The town of Pella was founded in l847 under the leadership of Dominie (Reverend) Hendrik Pieter Scholte who was actively involved in a Separatist movement in the Netherlands. Several ministers and their congregations declined to follow an edict of the king to follow the State Church’s style of worship. The Separatists thought the State Church was too lax, too modern and theologically unsound.
Beginning in 1834 in Ulrum, Groningen, the Netherlands, many of the Separatists were imprisoned, paid huge fines and were otherwise treated with malice and punished. Emigration seemed the only answer to those who wished to be separated from the State Church. Many also wished to emigrate for economic and social improvement. A potato blight had caused famine in many parts of Europe, including the Netherlands.
Scholte and his family left by steamer to arrive in America before the others so that he could visit with government officials and Dutch persons on the East. With their help he could try to decide on a location for the colony. Eight hundred others followed in four sailing vessels and docked in Baltimore, Maryland.
The new state of Iowa seemed to be the ideal place for the travelers and a trek began in earnest over mountains, through canals, on steamboats on rivers until they all reached St. Louis, Missouri.
An exploratory group, assisted by a Baptist circuit rider, Moses J. Post, found what they considered an ideal spot and 18,000 acres were purchased by the Dutch for $1.25 an acre. The land chosen for the colony was on a high ridge between the Des Moines and Skunk Rivers where many Americans had already settled. The Dutch were able to buy out many of the Americans who had started farms.
The last portion of the long journey was leaving St. Louis by steamboat for Keokuk on the Mississippi River.
From there it was an overland journey through small settlements along the pathways called The State Road to the area they had named Pella, a city of refuge.
Housing was inadequate as places that were to have been built for them were nothing more that a few piles of lumber. The innovative Dutch built houses of sod, roofed with long prairie grasses. Such houses had been known in the homeland as poor laborers built turf houses on the peat fields. The cluster of these grass-roofed lodgings was dubbed ‘Strawtown’.
The town grew and flourished with the arrival of numerous subsequent large emigrations through the early years. The Dutch and Americans were assimilated and many others arrived and were welcomed in making Pella their home.
With several large industries, well-known Central College (founded in l853), a myriad of churches, excellent schools and an ethnic pride in attractive homes, public buildings and a unique business district all enhance the Pella community. The town which attracts tourists by the thousands, Pella attracts many others who see the town as an ideal place in which to live and work. Pella has maintained its religious conception and is known to be a community based on a solid Christian foundation.
This article is written by Muriel Kool