Welcome to the Veenkoloniaal Museum in Veendam. The museum was founded in 1939 and has been housed in the former Veendam High School since the beginning of the nineties. This building, with its three storeys, offers ample space to tell the fascinating story of the Groningen peat district, which was once a part of the immense Bourtanger Moor and stretched as far as the Province of Drenthe and the adjoining German Emsland. This brochure will help guide you through the museum.
Mesolithic period (10,000-7,600 BC)
At the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, our Prehistory workgroup found traces of Mesolithic (mid Stone Age) settlements at various places in the peat district. The most characteristic of these were the fire hollows which were excavated during the research. Hundreds of pieces of charred hazelnut shells were found. The excavation is presented in a symbolic way on the left-hand side of this hall, while a reconstruction of how the peat landscape would have looked in Mesolithic times is shown on the right. It was an open park-like landscape where people lived in encampments approximately 10,000 years ago. Replicas of tools that were used in those times are displayed here.
The climate changed in around 5000 BC, and our surroundings became wetter. This change in the climate was preceded by a densification of the forests. To the hunter-gatherers of those times, these forests were less interesting because their prey could escape more easily. The densification is represented by a sturdy spar tree.
Peat growth and peat pioneers
The peat moors began to develop from about 5000 BC onward. The peat only grew a few millimetres a year. The forests began to die off due to the surplus of water. Remains of trees were found as fossilized wood by people working there. Pieces of this fossilized wood have been fitted into and set in front of the peat face. Some trunks are more than 2000 years old.
Embedded in the left-hand face are objects that were left behind by people who travelled across the moor now and again. An exceptional item is the remains of a wagon wheel dating from around 2500 BC. It was found along with another wheel by peat cutters in Musselkanaal at the end of the 19th century. This wheel was probably a part of a burial offering. On the right-hand side of the hall there is a showcase displaying a cow’s horn, which was found by peat cutters and was furnished with silverwork and converted into a drinking vessel by Arent Hamminck in the 17th century.
The other objects were deposited by the peat cutters and the first residents on the moor. Most of these originate from the peat settlement of Oude Pekela which was founded in 1599.
The three scale models above one another indicate the progress of the peat cutting work. The viewer is looking from north to south, with the city of Groningen to the right, just off the scale model, and Winschoten to the left.
The painting by Mancadan gives us a glimpse of the first peat cutting work around Wildervanck. This village owes its name to Adriaan Geerts Wildervanck, who acquired this peat area in the 17th century. Wildervanck was one of the few private peat-cutting magnates in the region. The other areas were mostly developed by companies.
Along the canal
The peat villages arose as long ribbons of construction along the canal. The canal first served as a drainage channel for the peat district and later for the transport of the peat that had been cut. All kinds of small businesses soon grew up along the canal. The many barges and ships that navigated along the canal, occasionally more than 15,000 annually, brought great economic activity, especially at the locks. The scale model shows the lock at Martenshoek. There were dozens of shops here. Other industries, such as shipyards and sawmills also arose along the canal. The sign recalls the sawmill of K. and J. Wilkens, who also had their own slipway and shipyard. Just like many pioneers, the family Wilkens originally came from Westphalia in Germany. In contrast, the village of Kalkwijk Lula was populated by Swiss Baptists who had fled to the Netherlands. Family names such as Leutscher, who came from the Leutscherthal, and other names such as Muller, Thöne, and Theiken recall their origins.
The shipwreck reminds us of the many ships that did not reach their destination. The peat was primarily exported to the Province of Holland, where cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague were the main consumers. Heavily laden peat ships sailed via the former Zuyderzee (now the IJsselmeer). Many peat-bearing ships found their ultimate resting place on the seabed during the traditional November storms. Various shipwrecks were revealed when land was reclaimed during the construction of the IJsselmeer polders.
Seagoing navigation from the peat district
Peat transport via canals and other waterways developed into seagoing shipping. From 1770 onward, an increasing number of skippers had Bremen and Hamburg as their destination and seagoing navigation began to flourish. This shipping gave rise to trade with the Baltic countries. Via the Kattegat, an increasing number of ships berthed in harbours such as Riga, Saint Petersburg, and Koningsbergen. Some skippers set up regular transport services to cities in France and England. Coal and coke, potash, hops, wine, grain, and genever were important cargo. Decorative tiles from Friesland as well as bricks were taken to the Baltic as ballast. In around 1860, seagoing shipping from the peat district enjoyed a second major period of prosperity. More than 60% of the Dutch fleet came from the Groningen peat district.
