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Former peat-harvesting town showcases its history of hard work

Limekiln, warehouse and barge at site

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

DEDEMSVAART, the Netherlands - The local historical society of a Dutch ‘frontier’ town which in recent years had aggressively campaigned to document and preserve its relatively short history, is discovering that it does not need to boast about a rich and long development of many centuries to kindle appreciation for the past. Less than 190 years have gone by since Dedemsvaart was founded but newcomers soon will be able to quickly learn all about the community's history at the ‘kalkoven’ site where a newly built replica of a ‘turfschuur’ already is home to a historical display.

Originally, the settlement was little more than a collection of shanties and sod huts erected along the canal and its feeder ditches, the wijken. Near the primitive dwellings peat bricks were dug and seasoned as fuel for homes and factories, to be transported by barge (turfschip) to the closest cities Hasselt and Zwolle, and beyond. Every step of the way, this type of harvesting was back-breaking and usually meant a hard life for the labourers.

The 19th century peat colonies (veenkoloniën) quickly developed related industries among which seashell burning limekilns often were first to be built. At Dedemsvaart - both the canal and the settlement are called that way - also was a limekiln operation where seashells were turned into fertilizer. Some of the barges that took peat bricks out, returned with the shells, giving labourers more back-breaking work to unload and a very dirty job when processing the lime.

During the 1980s the limekilns and an auxiliary building were restored to as a heritage site. The drive to rebuild the turfschuur, the warehouse where the lime factory kept its fuel from getting wet, took a concentrated fundraising effort that especially involved the business community. On the nationally-observed Open Monuments Day the building was dedicated.

Meanwhile, the group's quarterly publication keeps the rapidly growing membership abreast of efforts to restore its recently acquired 1934 barge ‘De Avontuur’, the last one of its kind. Anyone interested in joining Historische Vereniging Avereest - membership is Dfl. 45.00 per year - can look forward to a copy of the group's recent book, Wijkend Verleden (a history of feeder canals). The group can be reached at De Aak 58, 7701 LB Dedemsvaart, the Netherlands, ph/fx 01131-523-61 50 59.