Though not one of the oldest churches in the city, the story of the First Reformed Church in Kalamazoo reflects the development of Kalamazoo from a village to a city and the influence on the progress of that city and the church by Dutch immigrants, who became the backbone of both.
The Church in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, the war with Spain was at a close and a state church had been established in 1618. An arbitrary revision of church government by King William I led many who belonged to the mother church to separate and meet in secret. The king sent his soldiers to punish them. Though the persecutions and arrests gradually disappeared, the dissenters were socially ostracized. Doors of relatives and former friends were closed, laborers lost their jobs and businesses were boycotted. Add the onset of hunger and poverty, and the Separatists soon became Dutch colonists who began coming to the United States in 1847.
The Coming of the Dutch to Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo's early Dutch settlers came here when their leader, Paulus denBleyker, changed his mind about settling in Iowa and, instead, chose western Michigan because its rich soil appealed to the agriculturally minded Dutch people. Their treatment in Kalamazoo was less than welcoming when they arrived in the mid-1800s. They had to spend a quarantine period on the outskirts of the city before they were allowed to settle.
Beginnings of the First Reformed Church
By 1850, the growth of Dutch immigrants in Kalamazoo led to the founding of the First Reformed Church. The worshippers had no buildings or ministers and met on the second floors of various stores and business places in the city for two years. Then, on 28 July1852, the congregation scraped up the grand sum of $700 to purchase Kalamazoo's first church building from the First Congregational Church on West South Street near Rose Street.
New Church Building
As more and more Dutch settled here, the church outgrew its first building. In 1864, the congregation purchased the old First Methodist Church at the corner of Academy and Church Streets. Soon that building, too, proved inadequate, so a new one was built on the site and dedicated on 19 July 1871. The old one was sold and moved to the corner of Eleanor and North Burdick Streets, where it served as a wagon shop for many years. The new building was renovated several times, notably in 1910 when the original wooden exterior was covered with brick. It was rededicated on 7 December 1910. A parsonage was also added to the assets of the church. When Rev. John William Te Winkel was installed as pastor in 1876, he purchased from Dr. E. H. Van Deusen a building for that purpose located on West South Street between Rose and Burdick Streets. This home stood on the same lot as Kalamazoo's first church building that the congregation had purchased years before.