Veneklasen Brick: A Family, a Company, and a Unique Nineteenth-Century Dutch Architectural Movement in Michigan

In 1848, the second year of the new Dutch kolonie in West Michigan’s Ottawa County, a much-needed brick manufacturing industry was begun in the rich clay fields between Groningen and Zeeland. From humble beginnings that included digging barefoot in the clay, the company created by Dutch immigrant Jan Hendrik Veneklasen and his son Berend flourished for more than seventy-five years and contributed to a unique architectural legacy. While Veneklasen Brick Co. (later Zeeland Brick Co.) remained in the family, success demanded that it expand beyond the Zeeland area. Strengthened by the purchase of clay pits elsewhere in West Michigan and benefiting from the arrival of railroad lines, Veneklasen eventually became one of the largest brick companies in the state. Veneklasen’s bricks were used in commercial, industrial, and public settings, but their residential application has drawn the most attention. Mixing traditional Dutch patterns and constantly changing American housing styles, local brick masons left behind a prime example of nineteenth-century Dutch-American material culture. Drawing from untapped primary sources, Michael Douma’s work traces the history of the Veneklasen family, the development of the Veneklasen company, and the impact of its products on local construction. The first-ever book-length analysis of West Michigan Dutch contributions to architecture, Veneklasen Brick also addresses issues of conservation and preservation. The volume contains numerous illustrations, graphs, maps, and a comprehensive listing of nineteenth-century brick houses in southern Ottawa and northern Allegan counties.