Land made from water

Not now, but in 1633… About four centuries ago, the first spa went into the ground for the reclamation of the current Schermer. After the peat was reclaimed in the northwest of the Netherlands, the water had been given free rein. Thanks to the deployment of no fewer than 52 mills, water could be turned into land again.

The Schermeer was the last lake to be reclaimed, a daring operation because of its depth and size. Nevertheless, the dike workers managed to drain the 4 meter deep, 4,726 hectare lake in two years. Two years later the first stolp farms were ready. Although the soil was not nearly as fertile as hoped, it came full circle. Reclaiming land from water was already an innovative example of water management at the time, which we can still boast of today.

Do you want to know how the reclamation works exactly?
First, the dike workers dug a ring ditch. From the soil that came out of it, they erected a dike: the ring dike. The first mills were built on this dike: the ring mills, also called upper mills. The height that these mills could bridge, the lifting height, was about one meter. When the water level had dropped to such an extent that the mills could barely create water, the dike workers built a second row of mills, which was lower: the middle mills. These milled the water through special waterways to the upper mills.

However, the second series of mills turned out not to be sufficient to grind all the water from the Schermer. A third and even a fourth series of mills had to be built: the lower mills and the polder mills. This created a unique stepped drainage system: four one-metre 'steps' were required to discharge all the polder water into the ring canal. After the lake eventually dried up, the mills were needed to prevent the lake from filling up again.

From Scimere to Schermeer to the Schermerpolder
More than 1,100 years ago, the northwest of the Netherlands consisted of a bulging peat parcel. The land turned out to be easy for humans to make habitable. The wet, swampy land could be drained by digging ditches for drainage.

This exploitation of the peat had two consequences. First, the peat set in: the top layer became heavier and weighed down on the swampy bottom layer. Second, the top layer oxidized. These two processes resulted in a decrease in the total package, even several meters per hundred years.

This gave the water free rein. Small peat streams such as the Scimere and the Baemestra grew into the inland lakes Schermeer and Beemster. The water became a serious threat to the people. For example, the old village of Noordschermer even partly disappeared into the water during the Saint Elisabeth flood in 1421.

By constructing dams (including the Zaandam, the Knollendam and the Monnickendam) the area was closed off from the outside water from, among others, the Zuiderzee. But the drainage of this increasingly lower land remained a concern. By using windmills, several lakes could be drained. It was a success, because the new land was fertile and easy to cultivate.

Soon the larger lakes were also pumped dry. The last feat in these parts was the 4,726 hectare Schermeer. In 1633 the first shovel went into the ground, in 1635 the lake dried up and in 1637 the first cloches were built. An innovative example of water management!

500 hectares went to the city council of Alkmaar, but the administrators of other surrounding cities also received their share. They leased their land, which in the end was not as fertile as hoped. But the circle was complete. The very first reclamation turned land into water and the reclamation turned water into land again.

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