THE KOELEMAY FAMILIES
By W. T. Block
Considering the number of family members and the contributions to local history made by the members of the Koelemay families, it is indeed an irony that present-day Nederland's telephone directory no longer lists anyone with the Koelemay surname.
Arriving in Nederland on March 1, 1898, members of that large family, including five sons and three daughters, of Maarten Koelemay, Sr., were all at or approaching adulthood at the time of their arrival. Actually, the oldest son, Piet Koelemay, arrived with the first contingent of immigrants in mid-November, 1897, with intent to build a house for the family and have it ready for occupancy in March. Until 1928, the year that it burned, the old Koelemay home was a prominent landmark in the 2100 block of Koelemay Road, which was renamed Helena Street in 1948.
Maarten Koelemay, Sr., was born on October 2, 1843, in Berkhout, Holland, the son of Pieter Koelemay and Dieuwertje Waterman. On April 8, 1872, he married Antje (Anna) DeJong, who was born in Andijk, Holland, on January 9, 1852, the daughter of Jan DeJong and Klaasje Koorman. For about 26 years prior to their departure for Texas, the family lived in the village of Hoogkarspel, near Enkhuizen, on the Zuider See, where their eight children were born. Koelemay, who was by trade a dairyman and cheesemaker, brought his cheese molds to Texas with him, expecting to continue the manufacture of cheese, but he soon found out that the climate of Southeast Texas was much too warm for much of the year and otherwise unsuited for cheese-making.
The Koelemay sons were Pieter, John, Klaas, Martin, and Lawrence. The latter two sons were only eleven and nine years old respectively when they arrived in Nederland, and they were the only members of the family who attended the earliest Nederland schools. The three daughters of that family were Tryntje (Kate) Koelemay, who married Gatze Jan (George) Rienstra, Sr., Nederland's first settler who arrived in May, 1897; Dieuwertze (Dora) Koelemay, who married Will Block of Port Neches in May, 1899, to become the first Jefferson County marriage involving a member of Nederland's Dutch colony; and Klaasje (Clara) Koelemay, who married another early Dutch immigrant, Sebe Richard Carter. The daughters had taken part-time employment as maids in the homes of the wealthy lumber families of Beaumont.
Upon arrival in Nederland, all male members of that family hired out as farm and railroad laborers in an effort to accumulate as much rice land, cattle, and farm apparatus as possible. As soon as they were able to purchase land, they became rice farmers during a period of time when that pursuit was highly profitable. Although rice-farming was not as laborious as cotton, it was nevertheless a hard occupation to follow, for one plowed a single furrow at a time with a primitive turning plow and a team of mules.
At first, the two-story Koelemay home on Helena stood somewhat alone on the prairie, about midway between the railroad and Highway 69. It soon became something of an agricultural showplace because of its neatly-arranged garden and orchard areas, its well-kept flower beds, as well as its poultry and livestock outbuildings. But before building their home there, the Koelemay family had served as the Port Arthur Land Company's hotel hosts, while they resided in the new Orange Hotel for about three years, where they rented out the 33 rooms to newly-arriving immigrants, cooked and served the meals to guests, maintained the 1,000-volume library room, and hosted the earliest religious services (performed by lay leader Dirk Ballast, Sr.), dances, and other entertainments.
One of the first activities witnessed Pieter Koelemay as a member of a committee of immigrants charged with preparations for the all-day celebration of Queen Wilhelmina's coronation on September 6, 1898. The Port Arthur Herald of September 8, 1898 (which can be copied from microfilm at the Port Arthur Memorial Library) devoted an entire page to that celebration, and it bears the first mention of the Koelemay family members in a newspaper. It was a day of fun and games; it was soon noted that among the obstacle contestants, that "....the first prize was won by John Koelemay." Another paragraph of the same article observed that "....Another very interesting feature of the evening was the vocal selections rendered by Piet Koelemay, Misses Tryntje Koelemay, Dieuwertje Koelemay, Klara Koelemay, and John Koelemay. All their selections were sung in the tongue of the fatherland (Holland), but the music was all that one could ask for."
