Holland: The Little Town That Was; The Community That Is
Get past the bustling Hampton Roads area, past I-64/I-664 congestion, traverse the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and take the exit on U.S. Route 58 toward Suffolk.
A 22-mile drive along busy U.S. 58 Bypass brings you to U.S. 58 Business. One quick turn and you’re in Holland, an oasis in the midst of suburban sprawl and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Holland is located at the intersection of Holland Road, which goes north to Suffolk; Ruritan Boulevard, which leads west toward Franklin; and South Quay Road, which leads toward State Route 189. Holland Park & Athletic Fields stand at the crossroads’ center. Signs proclaim “Holland”; others say “Suffolk,” with the words “Historic Holland Community” under it.
There’s a story behind the signs. Suffolk, founded by English colonists in 1742 as a port town on the Nansemond River, became an incorporated town in 1808 and incorporated as a city in 1910. Modern-day Suffolk formed in 1974 after consolidation with the towns of Holland and Whaleyville and Nansemond County. Incorporated in 1900, Holland was in southwest Nansemond County before consolidation. Today Suffolk (population: 86,806) is Virginia’s largest city in terms of geographic area with 429 square miles, including 29 square miles of water.
Enoch “E.C.” Copeland, 82, school board chairman for the City of Suffolk, lives a few miles outside of Holland’s Historic District and remembers the 1974 consolidation well.
“Yes, there was some resistance in Holland [to consolidation]. We felt we’d be swallowed up and forgotten about; we became the lost area for awhile,” Copeland explains. “But the people here are nice folks, and they took the downtown folk [City of Suffolk] at their word. The citizens voted on it [the consolidation].”
According to documents filed when Holland’s Historic District became part of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1995, settlement around what was originally known as Holland’s Corner began in the 17th century with land grants made to various members of the Holland family. Holland family members were prosperous farmers who opened a general store at Holland’s Corner. In 1888, the Atlantic and Danville Railroad was completed through Holland’s Corner and a depot was built.
By 1900, the population had risen enough to incorporate as a town. In 1910 a devastating fire destroyed all but two of the town’s commercial buildings, along with 30 homes. Holland’s people immediately began to rebuild, heralding a resilience that continues to this day.
The train depot is now gone. Freight trains ceased Holland stops about a decade ago, their tracks now silent as you cross over them to S. Quay Road.
In the Historic District, Farmers Hardware at 6717 S. Quay Road is a prominent part of the small commercial hub. Dating to between 1910 and 1930, its large brick building houses hardware, chain saws, feed and a huge assortment of farm tools, nuts, bolts and screws. A service shop provides small-engine repair and hydraulic repairs for farm equipment.
“We have a lot of farmers in the area with 1,500 to 2,000 acres,” says Mills March, owner of Farmers Hardware. “One of our customers, Glover Farms, farms 12,000 acres.”
Customer Taylor Outland, who lives in nearby Carrsville and farms cotton, peanuts and soybeans, says, “Farmers is my go-to place.”
March, 79, grew up here. A teacher and principal at Holland Elementary School and Forest Glen High School before going to work for Nationwide Insurance, he bought Farmers in 2006, prior to his 2017 retirement from Nationwide.
“I was school principal around 1964-’71 … Holland was bustling then,” March recalls. “We had two hardware stores, a clothing store, a grocery store, two service stations and CSX trains used to go through here. The train’s now routed through Carrsville, about 4 miles away.”
Several residents lamented the U.S. 58 bypass, which essentially cut off Holland from the main flow of traffic. March notes Holland has “city water” but no septic service and Copeland adds, “Having no public sewer has impacted growth here.”
Copeland also remembers a once-booming Holland: “This was a center of entertainment … we had a theater here and could go to the movies, like Saturday serials, I didn’t miss those! I remember pre-integration there was a dividing line: whites sat on one side of the theater, blacks on the other. But everybody got along. Holland is a unique place, where the races have been together for a long time.”
Copeland describes nearby rural life with blacks and whites living on adjacent farms and kids playing side by side with neighbor children, without thoughts of race.
March says, “When I grew up, communities were integrated. In June the only time I put my shoes on was to go to church. It’s always been a quiet, laid-back community.”
