The Drenthse Veenkoloniën (Drenthe Peat Colonies) are a region in northwestern Drenthe, the Netherlands, spanning across the northwestern half of Westerveld. The region is dominated by its past, and the Society for Benevolence that set up these colonies in the first place.
The Drenthe Peat Colonies are dominated by their 19th century history. The region was long left to nature while the rest of the Netherlands developed. Drenthe as a whole was settled in these recent times, which give it is unique rural appeal within the Netherlands.
Following French rule for two decades, the Dutch found themselves with a substantial part of its population impoverished, leading people to fall into crime more and more. In Amsterdam alone there were 3600 orphaned children for the city to provide for in 1812. Many people of the time would have looked the other way, not willing to acknowledge that not everyone is doing as well as them.
In 1818, the Society for Benevolence (Dutch: Maatschappij voor Weldadigheid) was founded by Johannes van den Bosch, a general having served in the Dutch West Indies. Unlike many of his temporaries, he acknowledged the impoverished population and set out to improve their situations, because they wouldn't be able to struggle back up the social ladder themselves. He purchased unsettled land in Drenthe, allowing the first colony to be founded around the House Westerbeek in Frederiksoord. In the mean time, he made an appeal to the king himself, asking for his support. Financial support was granted twice, four and six years after his appeal.
Van den Bosch started a test colony around the estate in Frederiksoord only a week after purchasing it. Here, he received 52 carefully selected families from all corners of the country on the 29th of October, 1818, who would populate his social experiment. After four and a half years, 42 families remained under the care of the Society for Benevolence, a large part of whom would remain there until their deaths.
Considering the experiment a success, Van den Bosch and his society created more colonies of the same kind. They all consisted of small houses with a plot of land, all allotted in an orderly row along a central road, following the provincial border with Friesland. The first two colonies would grow into Frederiksoord, the other colonies became Wilhelminaoord, Willemsoord and Boschoord. Between 1818 and 1911, these colonies all saw some 1,400 families come and go. The belief was that people could be educated into good behaviour and out of bad behaviour, thus schools were founded and a monetary system was introduced. The latter didn't last long, being shelved after a few years, but the schools worked out. There were dedicated schools for horticulture, agriculture and forest management, alongside the lower schools which the children of the colony could attend. When being able to prove themselves valuable for their colony though hard work or good behaviour, a colonist could receive a gold, silver or bronze medal along with a yearly sum of 10, 5 or 2½ guilders. Being able to survive on your own produce for example, would get you a silver or gold medal and a promotion to renter or free farmer. Being promoted would prove a prospect many would want to work towards.
Naturally, being provided with everything they needed to live, some slummed into laziness, in which case they would receive a punishment, either by being booted out of the colony, leading them to find refuge in the so-called 'desperado colonies' which surrounded colonies or, if you were less lucky and found yourself guilty of alcohol abuse, indecency, wastefulness, aggressiveness or desertion, you could be sent off to Ommerschans or Veenhuizen. These 'punishment colonies' were taken over by the Dutch state in 1859, and since demoted to regular prisons, also taking on wanderers and beggars.
The relocation across the country often proved a dramatic change for many colonists. This, and critique on the system from the rest of society, meant that from the 20th century going forward, the 'uncivilised' were to be helped in woonscholen, which was often located in the same city as they came from.
The colonies, being founded in a remote location, still aren't anywhere in the middle of civilisation. Your best bet on getting in will therefore involve either a car or a bus. The central location within the region is Frederiksoord, so the directions below will focus on getting there.
Frederiksoord is located at the crossroads of the N353 and N855 national roads. The N855 winds its way through most of the extended region, while the N353 crosses into Friesland. Depending on where you're travelling from, you can enter the region from two opposite directions, either the west or the east. If your departure is somewhere west of the Veenkoloniën, in Friesland or south of Meppel, you would be arriving from the west. Within Drenthe or Groningen, you would be arriving from the east.
- Coming from the west, you'd want to use the A32, which starts at Meppel, branching off of the A28. This highway connects directly from Utrecht, Amersfoort and Zwolle. The A50 meets the A28 south of Zwolle, and is your route of preference if you're coming from Gelderland (excluding its north-west), North-Brabant or Limburg. Leave the highway once you've reached exit 6 for Steenwijk.
- Turning off of the A32 at Steenwijk, drive away from the city (right when travelling from Meppel, left and passing under the highway when coming from Heerenveen). The road you're on, the Eesveenseweg or N855, will first take you to Eesveen, then cross into Drenthe, where it becomes labelled as the Hoofdweg (main road). This will first bring you through Nijensleek, before getting you to Frederiksoord.
- When coming from the east, make your way towards Spier (exit 29, Dwingeloo) along the A28, located between Beilen and Hoogeveen. Alternatively, from Emmen, use the N381 heading west, and join the A28 towards Hoogeveen near Beilen.
