Story by Wayne Stewart
At the dawn of the 20th century a group of immigrants from Holland set foot on Texas soil for the first time on Galveston Island.
Like the countless millions like them, they left their homeland and everything they knew looking for a better life away from political turmoil and exhausted farmland. They found it on the shores of Texas.
From Galveston they traveled east; there, on the far southeastern reaches of Texas, they found their home.
They settled a few miles south of Beaumont, they named their town Nederland, and there they forged a new life out of the Gulf Coast plains. Today, the Dutch influence in the region can be found on the street names around Nederland, and in the work ethic of the people.
“Three ships landed on Galveston full of Dutch people,” explained Windmill and Acadienne Museums Curator Carol Culp. “Many of them turned around and went back home because they couldn’t make cheese.”
Cheese needs long periods of cool weather – well, those can be hard to come by in Texas, but in spite of the ones who left, many stayed and settled in the area and began to prosper in the New World. The warm Texas weather also wasn’t great for tulips, but they managed.
They brought with them, Culp said, a history of hard work and entrepreneurship that helped them set their lives up on solid ground.
Using their agriculture expertise they grew rice in the lowlands of the region, they also gave rise to the dairy industry in the area.
“At one time there were 26 different dairies in the county,” Culp explained. “They were hardworking and industrious, and could make money at whatever they put their minds to doing.”
The windmill museum is housed in a replica windmill, reminiscent of the windmills dotting the lowlands of Holland, which were used to pump water off the land, reclaiming it from the sea.
The museum was built in 1969, and serves as a testimony to the Dutch people who settled the area. Nederland represents one of the only such settlements in Texas, though there were many Dutch who settled in New York and Michigan.
Inside the museum, many artifacts from the local history are included, along with many things from Holland, testifying to the roots of the region. Included is a large collection of wooden shoes.
“They would wear these when they were out working in the fields,” Culp explained. “Much of Holland is below sea level, and very muddy and marshy, the mud wouldn’t stick as bad to the wooden shoes.”
No history of Beaumont-Port Arthur region would be complete without tales from the oil industry, as it put the gold, in the Golden Triangle.
When the oil boom hit in the early 1900s with the arrival of Spindletop, just a few miles away, the hardworking Dutch people found a new means of wealth. With them came a confluence of cultures, old-family Texans, the Dutch and the Cajun from Louisiana all converged at this tip of Texas.
“The Dutch people brought hard work and money,” Culp said of the oil boom days. “The Cajuns brought food and fun to the oil boom.”
Whatever the case, it worked. Oil brought new wealth to the area, but the Dutch never strayed too far from their agricultural roots – even without the cheese making.
Next door to the Windmill Museum is the Acadienne Museum, which features a typical Cajun-style house, prominent in the area in the mid to late 1800s. The furnishings for the house is made up of donated items from the region’s past, and helps tell the history of the area from a bit different perspective, with a Louisiana flair.
The Windmill Museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The museums are located at 1500 Boston Ave. in downtown Nederland
Along with telling the story of the Dutch people in the region, a special section of the museum is dedicated to Tex Ritter, the famous Country Star who called Nederland his home for much of his life. After his death, Ritter was buried in nearby Port Neches at Oak Bluff Cemetery.
To learn more about the region visit www.nederlandtx.com