6 - Oud-Kraggenburg: pier at the Zwarte Water river

Oud-Kraggenburg is often seen as the most beautiful location of the Noordoostpolder. It already existed when the Noordoostpolder was still the Zuiderzee. It is a place that boasts a remarkable and unique history. In Kraggenburg and its surroundings, many inhabitants regard this spot as paradise in the polder.

Between Kraggenbrug and the Kadoeler sluice, a hill fortified with basalt stones is supporting the Lighthouse keeper’s residence of Old-Kraggenburg that was located at the mouth of the Zwarte Water river before the reclamation.

Oud-Kraggenburg is an island amidst land, rising high above the fields and the cycling path and far away from ongoing roads. The basalt dikes around the dwelling mound shape into a defensive stronghold around the picturesque home with its wide facade and green shutters. Whoever comes cycling from the (north)west will see a cast-iron bell on the roof that was once working as a fog alarm. The lighthouse on top of the house can be seen from afar thanks to its red roof. Indoors, the water well in one of the rooms makes for a remarkable interior detail. Looking outside from the window here, you can see the other water well in the garden. The two wells are connected to each like communicating barrels. Standing on the mound, you will feel amazed as you gaze over the vastness of the view.

Each year, and each season, the surrounding fields are an ever-changing landscape like a colourful blanket at the feet of Old-Kraggenburg.

Wind

When there is wind, Oud-Kraggenburg feels it. Storms never ignore this spot. Cloud formations and rain showers can be seen coming from afar. Sunrises and sunsets do not go by unnoticed. At night, it can be pitch dark, and the twinkling starry sky is clear to see. The sounds of wind, birds and silence are ever there, as there is no motorised traffic. The only thing that can briefly disrupt the silence are the farmers working their fields. On summer days, many people cycle past the route that takes them along Oud-Kraggenburg.  Residents who are then enjoying the sun on their terrace behind the basalt dike, can regularly hear passers-by exclaim: 'Look how pretty! People live here? No way!'

Oud-Kraggenburg

So what is Oud-Kraggenburg, exactly? Oud-Kraggenburg is a former peninsula/island in the Zuiderzee with a lighthouse dwelling. A lighthouse dwelling is a house with a lighthouse, built on a 'terp', or, a dwelling mound. The foot of that mound has a small inland port, also called an emergency port, where sailing ships and steamships took shelter during fog and storms.

Urk and Schokland are also former islands in the Zuiderzee, but what is most remarkable and unique about Oud-Kraggenburg is the fact that it is an artificial island with its very own history. This history begins around 1840 in Zwolle, at the Zwolse Diepmaatschappij company. Zwolle had the ambition to become the third largest port in the Netherlands. This required the Zwarte Water river and the Zwolse Diep, which together ensured Zwolle was connected to the Zuiderzee, remained properly navigable for larger ships.

By constructing long breakwaters along the channel, vessels with unbroken cargo could continue for the harbor in Zwolle without first partially unloading at Schokland. Revenues were gained from levying tolls and from the forecasted land reclamation between the Zuiderlei Dam and the mainland above Genemuiden.

New technology

Under the management of engineer B.P.G van Diggelen, this 'dike construction' used novel technology that was unique in water management history. As a sublayer for the dams under construction, so-called 'kraggen' [floating islands] were used that were taken from the moor lakes in Noord-Overijssel. With this new technique saving on time and costs, Van Diggelen proposed to allocate the remaining funds towards the construction of a harbour master residence with a harbour for approximately seventy ships at the southern breakwater. This could strengthen Zwolle's competitive position compared to Kampen. And it worked.

Steamships are passing by Kraggenburg (visible at background), 1920.

In 1848, the harbour, named Kraggenburg, was finished. The harbour master residence, made of wood at the time, was only a small part of it. The white light beacon that signalled where ships could sail into the breakwaters was attached to an eight metre long pole next to the house. Whenever the breakwaters were submerged due to high water levels, the harbour master would ignite a red light on the roof of the house. In the event of fog, it was extra dangerous and the fog bell was continuously being sounded. Initially, levying the shipping tolls was one of the tasks of the Kraggenburg harbour master. Every year, each skipper had to pay beacon tolls the first time he would pass by Kraggenburg and the same applied to using the harbour. In addition, all skippers using this fairway - much to their annoyance - had to pay tolls. Tolls were levied based on the depth of a ship, and not so much its size. The discontent and conflicts arising from this have led to the founding of the first association in the Netherlands: the Schippersverbond [Skippers Alliance]. This association would later grow into the national skippers association Schuttevaêr, named after their successful leader from Zwolle. Our first large parliamentary inquiry dealt with this depth issue (1856).

Lighthouse and fog bell on lighthouse keeper's residence Oud-Kraggenburg, early 1900s.

Lonely and dangerous

Regardless how much of a paradise Kraggenburg now seems to be, it used to be quite lonely and certainly had its dangers. Heavy spring and autumn storms and drifting ice caused life-threatening situations, leaving residing families terrified and helpless until they could be rescued from the mound by a passing skipper in the nick of time. In early 1875, Rijkswaterstaat took over the works of the Zwolse Diepmaatschappij that had become insolvent and did away with the already  reduced toll. In order to be better equipped against extreme weather conditions, the dwelling mound was raised in 1877 and a new stone house was erected with a zinc roof. This new Kraggenburg, with its beacon on the roof, was given the appeal of a lighthouse. And it has stayed like this until this very day.

Like it used to be. On the forefront, the southern breakwater with the towpath towards the bank, to the right the present-time, 2010  - 

 

Various families with children have lived there, without running water, gas or electricity. When the water levels were low enough, they could walk to Genemuiden across the breakwater, but other than that they were completely by themselves. In 1920, after the automation of lighting, the last lighthouse keeper left the house, leaving it vacant for a long time. Afterwards, it fell under the management of the stream master of Genemuiden. After the reclamation, Old-Kraggenburg became an island amidst  land.

National heritage site

With the founding of the Kraggenburg village, the lighthouse building was given the name Old-Kraggenburg. Since 1943, the house has seen various new residents who initially rented it from the Domains. In 1968, Old-Kraggenburg became a Rijksmonument [National Heritage site]. Ultimately, the Domains sold the house in 1971 to the former tenant and it has been private property since.

Oud-Kraggenburg was an important sea beacon for skippers. And while the works did not lead to what Zwolle expected, and despite this monument no longer being surrounded by the sea, it nevertheless remains impressive to behold what the Netherlands has managed to achieve with its waterworks.