Prison Village Veenhuizen
About 650 years ago, Veenhuizen was merely the home of several farmers, surrounded by water, sand, heather, woods, and peat. Because of the pristine landscape, it was also called ‘Dutch Siberia,' an area that is still shrouded in a haze of mystery.
A village with a special history
The history after 1823 can be called unique. After the French Napoleonic era, severe poverty reigned in the Netherlands. When Governor-General Van den Bosch returned from the Dutch East Indies in 1813, he took the fate of the impoverished population to heart. Subsequently, in 1818, he founded the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid (Society of Benevolence) with the notion that poverty could be combated with upbringing and correction. Poor families from the cities were housed in rural colonies, where they could build a new life in agriculture. The first to be founded was free trial colony Frederiksoord, after which unfree colony Veenhuizen and coercive colony De Ommerschans followed.
Three asylums were built in Veenhuizen: Veenhuizen 1,2, and 3, where beggars, vagrants, orphans, and families in need, in particular, were housed - either forcibly or voluntarily. The village mostly got its own facilities, such as churches, schools, and farmsteads. In spite of the idealism, Veenhuizen and De Ommerschans, in particular, were no success, and in 1859, they were assigned to the government.
By now, Veenhuizen has become an amazing socio-historical piece of heritage. Throughout the village, you can find houses with appealing names, such as ‘Arbeid is zegen' (Labour is a blessing), 'Werken is leven' (Working is living), ‘Flink en vlug' (Brave and quick), ‘Verdraagzaamheid' (Forbearance), ‘Bitter en Zoet' (Bitter and Sweet), and ‘Werk en bid' (Work and pray). Unfortunately, only the second of the three asylums is still visible. Since 2005, the Gevangenismuseum (Prison Museum) is housed here: a museum where many aspects of the past and present are explained and visualised in a clear manner.
Veenhuizen... You should visit it at least once, and it will continue to fascinate you!
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