Indeed, Dora Koelemay was an accomplished zither (autoharp) player, whose melodious notes on any given evening might be heard guiding the toes of the polka dancers at the Orange Hotel. After the departure of the host Ellings family from the Orange Hotel in 1899, the Koelemay family moved in, remaining there about three years before moving into their new home on Koelmay Road. After Dora Koelemay's death in 1917, her zither was a familiar sight around the Will Block home at Port Neches, its strings never to be struck or chorded again. During those years at the Orange Hotel, young Klaas, who was bilingual and fairly-well educated before leaving Holland, served as interpreter for Nederland's first school, which held its classes in one of the hotel's small outbuildings. During that period of time, Klaas Koelemay was Nederland's only photographer, and one of the writer's prize photographs is one of Klaas' originals, made of Nederland's first school students in 1903. The writer has made negatives and reprints of the picture, which are widely circulated in Nederland, and one of the students easily recognizable in it is Lawrence Koelemay.
John Koelemay certainly became one of Nederland's sturdiest citizens, and his old home place still stands at the intersection of North 27th and Canal Streets. During the earliest years, he rice-farmed with brothers Piet and Klaas, but he later established one of Nederland's most successful retail dairies. For perhaps twenty or more years, the Koelemay Dairy delivered milk door-to-door in Beaumont. During the 1930s, John was likewise well-known as a large satsuma orange grower and a speculator. John Koelemay was wed about 1901 to Neltje Stelling, also a Dutch immigrant, who became the mother of John's only son, named Martin, and who predeceased her husband in 1941. John Koelemay married a second time, and when he died in 1948, he was survived by the widow of his second marriage, Mrs. Nancy Koelemay. Martin Koelemay, son of John, married the former Edna Lester of Nederland, and after the family disposed of their large land holdings in Nederland around 1950, they moved to their new ranch near Winnie. Edna Lester Koelemay died about 1991, but as of 1993, Martin still resides there near the home of his son Glenn.
Klaas Koelemay was Nederland's only photographer around 1900, and most of the town's original photographs of that period were taken by him. Perhaps three or four of them still survive, each marked by a notation, "K. Koelemay, Nederland, Texas." Klaas Koelemay worked as a rice farmer and truck grower, as a grocer, grain merchant and dairyman, and during the 1920s, he spent some time near Winnie as a fig grower. In 1940, he became Nederland's first city secretary and remained in that position for several years of World War II until he was replaced by his nephew, Sandy Rienstra. He was also postmaster at Nederland during the latter years of the Woodrow Wilson administration, at a time when if a different political party assumed office in Washington, all postmasters lost their appointments. For some years around 1910 Klaas carried mail in Beaumont, and after about 1946 he served as a post office clerk in Nederland. During those years, the writer, also a postal employee, became closely acquainted with Klaas, and knew him to be a devout, Christian gentleman. Klaas Koelemay married Neltje Rienstra, the sister of his brother-in-law, George Rienstra, the progeny of that marriage including Anna (Mrs. Adrian) Cooley of Devers (deceased), Katie (Mrs. Gayford) Smith of Beaumont, and Carl John Koelemay of Beaumont (also deceased). Nelly Koelemay died in 1963, and her widower died a year later. Anna Cooley left a very long typescript, "From The Netherlands in Europe to Nederland in Texas," the history of the Koelemay family, a copy of which is owned by this writer.
