In 1847 a group of Dutch immigrants under the leadership of the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte from Rotterdam selected a one-thousand-acre site at the mouth of the Black River and established this town. They built homes, farms, and businesses. In 1851 a pioneer school was founded, which became Hope College in 1866. As other Dutch immigrants arrived, they established nearby separate communities—Overisel, Zeeland, Vriesland, Drenthe, and Graafschap.
A sawmill, a gristmill, a brickyard, a shingle mill, and a stave factory were developed in Holland. The harbor was improved so that ships could pass from Lake Michigan into the Black River and Black Lake (Lake Macatawa). In 1867 the village incorporated as a city. A fire in 1871 destroyed most of Holland, but the Dutch American city was rebuilt using locally quarried Waverly sandstone from the Marshall sandstone formation. The architecture of Holland shows some Dutch influence. Tourists from Chicago and Grand Rapids vacationed at Ottawa Beach and Macatawa Park on Lake Michigan.
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