Historic farmhouse in Holland undergoes renovations
Holland — At the top of the steep hill sits the historic farmhouse. No one lives there, and although many people visit the farm, almost none steps inside.
Ben Van Raalte, back from the Civil War, built it for his new wife, Julia Gilmore, in 1872. Van Raalte descendants lived there until 1983 when the city of Holland bought the property.
The farm has long been home to favored sledding hills and trails through its woods, but the house goes mostly unused except to house the occasional intern or as the backdrop for Civil War speeches delivered by re-enactors.
It has been about 15 years since the interior was painted. Now, slowly, renovations are moving forward at the farmhouse, according to The Holland Sentinel.
Crews from the Holland Parks and Recreation Department should wrap up interior painting before spring.
For inspiration, organizers turned to the Cappon House, the decor of which had been curated by Joel Lafever with The Holland Museum. However, they decided the deep colors and brocade was “a little too ornate” for a farmhouse.
“Our farmhouse is much less grand. It’s not the mayor’s house; it’s a farmhouse,” said Carolina Marquis, who sits on the Holland Parks and Recreation Commission and is heading up renovations at the historic farm.
They went with colors of the same turn-of-the-century time period, but more subdued. The three small bedrooms upstairs are now being painted in a pumpkin, medium blue and warm yellow from a historical palette.
Downstairs, reproduction wallpaper will cover the walls, matching as closely as possible with old photographs of the rooms.
In one of two 1865 barns on the property, an old piano that once sat inside the house was found with significant damage. While cleaning out the barn that has been used infrequently if ever in recent years, the sad shape of the structure became apparent. The foundation is crumbling and many boards are rotting. Shoring up the barn has been added to the list of repairs.
The discovered piano, however, was an easier proposition. A Van Raalte descendant paid to have the mahogany case refurbished.
“We think that piano may have been in that barn for 60 years,” Marquis said. “We were just thrilled to get that piano back in the corner where it belongs.”
A photograph of Julia “Lu” Reinhold, Ben Van Raalte’s daughter, shows her playing the piano in the home’s living room. Repairs to the piano’s workings could be in the future.
A desk given as a gift from Holland founder A.C. Van Raalte to his son, Ben, is in possession of the Holland Museum. Other period furniture would have to be tracked down to make the interior complete for tours.
The Civil War muster held each year on the property is an example of the kind of event that could rent out the house. So far, although re-enactors have clamored to get into the house, it has remained closed to the public.
Small weddings, tours and school groups are possibilities. There is still another concern to address: Parking and bathrooms. The farmhouse sits at the top of a steep hill. A gravel parking lot at the bottom serves the property now, but isn’t adequate if officials want to invite events such as weddings.
“I love the house; next to my house, I love that house; it’s my passion,” Marquis said. “I want to see that farmhouse come back to its glory.”
The Parks and Recreation Commission is working to set up a fund through the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area. For the time-being, donations can be made to the city of Holland and designated for the Van Raalte Farm restoration.
“I think there’s a lot of love for the history in this town,” Marquis said.
Organizers hope to paint the outside of the house and repair damaged siding. The white house with black shutters could receive a more Victorian treatment, though plans are still in the earliest stages.
The city has put $40,000 toward renovations at the property this year. Much of that went to restore the porch.
“This pillar so rotted it was sagging and this corner was down, you could see it hanging down three or four inches,” Holland Parks Superintendent Steve Zwiep said pointing to a corner support. “We put half-inch plywood down one year because it was so bad — and that was about three weeks before the Civil War Muster — otherwise President Lincoln and Lee and Grant would have fallen through the porch.”
It is doubtful the house could ever be 100 percent historically accurate, but the little touches will give visitors a better idea of life in a 19th century farmhouse.
The city’s parks and recreation department is hoping more money will be in the upcoming budget to continue repairs and restoration at the city park.
“We don’t really want to lose the historicity of this building, it is quite important,” Zwiep said. “A lot of people zip by on 16th Street, but when you turn the corner and you look up here, I mean, it is stately.”