- Leaving the highway, turn towards the hotel alongside the highway, but then follow the road (N855). This will bring you past Dwingeloo, and following it the rest of its length, it will bring you through Diever, then Vledder, followed by Frederiksoord.
By public transit
Public transit is quite limited in the region. The easiest way to get to Frederiksoord, involves taking a train to Steenwijk and then switching onto bus 20 towards Assen. You could take this bus from Assen as well, but it's a considerably longer sit. Other buses going into Frederiksoord from Steenwijk are the 19 (to Drachten), 517 and 519 (both to Wolvega).
Getting around by public transit is possible, though not very convenient. From Frederiksoord, bus route 20 connects through Vledder towards Diever and Dwingeloo in the direction of Assen, while bus routes 19, 517 and 519 connect with Wilhelminaoord. They all stop on the outskirts of the village though, so if you want to travel the region by public transit, you will end up walking quite a distance as well.
The better option would be to have a car to your disposal, or to bring or rent bikes. Even though the region is rural, it isn't intimidating to cycle here, not even if you're not that comfortable on a bike. The infrastructure might not be optimal, but traffic is hardly ever busy, and there's plenty of ways to deviate from the bits of road that do get busy.
The main roads running through the region are:
- Hoofdweg/Majoor van Swietenlaan through Frederiksoord and Nijensleek,
- Koningin Wilhelminalaan from Frederiksoord to Wilhelminaoord,
- The N855 (and parallel cycling path) making up the Vledderweg, Dorpstraat, Wapserweg, Ten Darperweg from Frederiksoord to Diever via Vledder,
- Middenweg/P.W. Janssenlaan from Vledder to Vledderveen, with Boergrup connecting this route to Wilhelminaoord,
- Bosweg/Wateren from Diever going north into the very rural bits of the region with Oude Willem and Zorgvlied there.
- Connecting to Wateren is the Huenderweg/Solweg connecting it to Vledder instead and running through Doldersum. There, you can also turn onto the Brink/Boylerstraat to get to Boschoord.
These roads are all easy to cycle, having either traffic calming or parallel cycling paths to facilitate those cycling. It can be very rewarding to instead take the indoor forest roads through the region.
- Frederiksoord (Colony I). The initial two colonies, including the 'experimental colony' are found in Frederiksoord, which is named after Prince Frederik, the second son of king William I and brother to the later king William II.
- 1 Museum de Koloniehof, Koningin Wilhelminalaan 87, Frederiksoord, ☏ . Tu-Su: 10:00-17:00.
- 2 Huis van Weldadigheid (The House of Benevolence / Museum de Proefkolonie), Majoor Van Swietenlaan 1A, Frederiksoord, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 10:00 - 17:00. Aside from a museum on the experimental colony, the House of Benevolence also includes the visitor centre for Frederiksoord.
- Hotel Frederiksoord (Logement Frederiksoord), Majoor van Swietenlaan 19. Predating the colonies, the Hotel was originally built as a pub, but once the Society of Benevolence settled in the vicinity, it was expanded to also have several rooms, and in 1821 a directors' house was built to the side of the building, which allowed the colony's overseer to have a clear view of which colonists were drinking too much. The building got sold in 1885, which is when it got its modern name. Going bankrupt in 2009, the new owners still operate a hotel from this building.
- Wilhelminaoord (Colony II). The colonies of Wilhelminaoord, Boschoord and Oostvierdeparten were founded between 1820 and 1822, and merged into Colony II in 1825. The colonies are linked together and link to Frederiksoord as well.
- 3 Reformed Church, Koningin Wilhelminalaan 53.
- 4 Rustoord I and 5 Rustoord II, Koningin Wilhelminalaan 46 & 24. Once the end of the 19th century rolled around, the age of some of the colonists required different facilities. Once of these were retirement homes. Rustoord II is one of them, catering to 25 unmarried or widowed elderly, while Rustoord I housed eight elderly couples.
- Drenthe itself is fairly well-known for its dolmen. Nearby, there is only one:
- 6 Dolmen D52 (Hunebed D52), Groningerweg near № 3. D52 isn't a particular good case of a dolmen. It is attributed to the funnel beaker culture (4350 - 2750 BC). It consists of a gatestone and six roofstones. The Dutch state only purchased the land and the dolmen in 1871, and written documents state that just over fifty years before purchase, this dolmen contained more stones than it does today. The dolmen contained some earthenware and a single flint arrow tip. Nearby, along the Boerweg, an accompanying stone cist was found, containing five funnel beakers, a plate, nursing bottle, axes, arrow tips and a Barnstone bead.
- Near the Doldersummerweg lies the Pottiesbargien or Het Potjesbergje, which is the site of a dolmen dismantled in 1735. It would have consisted of eight carrying stones.
- 7 OERmuseum West-Drenthe, Brink 7, Diever, ☏ . Tu, We, Fi-Su: 13:30 - 17:00; Th: 13:00-17:00. Museum focussed on the prehistory of West-Drenthe, from the Palaeolithic era to the early Middle Ages. In its permanent exhibitions you will find a mammoth-expo and archaeological artefacts from all prehistoric periods relevant to the Netherlands. Adding to this, there are local finds on display that are changed yearly.
