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Den Bleyker, Paulus (1804-1872) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: Den Bleyker, Paulus (1804-1872)

Historical Note:

Paulus Den Bleyker was born in 1804 as an orphan. Den Bleyker spent his early adulthood in the Dutch army, and later became an engineer to build dikes and reclaim land from the sea. During the time of the Irish potato famine, Den Bleyker utilized the reclaim land as fertile farmland for planting potatoes, which proved to be a profitable enterprise for him. Also during this time, Den Bleyker felt that the current Dutch religious oppression was bad for business. After hearing about Rev. Albertus Van Raalte's promise of good fortune in the United States, Den Bleyker and a 27-member party travelled to America. On October 1, 1850 they arrived in Kalamazoo with the intention to spend only the night. However, within hours of their arrival an outbreak of cholera took hold of the city. The town leaders brought Den Bleyker and the other "outsiders" to a quarantined "sick house" outside of the city. Cholera brought death to four of the members of the party, including one of Den Bleyker's children. Mrs. Den Bleyker also delivered a still-born baby.

Even with a difficult start, Den Bleyker found fortune in America. He bought two properties, one of which was a mansion and farmland of the former Michigan Governor Epaphroditus Ransom. With over 180 acres in his possession, Den Bleyker sold off 50 feet wide plots of land. He also invested his money into railroads, farms, mills, and various other enterprises. He sent word out to the Netherlands that farm laborers were needed in dealing with the swampy lands of western Michigan. Soon a steady stream of Dutch immigrants came to the Kalamazoo area. Dubbed the "the little governor" or "the Dutch governor", Den Bleyker's nickname was not simply because he lived in a former governor's mansion, but also because of his business integrity and insights. Many people sought him out for his consultation and advice. Even after his death in 1872, his descendants also were very influential to their community. Several streets in Kalamazoo are named after members of the Den Bleyker family.

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