News Articles

Coastline of Dutch Delta region changed frequently in battle to keep dry feet

Local population depended on land and sea

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BROUWERSHAVEN - In the ever-changing Delta of the Great Rivers, islands and islets, waters and waterways literally go with the flow, just as they have done for thousands of years. The islands of the province of Zeeland coagulated, meshed, broke away, were linked by man and torn apart by nature. These days, the islands in the province which has as its motto ‘I struggle and emerge’ no longer are islands. Man has linked them all in an expansive and huge maritime security plan set into motion after the deadly Flood of February 1953. The Delta Works altered the geography of the Zeeland and South-Holland islands.

The northernmost of the Zeeland islands is Schouwen-Duiveland, since 1997 administrated as one municipality, the fourth-largest in size - 490 square kilometres or 196 square miles - in the Netherlands. In 1961, there had been six separate municipalities and before that dozens more. Such micro management had been the result of the fact that the island was made up of over 30 independent polders and their administrations. In the first decennium following the devastating Flood of 1953 - which inundated about a third of Schouwen-Duiveland - an island-wide water management board was set up coinciding with a land consolidation plan involving virtually all land owners.

Because it is (or was) an island it is logical that Schouwen Duiveland - the same counts for its neighbours Walcheren to the south and Goeree Overflakkee to the north - from its early inhabitation developed a fishing ‘industry,’ port facilities and harbour villages. Of these, Zierikzee on the southern shore, and Brouwershaven on the northern coast prevailed.

Early reclamation

Brouwershaven was established when a nearby delta stream - Duvenee - was closed off during the reign of Floris V, the famed Count of Holland and Zeeland who ruled from 1254 to 1296. At the time there were four islands: Schouwen, Bommenee, Dreischor and Duive-land. Land reclamation, the silting of water channels and efforts at building dams created greater land masses, and in 1610, the two enlarged islands Schouwen and Duiveland were joined together. The waterway Gouwe was closed off in the north and the south, leaving ‘lake’ Dijkwater.

Brouwershaven in the early days thrived as a fishing village as well as a transit harbour for the agricultural products of the island and goods destined for Zeeland locations and beyond. The thriving harbour town gained prominence in the early 19th century when it took over many local tasks Rotterdam had carried out as the principal harbour of the Netherlands. The silting of the river Maas (Meuse) threatened the future of Rotterdam prompting other harbour towns to quickly step into the emerging void. The digging of a canal - the Nieuwe Waterweg - from Rotterdam to the North Sea coast relieved the pressure on what subsequently became the busiest port in the world. By the same token, it meant the quick demise of Brouwershaven as an alternative port.

Competition for Rotterdam

By 1872 - when the first ships sailed the New Waterway to or from Rotterdam - Brouwershaven reverted back to its regional role as a fishing village and transit station. In the next 75 years, fishing gradually disappeared from the town’s economic map as well. In the second half of the 20th century, Brouwershaven gained fame for its sheltered quays which increasingly served as marina’s for an expanding fleet of pleasure craft.

Part of that appeal for sailing was greatly influenced by what the Delta Works set out to do: the closing off of the many sea arms and inlets of the Delta estuary in order to protect the hinterland. From North to South, that meant building huge dams in the sea arm Haringvliet - the ‘extension’ of the Maas and the Hollands Diep - which runs between the islands of Voorne-Putten and of Goeree Overflakkee; in the Brouwerhavensegat - the ‘second’ prong of the Hollands Diep between Goeree-Overflakkee and Schouwen Duiveland; the Oosterschelde between Schouwen Duiveland and Noord Beveland; and the Veerse Gat between Noord Beveland and Walcheren. In order to accomplish these major works in the sea arms, secundary dams were projected - as case studies - further inland. The first was the Zandkreekdam which was closed off in 1960, a year before the Veersegatdam. Both linked Noord-Beveland by roads on the dams with its neighbours: the Zandkreekdam at the far east to Zuid-Beveland, and the Veersegatdam in the west, linking Noord-Beveland and Walcheren.

The Grevelingendam - from Goeree Overflakkee near the village of Oude Tonge to Schouwen Duiveland near Bruinisse - was finished in 1964. Then the more massive, elaborate and challenging dam was built: the Brouwersdam, connecting Schouwen Duiveland near Scharendijke.

The closure of the Grevelingen created an 11,000 hectare inland lake in which shallows and small islets add to the water tourism appeal. On the surrounding islands, beautiful beaches, unique woods, sandy dunes and picturesque villages and towns beckon visitors.

Jacob Cats famous son

In Brouwershaven, traces of 14th century habitation can be found in the now protestant church which was partly rebuilt and expanded in the 15th century. In 1589, the village had been given permission by Prince Willem I to fortify itself with ramparts. Ten years later, a town hall was built.

The town - inhabitants call it ‘Brouw’ - has some notoriety for the fact that Jacob Cats, arguably one of the best-known authors (because of the didactic quality of much of his work, he became known as ‘Father’ Cats) and politicians of the 17th century was born in Brouwershaven. In 1829, a statue was erected in his memory. The Schouwen-Duiveland town is home to a maritime and historical museum as well. Exhibits in the Brouws Museum show aspects of the maritime role of the town, as well as life at sea. The collection is housed in two old buildings along the quay, which form the perfect setting for the memories of a now more distant past.