- 8 Museum of False Art, Brink 1, Vledder, ☏ . Hosted in the former town hall of Vledder, the museum displays many items, forgeries and non-forgeries, to display even the best of counterfeit art.
- As mentioned, getting about is generally best done by bike. Cycling therefore is an obvious activity to name.
- Eight ready-made routes can be found on the website of the Weldadig Oord Foundation. Sadly, they are only available in Dutch, though the routes themselves are properly signposted, and GPX files are also available for download, should that be all the information you need. The routes are thematic, and will take you around the region (Weldadig Rondje), have you trace back the path that colonists took to get to their new homes (Pad van de Paupers, Willemsoord - Blokzijl), or will link you to other nearby World Heritage (Van Kolonie III naar Hollands Venetië, Willemsoord - Giethoorn)
- Should you not have a bike available, a bike rental is available in Frederiksoord: 1 Fietstransferium Drenthe, Frederiksoord, Majoor van Swietenlaan 1, ☏ . 10:00-14:00. Reservations can be made using the form on the website. Reservations are made when you receive an automatic confirmation email. €10/day.
- Alternatively, going on a hike might also be worth your time (though, this being the Netherlands, "hike" might be overselling the amount of elevation change you will encounter). The Weldadig Oord Foundation provides four ready-made routes on their website for that, though only in printed form with Dutch annotation. The routes, all between 3 and 13 kilometres, are all based in the nearby area. For exploring the colonies of Frederiksoord and Wilhelminasoord, refer to the Monumentenroute (11 kilometres (6.8 mi), which shows close to everything both have to offer. The Wandelen in Weldadig Willemsoord (5 or 8 kilometres (3.1 or 5.0 mi)) does the same for the nearby Willemsoord colony in Overijssel.
- Not the sightseeing kind? The north of the region contains the Drents-Friese Wold & Leggelderveld, a preserved nature area. The environment of which is sure to bring you the kind of quiet you need. The landscape you'll come across largely features sandy dunes, heath fields and forests containing oak and European red pine trees, but also foreign introduced trees like the Douglas fir, American oak and Japanese larch.
- 1 De Eetkaemer (Huygens Huys), Majoor van Swietenlaan 14, Frederiksoord. W-Sa 11:00-17:00 (one hour later from May up to and including Oct). Antiquary in barometers and clocks with a side business in serving food, either as-is or in combination with your walk or a guided tour of the former post office.
- 2 De Tippe, Lesturgeonplein 5, Vledder, ☏ , email@example.com. Tu-Su 10:00-22:00.
- 3 De Wilde Hof, Middenweg 12, Vledder, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. W-Su 12:00-22:00.
- 4 't Keernpunt, Hoofdstraat 48, Diever, ☏ . 10:00-22:00.
- 5 Dorpsrestaurant De Lange, Kruisstraat 7, Diever, ☏ . Th-Tu: 10:00-22:00.
- 6 't Nieuwscafé, Kruisstraat 5, Diever, ☏ . 10:00-22:00.
- 7 Brinkzicht, Hoofdstraat 43, Diever, ☏ , email@example.com. W 17:00-22:00; T: 12:00-21:00; F-M 12:00-22:00. Not to be confused with the hotel in the same town.
- 8 Gasterij 't Wildryck, Groningerweg 13, Diever, ☏ . M-F 12:00-20:00; Sa Su 11:00-20:00.
- 1 De Werkhorst, Werkhorstlaan 12, Vledder, ☏ . 10:00 - 18:00. Small family business serving coffee, tea, juice, milk, ice and cake from own produce. Also features a small shop with local and traditional products.
- 2 Eetcafé Hoeve aan den Weg, Bosweg 12, Oude Willem, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 1 Hotel Frederiksoord (Logement Frederiksoord), Majoor van Swietenlaan 19. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 11:00.
- 2 Landhotel Diever, Groningerweg 6, Diever, ☏ , email@example.com.
- 3 Brinkzicht, Brink 14, Vledder, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00.
- 4 Wapser Herberg, Ten Darperweg 104, Wapse, ☏ , email@example.com. €92.
- 5 Grenzeloos, Boylerstraat 12, Doldersum, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 15:00 - 17:00, check-out: 11:00.
- Several other colonies of benevolence are nearby, in Veenhuizen you will find the National Prison Museum, which is located in the former working institution founded by the Society of Humanitarianism. Some of the colonies cross the provincial border in the direction of Steenwijk (Overijssel), and another UNESCO-listed colony can be found in Wortel-Kolonie, near Turnhout, Belgium.
- Giethoorn is another nearby UNESCO World Heritage site, often being nicknamed the Venice of the North.
- Weerribben-Wieden National Park is a largely uninhabited natural park of the Netherlands, located on the other side of Steenwijk.