Smallingerland

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Smallingerland (About this sound pronunciation , West Frisian: Smellingerlân) is a municipality in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands.

Population centres

Boornbergum, De Tike, De Veenhoop, De Wilgen, Drachten (main town), Drachtstercompagnie, Goëngahuizen, Houtigehage, Kortehemmen, Nijega, Opeinde, Oudega, Rottevalle and Smalle Ee.

History

The name 'Smallingerland' is derived from the former hamlet Smalle Ee, which used to have a major monastery. In the 14th century the annual fair of Smalle Ee became equally important as the ones of Leeuwarden and Dokkum. The name Drachten is possibly a derivative from the old Frisian word Darch, meaning peaty soil.

The central function of Drachten in the district goes back to 1641. A Holland businessman thought it would pay to exploit the peat. 800 workers were employed to dig the Drachtstervaart canal. The peat exploitation was a disappointment, however the Drachtstervaart triggered economical activities, such as the shipbuilding industry. The typical peat bog landscape can still be seen, particularly near Drachtstercompagnie. Since the 1950s Drachten developed rapidly. Right now, Drachten has an important function in the region. The Smallingerland District has thirteen smaller villages besides Drachten, the largest being Opeinde with 1731 residents, the smallest is Smalle Ee counting 57 villagers.

Of course there is much more to the history of the Smallingerland District. The 1998 publication 'Het Gezicht van Smallingerland' (The Scope of Smallingerland) gives a clear and easy to read overview of the district's history. A few passages from this publication:

As such Drachten, risen from the barren moors to the largest spot on the provincial maps, now shines as a magnificent jewel in Friesland's crown. Thus to sensible people Drachten displays the striking scene of shining pastures created by industrious men from desolate places.'

Notary Public J.G. van Blom wrote those words of praise about his hometown in 1840 A.D.. Most of the 3,000 residents from those days would have had no chance to enjoy the umbrageous scenery; people had to make a living and after work little spare time was left. Some 200 years earlier, in 1640 A.D., the hamlets of Drachten North and Drachten South were little more than a small church and some farm houses. Other villages in the region were older, bigger and more important, for example Smalle Ee with its monastery and subsequent activities such as an annual fair, which was always bracketed together with those of Leeuwarden en Dokkum. Or Oudega, where a stone church had been erected even before 1100 A.D. Peat exploitation brought a turn-around. Peat had become an important source of energy, not only for private households but also for the industry. The need in the rapidly growing province of Holland during the 17th century was higher than Friesland could supply. Most of the transport was over water, therefore often by track boat. Peat exploitation meant a welcome activity for many villages, although most of the income did not flow into the pockets of the struggling peat cutters.

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