Chapter 9

Lemmer-A Key Port and Fishing Town in Friesland.

Lemmer Inner Harbour- early 1900’s. In the background is one of the Lemmer boat ferries. Fish kegs are stacked on the kay.

Lemmer is located on the southern edge of Gaasterland, the high grounds of Friesland, and the low land bordering on the province of Overijsel. Its origins go back to the 13th century when a settlement by the name of Lenna or Limna existed. The origin of the name is unknown. The town was fortified several times in the mid 1400’s, starting with the fortification build by Count Jan van Beieren in the 1450’s. Several times the fortifications were destroyed by Frisian freedom fighters and rebuilt. Emperor Charles V ordered the fortifications destroyed, to no avail.

The importance of the town was its location. Situated on the Zuiderzee, with a good harbour at the mouth of the access to the Frisian lakes, it was the logical place for the access port between Holland and the Frisian hinterland. The rivers- Rien and Zijlroede- which empty the Slotermeer, meet near Lemmer. As early as 1511 a lock was build at the place where the two rivers entered the Zuiderzee, indicating that even in that early year Lemmer was an important harbour. As early as 1581 a regular ferry service was instituted between the Province of Holland and Friesland. Because of the silting of the harbour at Kuinre, and the unfavourable location of the harbour of Tacozijl, Lemmer gained its status of the harbour of Friesland. In the late 1800’s the rivers referred to, were canalized thus giving even better access to the Frisian lakes. It enabled larger inland vessels to transport freight by boat into the Frisian hinterland. Though that still takes place, the main fame of Lemmer to day is that of a tourist town catering to the many pleasure and sail boats traveling from the former Zuiderzee to the Frisian lakes, which are famous as a great place to sail.

Going back a few hundred years, though, Lemmer was known as a fishing town, a centre for transportation, its location near one of the largest peat deposits, wood mills, and its shipbuilding industry. In the 1800 and 1900’s freighters regularly sailed to North America.

Early 1900’s- Picture of business selling sail etc.

Because of its location Lemmer was the starting point for regular ferry services of passengers and freight to Groningen, Zwolle, Woudsend, and Joure, and last but not least the daily night boat service between Lemmer and Amsterdam. The latter service dates back to 1719.

The Zuiderzee was known for its plentiful herring and anchovy stocks, and later for eel Fishing was seasonal and primarily took place in the fall and winter months (shifting in later years to the spring). During the summer months, the crews of the fishing boats usually sailed on grain ships to the Baltic Sea. The digging of peat was an important industry in the early 1800’s. However, over time the peat supply depleted, and peat as a fuel was being replaced by coal. Hence the industry had pretty well disappeared by the start of the 20th century, as illustrated by the table below.

Units of Peat dug by year.

  • 1823: 1,500,000
  • 1853: 650,000
  • 1880: 112,700

View of Lemmer-mid 1900’s-with fishing boats in foreground.

In the early 1900’s, the time that the Vogelzangs moved to Lemmer, the town had the following industries:

All of the above provided support to 251 people trying to make a living from fishing.

By 1920 however, fish dealers/processors were down to 3 firms employing 30 people. They consisted of the family firms Sterk- in which the Wierdsma family married; De Rook and de Boer. Ship’s smiththeries had disappeared, and the fishermen were down to 200.

As early as October 20, 1710 a Albert Haunus was given the right to operate a ferry service between Amsterdam and De Lemmer. He would have used sailing vessels in those days. The ferry mainly transported goods between the two ports. However, in 1870 the Nieveen brothers established the Groningen steamship company that operated steam powered vessels between De Lemmer and Amsterdam. Before too long their service included transportation of goods as well as passengers.

As will be seen in the following chapter the Vogelzang family played a role in this service by the fact that Grandfather (Pake) J H Vogelzang was captain of several of the company’s vessels, as well as his brother Rintje after first serving as first mate eventually became the captain of one of their vessels.

During the Second World War the ferry service played a critical role in enabling those having to escape from the German occupying army to get to Friesland to find refuge with the local farmers. Making this trip was rather hazardous as the German and collaborating Dutch police would keep a close eye on any passengers boarding the ships. Anyone falling between the ages of 18 to 45 ran the danger of being arrested and shipped off to German labour camps. During the hungerwinter of 1944/45 the ferry fleet acted as a life line between the starving population of Amsterdam, by transporting folk seeking food supplies from the Frisian farmers, to feed their starving families at home.

The journey across the Zuiderzee also could be dangerous. On the 21st of October, 1942 one of the company’s vessels, the Groningen IV, was attacked by British fighter planes. They strafed the vessel, killing its first mate and disabling the vessel. After some time the Groningen III, whose captain was Rintje Vogelzang, the brother of Jan H. Vogelzang, as well as the company’s flagship, the Jan Nieveen, came to the rescue and escorted it back to Lemmer harbor.

With the making into land of the Zuiderzee and the accompanying construction of highways on the old sea bed, the ferry service discontinued and the vessels were either scrapped or became sight seeing ships.

The pictures on the next page show the Groningen III and Groningen IV on which Jan H Vogelzang was its captain, in the case of the latter until his retirement about 1941. On Jan. 8, 1945 the Groningen IV was in collision with the Jan Nieveen and sank. 15 people lost their lives in this event. When Jan H Vogelzang was promoted to captain of the Groningen IV his brother Rintje became its captain. The latter had served as “stuurman” under his brother. The Groningen III, under Rintje Vogelzang, collided on Jan 12, 1943 with the motorship “Amstel” and sank. It was the end of the captainship of Rintje Vogelzang.

Groningen III. Note on the bow, below the name Groningen III, J Vogelzang as its captain.

Map of Lemmer 1870’s. Note #10 Leeg on the lower right,home of J. H. Vogelzang, family.

Weaving of willow branches as the base for the sea dike near Lemmer- ca 1935.