976.
“It was the home of the Dekker family, which was one of the first families to settle in Zeeland,” Katelyn VerMerris, director of the Zeeland Historical Society, said. “…It was also a storefront.”
The Dekker family started Dekker Jeweler, which still exists today.
When guests visit the Dekker Huis Museum, they enter into a rotating exhibit space. It’s where a volunteer will give visitors a map and introduce them to the historical society.
“Throughout the museum, we have a number of different exhibits on Zeeland and local history. The Dekker House section is set up like a house museum,” VerMerris said.
The house is furnished with local furniture and artifacts that show what homes would have looked like during the turn of the 19th century.
“One of my very, very favorite artifacts is a book of Psalms that we had donated after someone had taken (it) with them in World War I. It’s such a personal thing to have in our collection. It tells a lot about the people here and what they care about,” VerMerris said.
Upstairs, visitors can explore what bedrooms would have looked like. There’s also an addition that was added in the 1990s to specifically house exhibits.
“There’s a number of exhibits on that side including different business history, we have a room on church history in Zeeland, we have a recreated general store called the Huizenga Store that was in Zeeland and a recreated First Michigan Bank lobby, which was the Zeeland bank,” she said.
One artifact that the museum preserves is a hair wreath from a 16-year-old girl.
“It’s one of the things that we really like to point out to kids because it’s a foreign concept to them. Why would you do that? It seems really gross (but) it’s a good talking point (to explain) that people didn’t always have photographs so it was a way of remembering,” VerMerris said.
She explained that this helps show how people in the past weren’t so different from people today — we just have certain tools that they didn’t have.
The Historical Society also owns the 1881 New Groningen Schoolhouse.
“When (the society) bought it it was apartments,” VerMerris said.
After raising funds to restore the building, the schoolhouse was restored and is now used for programming and rental space.
“We have one room set up like a historic school room so, you’ll see the old desks with the inkwells and a teacher’s desk and chalkboard, roll-down maps. (You’ll) get a glimpse of what education looked like in the past,” VerMerris said.
She said the second room is set up as an all-purpose room that is used for programming.
“There’s also two coatrooms that were in the schoolhouse. Historically, kids would have put their lunch, their coat, shoes and boots in there. One of those is restored to be a coatroom and the other is a little exhibit space with pictures on the history of the school in it,” she said.
Since the schoolhouse isn’t regularly open, VerMerris said anyone interested in visiting should check out the events calendar or schedule an appointment at the museum.
The Dekker Huis Museum is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit the historical society’s website.