Holland’s Historic District, also on the Virginia Landmarks Register, included 106 buildings in 1995, some of which, like the train depot, are no longer here. The area features a variety of well-kept turn-of-the-20th-century residences, including Queen Anne/Victorian-style homes with wraparound porches, brick American Foursquare homes and bungalows.
Two churches remain in Holland. Holland Christian Church, built in 1918 and located on S. Quay Road, is an imposing brick eye-catcher, with classical and Byzantine influences. Built by R. H. Riedel, a German immigrant who settled in Holland, there are two entrances supported by large fluted columns. Holland Baptist at 6519 Holland Road, a more traditional-looking brick church building with a tall steeple, was built in 1922.
“We have about seven churches in [the area] but those are the only two in town,” March explains. “The churches are very influential here.”
Copeland says the Holland Ministerial Association meets monthly, and ministers do special joint services at Thanksgiving and Easter where all the people come together.
Locals enjoy outdoor recreation, sports, hunting and fishing. Residents farm, run small businesses or commute to work outside of Holland at places like the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
“Downtown Holland” is showing signs of renewed life, with a smattering of new businesses like East Side Rides. Owners Lisa and John Byrne of Chesapeake opened in 2013 at 6701 Ruritan Boulevard, specializing in custom car and truck restoration, including mechanical, body work and modification to existing vehicles.
“This community has welcomed us,” says Lisa Byrne. “We’ve been blessed here. Things are going better than we thought they would.”
Their corner location is a perfect spot to view vintage cars in various stages of restoration. They also lease vintage vehicles for use in wedding photography and photo shoots.
Dutch Market Eatery opened in April 2018 in a 5,000-square-foot 1910 brick building at 6713 S. Quay Road. Owner Wanda Bishop has a culinary arts degree and years of food service experience. Originally she planned to open a restaurant in Norfolk, but after brainstorming with a friend, returned to her hometown.
“The longest-running business [in this building] was a grocery store called Dutch Market, a community fixture for years. I named it Dutch Market Eatery to honor [that heritage],” Bishop explains.
With exposed brick walls, made-in-house food and a former stage area doubling as a play area for children, Bishop says locals have been “super-excited” about the new venture. Fresh-cut flowers in painted Mason jars adorn tables, and there’s a down-home atmosphere. A Saturday breakfast buffet that begins at 8:30 a.m. has been well-received, she says.
“I want to be part of the community, not just provide food. I plan to join the Ruritans,” she says.
The Ruritan Club is not only a Holland fixture — it’s where Ruritans began. The first Ruritan Club in America was chartered here May 21, 1928.
The premise was simple: Founders wanted an organization where people could meet and discuss ways to make their community a better place to live. A reporter suggested the name, adopted unanimously: Ruritan is a combination of Latin words for open country (ruri) and small town (tan). Today Ruritan National has 25,000 members who work to improve life in over 900 local communities.
Unlike most civic groups, Ruritan rarely has national programs. Each club surveys its own community and works to meet local needs. Joe Simmons, president of the 45-member Holland Ruritan Club, taught high school for 34 years and retired as director of mosquito control for the City of Chesapeake. He grew up in Chesapeake’s Great Bridge area, moving to a rural area surrounded by farm fields a mile from town 27 years ago.
“I fell in love with a Suffolk girl and we moved here,” he says. “I stay here because I love where I live, with good people who take pride in their town.”
Simmons got involved with the Ruritans in 2001 after his daughter was awarded a scholarship by the group.
“Fellowship, goodwill, community service — that’s the Ruritans,” he notes. “Today people are less likely to get involved in civic groups, but in small towns it’s still important. It’s a social thing, but we also do a lot of good for the community.”
A monument celebrating the Ruritans’ founding is prominently displayed at Holland Park. Among their accomplishments, Holland Ruritans spearheaded the founding of Community Electric Cooperative in Windsor in 1938, which now serves over 11,000 members.
The Holland Ruritans meet at Holland Community House on Netherland Drive, a brick building used for various community functions. Their “Founder’s Day” celebration in May was hampered by bad weather, allowing only a few planned events to be held. A beach music/fireworks display has been rescheduled on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. and a car show on Oct. 13, both to be held at Holland Park & Athletic Fields.
Like “the little engine that could,” Holland remains an optimistic, cohesive village full of friendly people, undaunted by fire, consolidation and the ravages of time.