Campus News

Book Examines Holland’s Boat-Building Tradition

Holland’s boat-building heritage is highlighted in a new book by Geoffrey Reynolds, who is the Mary Riepma Ross Director of the Joint Archives of Holland at Hope College.

“Boats Made in Holland: A Michigan Tradition,” published this month by The History Press, focuses on boat-building in the Holland area from the late 19th century through the current decade of the 21st.  From the shores of Lake Macatawa, the industry’s products have been sold across the United States and around the world, and have ranged from wooden launches and ferries; to fiberglass and steel runabouts, cabin cruisers and luxury yachts; to landing craft that landed on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

The book, Reynolds wrote in his introduction, “features the men and women who produced watercraft with creativity, skillful hands, financial resources and cooperation.  It also illustrates the area’s rich and long history of successful companies, both large and small, that produced pleasure boats, working boats and military craft.”

“The purpose of this book is to relate the stories of their innovation, struggles and achievements and provide the reader with an understanding of one of Holland, Michigan’s largest local industries along with a sense of the industrious spirit that helped create their community,” he noted.

Reynolds estimates that the area has hosted about 50 boat-building firms through the years.  He also recognizes that the period covered by the book is part of a larger tradition, since many of Holland’s early settlers had built boats in the Netherlands and continued the practice after the community was founded in 1847, but chose to begin his narrative with the latter 1800s, when the gasoline-powered engine spurred something of a renaissance.

The book highlights 22 of the firms, beginning with Wolverine Motor Works, which relocated to the community from Grand Rapids in 1901, and continuing through the present-day builders Grand Craft Boats, S2 Yachts Inc. and New Holland Marine.  Another dozen are chronicled in a related website also developed by Reynolds,

Reynolds, who also holds an appointment as a professor at Hope, has been researching the topic since moving to the Holland area and joining the Joint Archives staff in 1997.  It was a natural choice for the Charlevoix native, who was already interested in Michigan’s boat-building history.

His sources have included company records and annual reports, federal censuses, newspaper articles, diaries and letters, company brochures, and industry-specific and popular magazines.  The book also benefits from numerous oral histories, including some conducted and written down by other historians during the early 20th century, and nearly 100 conducted through the Joint Archives since 2001.

Reynolds’ other publications include a chapter about fiberglass boat-building in Holland in the book “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America,” published in 2016, and the chapter “Ordeal in the Ice” in the 2011 book “Rescue: True Stories of the U.S. Life-Saving Service.”  Among other presentations through the years, he delivered the address “Plastic Fantastic: Holland, Michigan’s Boat Building Industry and the Use of Reinforced Fiberglass Plastic” during the statewide symposium “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America,” held at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids in June 2014.  In 2013, he was the guest curator for the exhibition “From Craft to Industry: The Boat Builders of Holland,” featured at the Holland Museum from June 13, 2013, through March 1, 2014.

Illustrated by photographs from a variety of personal and corporate collections, “Boats Made in Holland: A Michigan” tradition is a 160-page paperback and costs $21.99.  Copies are available through the Hope College Bookstore as well as through other area booksellers.