By Victoria Henry
Holland native Arend Visscher was an alumnus of Hope College and the University of Michigan Law School. He practiced law in his hometown, representing the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in the 1883 State of Michigan Supreme Court case against the Reformed Church of America (RCA). Visscher championed major beautification projects in Holland, including developing Prospect Park and lining the city’s major streets with trees.
Youth & Education
In 1850, Arend Visscher was born to Jan Arend Visscher and Geesje Vander Haar Visscher in Holland, Michigan. In 1872, he became an alumnus of Hope College. Visscher was the only member of his graduating class. He continued his education at the University of Michigan Law School. Following his graduation in 1875, Visscher returned to Holland. In addition to practicing law, Visscher also became heavily involved in the community.
Holland Improvement Company
On October 9, 1871, fire blazed a path of destruction through the city of Holland. In the wake of the disaster, Visscher, a strong proponent of Arbor Day and an avid gardener, developed a plan to replant the city’s trees. His vision, however, did not come to fruition for over two decades.
In 1895, Visscher co-founded the Holland Improvement Company with community leaders William H. Beach, Isaac Cappon, Gerrit J. Diekema, George P. Hummer, Henry Kremers, Patrick H. Mc Bride, and John C. Post. The Company planned and sponsored beautification efforts throughout the city. Developing Prospect Park was the Company’s first beautification project. In 1901, the company purchased seven and one-half acres from a local man for $1,830.00. After planting trees throughout the property, the Holland Improvement Company sold Prospect Park to the city for $1.00.
Following the Company’s success at Prospect Park, Visscher set out to fulfill his personal plan to replant the city’s trees. While the company oversaw the planting of trees on many of Holland’s existing roads, Visscher had the foresight to use this venture as an opportunity for advanced city planning. He hired a surveyor to stake out the paths for future roads. Along the edges of the surveyor’s staked routes, trees were planted, providing a natural lane. As Holland developed and expanded, it was Visscher’s intention that these tree-lined routes would become roads.
Visscher was also personally responsible for planting trees along College Avenue. He approached city officials for permission to oversee the side project. Since he was the sole funder of the project, Visscher was granted permission to direct the plantings along the route.
Arthur Visscher, Arend Visscher’s son, praised the Company’s efforts: “In truth, the efforts of the few men mentioned above and their Holland Improvement Co. accomplished far more for this community than any of them ever dreamed of. Of this I am quite certain.”
Although Visscher’s most visible impact on Holland was his commitment to beautifying the city, his legal career yielded results of equal importance. In 1883 Visscher represented the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in the Michigan Supreme Court case against the Reformed Church of America. In The Consistory of the First Dutch Reformed Church, Harm Brook, et al. v. Tenuis Keppel et al. Visscher brought a property dispute in front of the court. One year earlier, in 1882, members of Pillar Church, an Reformed Church of America institution, aligned with the emerging Christian Reformed Church denomination and seized control of Pillar Church. The men claimed the property and the building for the CRC; those that remained loyal to the RCA tradition opposed the takeover and brought legal action against the CRC. The court ruled in favor of Visscher’s clients. While the CRC retained control of Pillar Church, the court ordered that it allocate $200.00 to the displaced RCA members of the congregation for the purpose of constructing a new house of worship. The court’s ruling divided an already splintered Holland community.
Explore the RCA/CRC Split: An Interactive Timeline to learn more about the divisive issues and reconciliation efforts.
In addition to serving in the Holland Beautification Company and representing clients at court, Visscher was also an active participant in community affairs. Visscher’s friend William Wichers, a Hope College professor, recalled Visscher’s numerous additional community roles:
Mr. Visscher was taken into the councils’ of every important organization in the social, civil, religious, and industrial life of the City … . He was a part and parcel of Holland’s business life and at the time of his death was President of the Peoples State Bank, The Holland-St. Louis Sugar Co., The Holland Furnace Co., The Aniline Co., and the Ottawa Furniture Co. He also made a deep impression upon the social and religious life of the city for he was a charter member of the Century Club, and of The Third Reformed Church, which he continued to serve loyally to the day of his death.”
Visscher was a permanent fixture on local boards and committees. He also devoted his time to overseeing the affairs of his Alma Mater, Hope College. From 1885 until his death in 1921, he sat on the Hope College Council. For 13 years, from 1902 to 1915, he served as treasurer of the Council. Through his work on various boards and committees, Visscher served his community.
Death & Legacy
When Visscher died in 1921, he was fondly remembered by his family and friends in the Holland community. Hope College professor J. B. Nykerk lamented the loss of this prominent figure:
Many alumni have lost in him a wise counselor, whom they consulted in their business with most satisfactory results. His clear insight, his calm and positive attitude of mind towards business difficulties and perplexities—all these inspired confidence in his judgment, which generally proved sane and sound.”
Visscher made an impact on the community of Holland through his foresight and his leadership. His accomplishments, which include the lasting beautification of Holland and the continued legacy of vibrant Christian worship at Pillar Church, have had a lasting impact on the local community.