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Dutch heritage preservation pioneer Heemschut battles on at 100

Decentralization policy forced widening of campaign

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

AMSTERDAM - By the time the heritage site preservationist alliance Heemschut was formed in 1911, the Dutch, who since seem to have turned their country into one large open air museum park, nearly demolished the pearl of all historic buildings in the Netherlands, not once but twice: Het Binnenhof at The Hague. The first threat to its existence occurred between 1806 and 1810, during the reign of King Louis Napoleon. The second time, the public rallied to the defense of Het Binnenhof in 1863, scuttling a plan to build a new parliamentary home.

The rise of Heemschut (its name could be translated as safe keeper as the Dutch noun schut in the past was commonly used for someone appointed to care for stray animals till owners redeemed them, one of the Schut surname meanings) of a heem or hiem (residence or habitat, nouns also found as syllables in a range of Dutch surnames), occurred nearly fifty years after the public’s strong intervention on behalf of Het Binnenhof in The Hague. Although Amsterdam was not next door in those days and fifty years in time covers two generations, the Het Binnenhof incident and Heemschut origin do have a common connection: a widespread apathy for cultural heritage which saw numerous castles, manors and estates demolished, with their wood and bricks being sold for one purpose or other.

A number of upper class men, all residents of Amsterdam, who were dismayed over the many demolitions of heritage-rich buildings in the Dutch capital, joined forces in 1911 to give a counterweight to this disastrous trend by setting up the alliance (bond) Heemschut, to protect cultural heritage monuments in the Netherlands. Heemschut recently noted its regret that it frequently failed in its interventions to save such buildings from their demise. Among these failures they identify is the Van Dishoeckhuis of Vlissingen, the valuable sports stands of Assen, the loss of historic flowering bulb sheds in the Bollenstreek as well as the Pius X church in Amsterdam-West.

The extensive and richly illustrated double-page feature article on Heemschut concludes with the following paragraphs:

"After a hundred years of heritage preservation battles, the ‘centenarian’ Heemschut has every reason to roll up its sleeves and do more battles to keep heritage sites from intrusive alterations and demolitions.

At the same time, The Netherlands is savoring its reputation as one giant open air museum in which heritage buildings and super modern sites blend flawlessly with each other, continually causing the awe of visitors, much to the credit of Heemschut."

Heemschut may also be visited online at

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