See how Holland reclaimed land

A lot of Holland is below sea level. And in Holland, reclaimed land is all around you. Visit the reclaimed land with Holland Windmills

A lot of Holland is made up of reclaimed land. Some history before booking the Windmill tours Amsterdam.

So how did the Dutch end up with so much reclaimed land? Well, actually a long time ago Holland consisted largely of peat bog. This peat was reclaimed bit by bit, for fuel and salt. The mining was done in long strips, creating narrow meadows with ditches between them.

The Dutch dug up so much peat that it left the land very vulnerable. Where the weak peaty soil was swept away, large inland lakes would form.

In the Middle Ages, the sea increasingly invaded the country. 

These large inland lakes were a major danger. Especially during storms the waves would destroy the soft banks, making the lakes bigger and bigger.

In Holland, we call this the ‘Waterwolf’.

Holland nearly drowned

Around 1300, present-day Holland nearly drowned. Holland for a large part consisted of water.

It was only after the invention of a special type of water mill that people were able to pump the water out of these inland seas.

Besides fighting the Waterwolf, Holland needed agricultural land and security. That is why in the 17th century, more and more lakes were drained with windmills.

In 1533, the Achtermeer in Alkmaar was one of the first acquisitions. Later followed among others the Zijpe (1597), the Beemster (1612), the Purmer (1622), the Wormer (1626), and the Schermer (1635).

Also, large tracts of land were reclaimed on the edges of Noord-Holland. The best-known examples of this are the Wieringerwaard and the Wieringermeerpolder, which made the top of North Holland a lot bigger.

The reclamation of an area began with the construction of a ring dike and a ring canal outside it. Mills milled the water from the polder into the ring canal. At deep polders, the mills were placed in series, with each mill bringing the water a little higher.

These lakes have all been drained since the 17th century. The land reclamations can be recognized by the block-shaped subdivision and the straight roads when the new land was divided into rectangular plots.

In 1839, Holland took up the task of reclaiming the biggest lake. They started digging a 60-km-long ring canal around the Haarlemmermeer. In 1845 this work was finished and the water from the lake was pumped into this ring canal.

Steam pumping stations

With the arrival of steam pumping stations, larger lakes could also be tackled, such as the Haarlemmermeer (1852) and the Wieringermeer (1930).

Traditionally, mill-builder and hydraulic engineer Jan Adriaansz Leeghwater (1575-1650) has been mentioned as the great man when draining a large number of lakes. He is indeed often found in old documents, but opinions are divided on his exact role.

In the 17th century, lakes on the drawing board were divided into block-shaped agricultural plots. Endless rows of trees now mark the straight roads.

During later land reclamation, such as the Wieringermeerpolder (1930), machines were available to cultivate the new land. This machine dug slots that had to ensure the opening up of the new land.

The sea has never been defeated. Near De Cocksdorp on Texel, this memorial is dedicated to the victims of the flooding of the De Eendracht polder in 1953.

Without Windmills Holland would be flooded

Without mills and pumping stations, a large part of Noord-Holland would be flooded. Only Texel, the row of dunes, and the Gooi lie above sea level. The first windmills appeared in the Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th century, they were essential to dry the large inland lakes. Steam pumping stations later took over this function, for example when draining the enormous Haarlemmermeer. 

The enormous Haarlemmer Lake was drained in 1849-1852 by four steam pumping stations, including the De Lynden pumping station. The neo-gothic building is now a national monument.

First Windmills

The first water mills made use of a water wheel. Later, the auger was developed, a large screw with which the water could be raised 4 to 5 m. From the 17th century, polder mills have drained the inner lakes of North Holland. At Schermerhorn, a series of mills was needed to get the water from the deep lake. One of the mills is set up as a museum mill.

The Vier Noorder Koggen steam pumping station was built in 1868-1869 to keep the polders dry at Medemblik. The Steam Engine Museum is now located here.

Polder mills were developed in the 17th century to remove excess water from polders. The waterwheel was soon replaced by a jack, which was driven by an ingenious system of shafts and pinions.

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