Flashback • Homestead and Heritage
by Richard H. Harms, Archivist

A recently published book on the Albertus C. Van Raalte family, the progenitor of Dutch immigrants to West Michigan, notes that from the demolition and ashes of the Van Raalte house in 1961 came an effort to preserve and promote history, historical records and artifacts (Elton J. Bruins et.al., Albertus and Christiana: The Van Raalte Family, Home, and Roots, Eerdmans, 2004).

More than this, pieces of that house were incorporated into the fabric of the Knollcrest Campus.

Van Raalte house
Pieces of Albertus Van Raalte's home found a new home on the Calvin campus.

The house on Fairbanks Street in Holland, Mich., was built in the late 1840s as the first frame house in the Dutch colony. During the next 25 years it was enlarged several times, and in 1875, just a year before Van Raalte died, a brick veneer was put around the wood-clad structure. Family members continued to live in the house until the 1920s, after which it was occupied by a series of renters. By the summer of 1961 the house had been vacant for a number of years and had been vandalized several times. Repairs were deemed too costly, so it was decided to raze the structure. As the dust and smoke caused by the wrecking crew rose from the site, Calvin College saved a number of items from the pile of debris waiting to be burned. For $35, Calvin acquired a load of bricks, the lintel from above the front door, and two of the front windows.

The salvaged items were brought to the then new Knollcrest Campus. Since this new campus was slated to have a Heritage Hall, devoted to the Dutch immigrants in North America, it seemed appropriate that items saved from the first frame house in the West Michigan Dutch colony be included in such a space. The original plans called for Heritage Hall to be added to the southeast corner of the library-classroom building, encompassing space that is now the fireplace and lobby area and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The usable bricks were coursed on a ledge from above the fireplace to the ceiling, in relief from the wall. In the center of this brick work now hangs the college seal in wood, given by the Class of 1953. A careful examination will show that these bricks are slightly darker and a bit more worn than those cladding the walls of the lobby space. The lintel became the threshold for the entry to what is now the Institute of Christian Worship, although carpeting now hides it from view. The window frames were repaired by a local furniture manufacturer and installed as frames around display cases. Both display cases still exist; the one in the Archives is still visible in a public space. Thanks to the salvage efforts in 1961, Calvin’s Heritage Hall both stores the records of the community’s heritage and preserves a few artifacts from that heritage.