While religious persecution was not unknown in Europe, Holland had long been a refuge of safety. By the mid-1800s, this dynamic changed. It signaled the beginning of an exodus for those seeking refuge. A group of about 800 immigrants set sail for America with hopes of a better life. Hendrik Scholte, their religious leader or Dominie, promised his wife a life that would equal that which they were leaving behind. Although they would face hardships it would end up being a promise kept by the founder of Pella, Iowa. Our visit to the Scholte House Museum would educate us on this interesting family.
We want to thank Visit Pella and the Scholte House Museum for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
The Scholte House
During the Tulip Time Festival, we had an opportunity to tour the home. This beautiful house was not what greeted Hendrik, Maria, and their three daughters when they first arrived in central Iowa. As a minister, Hendrik was in favor of the separation of church and state. When Holland changed to a state-supported clergy base, he felt it imposed upon the expression of faith. His ministry became the focus of imposing oversight, as the government began to restrict gatherings. After a decade of increasing scrutiny, it was time to look for a new homeland.
In the spring of 1847, four ships set sail for the New World. After nearly 60 days at sea, the group reached the American coast. During the voyage, an interesting situation arose. The Dutch travelers felt that the boat did not meet their desired level of cleanliness. To bring it up to their high standards, they set about cleaning the ships from top to bottom. When the ships arrived in Baltimore, they were allowed to dock without the usually detailed inspections. Even the captains were amazed at the orderliness of his passengers.
Once all of the ships had arrived, it was time for the journey across the land. Once they arrived in St. Louis, a committee was formed to scout out a potential site for their new homes. Even though they remained in the city for a few weeks, they felt very uneasy. Rumors of the group’s wealth had spread around the area and the immigrants were concerned about robbers. When the committee examined the land that would become Pella, they were anxious to move their families. We can imagine the odd looks that the procession of oddly garbed travelers found in the towns they passed through. Surely, their foreign language added to the curiosity of townsfolk.
Hendrik’s wife had stayed behind in St. Louis, while he secured the family home. When she and her daughters finally arrived, they found no beautiful town awaiting them. Instead, their lodging was a small log cabin. Knowing that he had made a promise to his wife, Dominie Scholte assembled a crew of workers to construct his grand home. It only took them about six months to complete the Scholte House. We are sure that seeing the home take shape would have propped up Maria’s spirits. Another blow came when the family’s crates of furnishings arrived. Much of her blue-and-white Delft pottery had broken during the move.
The Man Behind Pella
For two decades, Dominie Scholte provided his community with spiritual guidance. Being a savvy businessman, Hendrik invested wisely in banking and a sawmill. During his time in Pella, he would serve as justice of the peace, notary, and land agent. He even started the Pella gazette, which lasted about five years. During that period, he wrote many pamphlets and articles expressing his political views.
Originally a follower of the Democratic Party, his position changed when they moved toward a proslavery stance. In 1860, Hendrik served as an Iowa delegate at the Republican National Convention. He fervently urged others to support the campaign of Abraham Lincoln and would later attend his inauguration in Washington. He was so passionate about the Union’s role in the Civil War that he promised a free house to any returning war veterans. In all, 129 Dutch veterans took him up on this pledge.
Visit a Pella Landmark
Our visit to the Scholte House Museum opened our eyes to a larger-than-life figure from the 1800s. Learning how this one man was able to impact so many lives reminded us that tales like these are waiting out there for us to discover. While we relished in the beauty of this historic home, it is the story behind its creation that truly mesmerizes us. Obviously, much of the home has changed over the decades, but the library still holds most of its originality. When you visit the Scholte House, be sure to check out the statue of Hendrik waiting to be discovered in the gardens.