Moving from the shipwreck and the replica of a sailors’ bar in Riga, we arrive in a hall with a large photograph of the harbour of Riga. The showcases are filled with souvenirs from Russia.
Shipping (continued) and Winkler Prins
Coming from the shipping section, we have now arrived at an impressive staircase. The worn steps are evidence of the thousands of children who passed through this building in the period from 1911 to 1987. The jackets hanging above the stairs belong to former pupils. The model of the koff ship Afien is situated to the left of the stairs. The Afien Smit was launched in Oude Pekela in 1840.
Adjoining this ship is the Winkler Prins cabinet. Anthony Winkler Prins (1817-1903) was the founder of the nautical school and a champion of education for the people. He was a Baptist preacher in Veendam, where he also worked from 1868 to 1881 on the realization of the first edition of the Winkler Prins encyclopaedia. This sixteen-volume edition is displayed in the cabinet. You can peruse the modern version of the encyclopaedia in the ‘large books’ on the right-hand side; the other book is devoted to freemasonry. Winkler Prins was also the founder of the renowned and still-existent freemason’s lodge Noorderlicht in Veendam in 1879.
We follow the narrative via the corridor, where various paintings and drawings of ships are on display. We also reach the skipper’s room via this corridor. A striking feature of the room is the painting above the mantelpiece, which shows the visit of King Willem I to Veendam. In 1837, Willem went on a popular tour of the Netherlands and visited the Veenlust country house on 14 July. The shelves opposite the mantel painting present diverse souvenirs brought back from England.
Via the skipper’s room we reach the lock quay. The quayside at every lock had a shop and a bar. After all, the skipper had to wait to pass through the lock. They often had the opportunity to disembark for a short time. There is a sloop-builder’s shed adjoining the shop. The sloop was built by the Veendam boat-builder Oorburg for Captain Stemmer in 1948.
The Ebenhaëzer, a so-called ‘bolschip’, a kind of flat-bottomed tjalk typical of Groningen shipyards, is situated on the inner courtyard. This ship can be viewed from the inside. A family with six children once lived and worked on this ship. The Ebenhaëzer carried potatoes, straw, and peat, among other things. In the fifties and sixties, it was primarily used to transport potatoes from the farm to the potato starch factory at Foxhol near Hoogezand.
On the first floor, which can be reached via the café, you can become acquainted with the strawboard industry which determined much of the landscape in the past hundred years. After the peat cutting, the shipping industry and then shipbuilding itself began to play an increasingly important role. From 1870 onward, strawboard factories began to settle in the region in increasing numbers. The idea came from Germany. There were already a few strawboard factories in the Reiderland around Weener at the middle of the 19th century. Straw from the clay district around the Dollard estuary was used for cardboard. In the Netherlands, people began to process the straw from the Oldambt region that borders on the Reiderland. Peat for the steam machines came from the peat district. Oude Pekela, situated on the transition between the peat and clay regions, developed into the centre of the strawboard industry. No straw has been produced here since the middle of the 1970s. The strawboard industry was accompanied by much pollution. Nowadays, only old paper is reprocessed.
The Scholten Room
On the second floor, we devote attention to the starch industry. But before coming to that section, we arrive in the Scholten Room adjoining the strawboard section. In 1842, Willem Albert Scholten founded his first factory in Foxhol. The Scholten Room is a replica of Scholten’s workplace. Willem Albert Scholten grew to become the first multinational in Europe. As a registered trademark, he used a double triangle that represents a starch crystal. Scholten’s success was a stimulus to many other businessmen.
Potato starch industry
At the end of the 19th century, there was at least one potato starch factory in every village. These factories began to make price deals with one another, much to the anger of the farmers. As a result, the farmers decided to set up their own co-operative factories. The first of these was founded in Borgercompagnie in 1898 and many others followed. The end product, starch, was sold by AVB (later called AVEBE). Initially, AVB did not act as a producer but only as a sales outlet. Later, it also turned to producing starch. Nowadays, their largest starch factory is located in Ter Apelkanaal.
You can return to the first floor via the stairs. The film ‘Het lint doorbroken’ (The Ribbon Broken) shows the town of Veendam in the 1920s. The first floor also has space to accommodate exhibitions. Next to the museum library, there is the Tiemo Timeless Theme section where children have ample opportunity to play while their parents are looking around.
We thank you for your visit.