Peter Pfanstiehl and Aldert Plugger are two unfamiliar but important early Holland entrepreneurs.
Aldert Plugger was born in The Netherlands in 1809. In 1850, at age 41, he married Heijltje Schaap, 24, in a ceremony performed by Albertus Van Raalte. Together, they had six children.
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In 1852, Plugger had a shipping business that carried passengers and commodities between Holland and Chicago. In 1853, he made 11 trips to Chicago carrying oats, hay, potash, shingles and bark. On the way back, he took processed food, such as flour.
That’s noteworthy because Holland didn’t have a good harbor — its entrance was narrow and sand-filled, which prevented large ships from entering. It therefore didn’t provide safety during storms.
In 1853, Plugger employed 14 men to build ships. In 1856, he purchased a two-thirds interest in the flour and lumber mill White, Vyn and Company, located on River Avenue near Fifth Street. Because shipping flour was expensive, when farmers started growing grain, entrepreneurs built mills.
Plugger also owned a grocery store, in part to sell that flour and other food commodities. He also hosted Nathan Kenyon’s bank in his parlor at 5 E. Eighth St.
In 1857, when Van Raalte rallied the colony to dig a new channel to open up the entrance to Black Lake from Lake Michigan, Plugger donated provisions to feed the men.
Plugger passed away in 1860, the same year his daughter Maggie was born. By then, he had stopped building ships, but he still dealt in lumber. We know this because he donated wood to help Van Raalte build a Christian elementary school.
Jacob Van Putten and others purchased Plugger’s mill, and renamed it City Mills. It operated until 1882, losing business to Standard Roller Mills of Walsh-DeRoo and Company.
In 1866, Plugger’s widowed wife, Heijltje, married Cornelis de Jong. Albertus Van Raalte performed the ceremony.
In 1885, Plugger’s daughter, Maggie, married George Hummer (another entrepreneur).
Pieter Pfanstiehl was born in The Netherlands in 1808. He married Helena Meulenbroek. In 1839, their son, Pieter, was born — followed in 1843 by their daughter, Helena.
Before immigrating to New York with his family, Pfanstiehl owned the Parisian Shoe Shop. While in New York, he received a letter from Albertus Van Raalte, encouraging him to come to Holland, Michigan, to open a store, a mill or a stagecoach service.
But in Holland, with Van Raalte’s financial backing, Pfanstiehl created Holland’s first tannery. One of his first employees was Isaac Cappon.
In 1851, Pfanstiehl sold his tannery interest and got into the transportation business. In addition to investing in a general store on the southwest corner of River Avenue and Eighth Street, he invested in a schooner and a stagecoach.
In 1855, his stagecoach was carrying mail between Grand Haven and Kalamazoo via Holland on the newly constructed Bee Line Road. On Sundays, he hosted a church service on his dock. He also helped reconstruct the south pier, using cribs of rocks and brush.
In 1856, Pfanstiehl and Henry Post held the first livestock auction in Holland on Eighth Street. By 1859, Pfanstiehl’s general store was handling 300-400 pounds of butter per day, in addition to selling leather goods, mirrors, shears, shoes and thread.
In 1867, Pfanstiehl opened the City Hotel on the southwest corner of River Avenue and Eighth Street, next to where he lived. He also owned a mill, which helped him build places to rent.
By 1870, Pfanstiehl was one of the wealthiest people in Holland. But in the Great Holland Fire of 1871, he lost his lumber mill, hotel, home and a number of rental houses.
After the fire, Pfanstiehl leased a sawmill from E.J. Harrington, at the head of Black (Macatawa) Lake. In one week in 1878, it made 176,000 shingles, which were used on houses for both roofs and outside walls.
But he also lost a load of lumber when his ship, William Bates, was destroyed in a heavy storm 40 miles offshore. Unfortunately, it was uninsured.
Pfanstiel also owned another dock by Macatawa Park which he leased to Austin Harrington, who transported people between the resorts and city.
Helena died in 1885. Pieter followed in 1892.
Information from this article comes mostly from Robert Swierenga’s “Holland, Michigan,” and findagrave.com.
— Community Columnist Steve VanderVeen is a business professor at Hope College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.