Steve VanderVeen: Former mayor Henry Kremers bridged a political-economic divide

·4 min read
Henry Kremers in his home from Holland Digital Archives
Henry Kremers in his home from Holland Digital Archives

Henry Kremers was born in 1850 in Drenthe, Michigan. His parents, Williem Kremers and Anna Heins, emigrated from the Netherlands in 1847 and married in 1849. Henry was the oldest of their five children.

More History: Arend Visscher and James Huntley lived on a hill

More History: George Hummer and the creation of West Michigan Furniture

More History: Holland's first mayor excelled at management

Henry enrolled in Hope College in 1868 and graduated in 1873. After teaching school for one year, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he studied medicine. He received his M.D. in 1876. Upon graduation, he married Alice Van Zwalenberg and they settled in Drenthe.

Six years later, Alice and Henry moved to Holland, where Henry opened his medical office at 6 E. Eighth St.

In 1886, Kremers opened a pharmacy with William Z. Bangs in downtown Holland. In 1889, Kremers bought out his partner. That year, the people of Holland elected him mayor, even though he ran as a Democrat and single tax (socialist). To understand his platform, we need some context.

During the Civil War, Congress approved an income tax on the country’s most affluent citizens. The Supreme Court upheld that decision in 1864. However, in 1871, Congress repealed the income tax because the government was again getting the revenue it needed from import tariffs, a tax instituted in the days of Alexander Hamilton.

Because import tariffs made goods more expensive for everyone, and, on a relative basis, more expensive to farmers and factory workers and those with disproportionately less income, many in the “working class” and progressives supported a tax on the rich and, thus, the single tax idea.

Despite his political platform, Kremers was still able to successfully collaborate with Holland’s business elite. In the 1890s, in the aftermath of an economic recession, Kremers and Holland capitalists Arend Visscher, William Beach, George Hummer, Isaac Cappon and John C. Post, among others, created a bonus plan to entice companies to relocate to Holland.

Herold and Kremers' doorframe in downtown Holland
Herold and Kremers' doorframe in downtown Holland

In 1892, Kremers and Ernest Herold, a shoemaker, constructed the building at 8 E. Eighth St. — next door to Kremers’ medical office and pharmacy.

In 1894, Kremers selected the double lot on the southeast corner of Central Avenue and 12th Street to build a residence. He then engaged contractor George Dalman to build a Queen Anne-style home, complete with a large solarium for his wife, who loved botany, and a large two-story carriage house.

Subscribe: Learn more about our latest subscription offers!

Meanwhile, Kremers also served as the second president of the Ottawa County Building and Loan Association, following C.A. Stevenson, the local jeweler. That, like his political platform, showed that he was a different type of capitalist.

In those days, people who had less than significant wealth, but more wealth than the working class, created building and loans to get access to mortgages and loans.

Members who could afford it bought shares, which provided capital for loans to other members. Unfortunately, those with less money, such as small farmers and factory workers, had no choice but to borrow from relatives or neighbors.

Kremers also served as director of Holland's Board of Health, which encouraged vaccinations and could shutter public places to slow the spread of disease.

In 1892, Kremers and other Holland capitalists formed the Holland and Chicago Transportation Company. They also bought and donated land to Holland that became Prospect Park.

In 1906, Kremers and friends recruited the Kolla family and, with them, formed the Holland Furnace Company.

In 1913, Kremers retired from his medical practice. He died in 1914.

In 1919, Kremers’ house became home to Holland Hospital, an idea proposed by William Kremer, the eldest son of Henry and Anna. There, the Women’s Literary Club opened a free children’s clinic on the first floor of the carriage house.

Steve VanderVeen
Steve VanderVeen

Altogether, the house and the second floor of the carriage house could accommodate 22 patients. In 1928, after Holland Hospital moved to its new location, the city rented the site to the Knickerbocker fraternity, which housed Hope College students until 1938. From 1940 to 1992, the house was home to the Netherlands Museum, now Holland Museum.

In 1995, Rein and Kay Wolfort opened the Centennial Bed and Breakfast on the site. The house was later sold to Rob Walcott.

Information from this article comes from Robert Swierenga’s "Holland, Michigan," Madalyn DeJonge via digitalholland.orgcityofholland.com/869/property-research and encyclopedia.com.

— Steve VanderVeen is a Holland resident and writes about local business history. Read about his book series at kickstarter.com/projects/holland-me/holland-and-me-the-series.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Holland History: Henry Kremers bridged a political-economic divide