Flashback • The Making of Modern Michigan

Driesenga family
The Driesenga family — an example of a photo in Calvin's "The Making of Modern Michigan through the Eyes of Dutch Americans" digital images collection.

Sometime between 1910 and 1920, the Driesenga family — probably along with some hired help — posed for this photograph. While many photographs from the early 20th century show people soberly wearing their Sunday best, this photo catches the attention since it seems to capture individuals in the middle of a regular work day.

This photograph — and countless others — are kept in Heritage Hall, the archives of Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary and the Christian Reformed Church in North America. In 2003 the Hekman Library received a Library Services and Technology Act grant through the Library of Michigan to digitize a portion of Heritage Hall’s photographs to be incorporated into a statewide collection called “The Making of Modern Michigan” (MMM). After identifying over 500 images that displayed some facet of Michigan’s history, library staff scanned and catalogued each image.

Rudyard Christian Reformed Church
The MMM collection contains many photos of early Christian Reformed Church buildings, including this photo of Rudyard CRC in the early 1900s.

These online images will be publicly accessible in two locations: one within the context of the statewide “Making of Modern Michigan” project, and the other within the Hekman Digital Archive (HDA), the library’s digital repository that currently contains over 6,000 digitized images from ten unique collections (access to some of which are restricted to current Calvin community members). The new HDA collection, titled “The Making of Modern Michigan through the Eyes of Dutch Americans,” is housed alongside additional Heritage Hall images that depict the history of the college and the seminary.

Like the Driesenga photograph shown here, many of the photos in the MMM collection depict individuals, families and objects related to the Dutch-American experience in West Michigan. Brick homes, electric trains and streetcars, country roads, hunters, horse-drawn delivery carts, and dozens of Christian Reformed Church buildings can be seen as they were by pioneering families. Many of the photographs contain unidentified details or lack descriptions, but omission of such information can also enhance the enjoyment of viewing the images by allowing imagination to guess the stories behind the individuals and scenes.