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A look at the history of Zeeland for its 175th anniversary

One of the many things that make the city unique: Its entrepreneurial spirit that dates back to the first settlers.

ZEELAND, Mich. — It's a special week in Zeeland as the city marks its 175th anniversary. City officials are marking the milestone with a week of family-friendly activities, historic tours and the iconic Pumpkinfest!

Zeeland was founded in 1847. Johannes VanderLuyster is credited with being the founder since he was the one who organized and paid to have 77 families make the voyage from the Netherlands.

They named the area Zeeland after their province in the motherland.

What's the first thing they built? A church.

Today, First Reformed Church stands on the same site the settlers built a log church in 1847.

"It was the very first building they put up because they wanted to start worshipping God right away," said Katelyn Bosch VerMerris, the director of the Zeeland Historical Society.

Zeeland was settled by a group of nearly 500 Dutch people who were seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity.

"We believe that the pilgrims and the people of Zeeland were the only two groups of people to come as a formed congregation. So the church of Zeeland was already formed in the Netherlands and they immigrated as a congregation so they could worship over here together," said Bosch VerMerris. 

"People here feel so proud of that heritage too, it is so rich and the people who came here worked so hard to build the life that their great grandchildren now have." 

That determination and work ethic still define Zeeland today.

"One of the things people say is unique about Zeeland is the entrepreneurial spirit. So for being such a small community there are so many businesses that have national and international reach, if you think of Hermann Miller, Gentex, Zeeland Farm Services, these businesses are housed in such a small community but have such a big reach in the world," said Bosch VerMerris. "That is something that goes back to the character of those original settlers of being hardworking and entrepreneurial."

RELATED: Zeeland is celebrating its 175th anniversary with a week of events

Another unique part of Zeeland's story is that the city was a hub for clockmaking. The small town was shipping clocks all over the country and the world, with four major clock manufacturers, including Howard Miller which still calls Zeeland home today.

A Zeeland High School graduate, 13 ON YOUR SIDE's Meredith TerHaar  was eager to know where the Chix mascot came from.

"Zeeland is known for being a central location for chick hatching so it was one of the biggest exports of chicks of the United States," said Bosch VerMerris. "One of the reasons was because our post office was willing to mail them like they were just a letter through the post office, it wasn't something that was being done in other parts of the country so it was kind of a revolutionary way to deliver the chicks by using the United States Post Office."

In more recent years, an effort to revitalize the downtown area, coupled with an excellent school system, has drawn more businesses and young families.  

"It really sets it up to be a place that has a diverse community, a growing community," said Bosch VerMerris. "There is a lot happening, there are weekly activities going on downtown...it's a really fun place to raise a family, all that will contribute to Zeeland having bright future."

To commemorate the 175th anniversary, there is so much happening this week to celebrate. The celebration kicked off Sunday and will conclude with the annual Pumpkinfest on Saturday, Oct. 8. 

All of the anniversary events are free and open to the public, but some events either encourage or require registration. Tuesday Zeeland is hosting a massive community dinner at VanderLuyster Square. There is no ticket price but the community is asked to help stock the Harvest Stand Ministry Pantry with non-perishable items.

Limited edition commemorative anniversary merchandise is available for purchase at events throughout the week as well.

To see a full list of Zeeland anniversary events, click here.

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