Lawrence Koelemay, the youngest family member, married Myra Cooke, the daughter of another pioneer Nederland family, the J. B. Cooke, Sr. family. Myra Cooke was one of the few charter members of First United Methodist Church of Nederland, and was for thirty years, one of that congregation's leading members. Lawrence was a prominent Nederland grain merchant in the building currently housing Setzer Supply Company. The building was one of the original warehouses, built by the Kansas City Southern Railroad adjacent to its tracks in 1899, and used to house sacked rice until a rice mill was built in Nederland in 1904. Lawrence and Myra Koelemay built their home at 1516 Detroit, and although extensively remodeled with brick veneer, the house still survives as a day care center. The Koelemays operated Koelemay Grain Company (along with a radio franchise business) until 1938, when they sold out to a brother, Martin Koelemay of Port Neches. They then moved to Shreveport, La., and opened a wholesale radio parts business which prospered for many years. Lawrence and Myra Koelemay have been deceased for many years. Their progeny included three sons, James M. and Lawrence, Jr., and John Bunyan, two of whom still live in Shreveport, and the latter resides in Many, Louisiana. Two of the young men enlisted for military service during World War II, and the youngest, John Bunyan Koelemay, now retired, became a well-known Methodist minister in the Louisiana conference. James M. Koelemay still operated Koelemay's Stereo Center in Shreveport.
Dieuwertje (Dora) Koelemay, well-known in her youth for her musical ability, married Will Block, a Port Neches farmer, on May 1, 1899. She was the mother of eight children, as follows: Albert Asa Block (1900-1962) of Port Neches; Anna Block Knight (1900-1991)of Angleton; Clara Block Phillips (1902-1965) of Woodville, Tx.; Katie Block Goolsbee of Port Neches; Willie Mae Block Winberg of Hemphill, Tx.; Mary Lou Block Tullos of Houston; Nellie Block Singleton (1914-1981) of Oklahoma City, Ok.; and Rosa Dieu Block Crenshaw (1917-1980) of Beaumont. As of 1993, three of her daughters still survive.
Klaasje (Clara) Koelemay married Sebe Richard Carter, a Dutch immigrant. Carter immigrated about 1893 to Pella, Nebraska, where he was a wheat farmer, and came with his brother Peter to Nederland in 1899 to become a rice farmer. Later, he accumulated considerable real estate and surveyed the S. R. Carter Nos. 1, 2, and 3 additions to Nederland. The Carters had no children. S. R. Carter died in 1947, and his wife died a year later.
Tryntje (Kate) Koelemay married Jan Gatze 'George' Rienstra, Nederland's first settler, who arrived in May, 1897. She was the mother of three children: Gatze Jan Rienstra, deceased; Martin Sandy Rienstra, also deceased; and Marie Rienstra Wilson, until recently of Livingston, Texas, but presently living at 145 Green Rich Shores, Huntsville, Tx. 77340; and a second daughter, who died in infancy. Sandy Rienstra served for many years as city manager of Nederland, and later served as right-of-way agent for Jefferson County in the county auditor's office.
Martin Koelemay, son of Maarten Koelemay, Sr., was the first person drafted from Nederland in World War I, and he served in France as a sergeant in Co. B, 601st Engineer Battalion. For a few years after 1920, Martin Koelemay lived at Labelle, where he ran a dairy. Later, he moved to Port Neches, where he opened Koelemay Grain Company, and where his old home still stands at the intersection of Avenue D and Merriman St. About 1938, he purchased the Koelemay Grain Company of Nederland from his brother Lawrence and operated it for about five years. Martin married Anna Westerterp, a member of another Dutch immigrant family, and their only child, Rev.Ralph Koelemay (formerly U. S. Navy, World War II) is a retired Methodist minister who lived for many years in Plover, Wisconsin, but has recently moved to Missouri. Upon her death in 1977, Anna Koelemay was, to the best of the writer's knowledge, the next to last (John Van Oostrom was last) surviving Dutch immigrant of Nederland.
Amazingly, not a single person named Koelemay still lives in Nederland as of 1993, and that from a family that had five sons. In fact, the only Koelemay descendents still living in Nederland (as the writer can best recollect are Jan G. Rienstra II (and his four children) of 808 South 13th Street.
KOELEMAY FAMILY NECROLOGY