My father’s oral history, the memories of Gerrit Bos, and the Borculo CRC church records (although written in Dutch!), make up the source of this story. The Zeeland Record also published a news article about the fire on the following Thursday of that week.
My father recalls that it was a very windy day when he entered the church and took his seat in the very back row, where many single young men of his age would sit. Although it was no longer winter, the janitor of the church struggled to get the auditorium warm on that cold and windy morning, and used lots of wood to heat the area quickly.
The hot wood fire caused sparks from the chimney to land on the roof, and the soot, fanned by strong winds, started the shingles on fire. With the chimney located on the east end of the building, the downdraft from the east wind first started the singles on the west end of the roof on fire and the fire then moved eastward against the strong wind.
The burning shingles on the church roof were discovered during the worship service by a nine-year-old girl, who I have been told was Irene Vollink, the daughter of Simon Vollink whose house was located just south of the church. The young girl happened to be staying home that morning. She wisely ran to the church, entering the back door of the church and yelling “the roof is on fire!”
This caused the young men sitting in that back row to jump out of their seats and start milling around. The Pastor, Rev. K.W. Fortuin, unaware of the situation, stopped preaching and upbraided them for the disturbance and told them to sit down and be quiet. He then continued on with his sermon in Dutch. Soon a member of the church walked up to the pastor and whispered to him that the roof was on fire. He then wisely and quietly announced that the church would be dismissed early that day. All 500 members walked out of the building safely, many not even knowing the church was on fire until they saw flames on the roof when they arrived outdoors.
As soon as everyone had safely left the burning building, a call went out for all able-bodied members to reenter the building to carry out pews, furniture, books, and other items. The fire had not yet broken through the ceiling of the sanctuary.
The pews were attached to the floor with wood screws. Two men would grab on to each end of the pew and lift it up, pulling the screws right out of the floor. Others were standing by to carry them outdoors. In a short time, all of the pews had been removed from the sanctuary. Some items like books and dishes from the kitchen received some rough handling and were damaged.
The Borculo Fire Department, with its two-man pumper, concentrated on saving the parsonage located 40 feet north of the church.
After awhile the whole church was ablaze. While people were standing watching the fire, one member of the church, Jacob Weenum Senior, was told that his barn located ½ mile west of the church had caught fire. He quickly went home to rescue his farm animals. He was only able to safely remove his two horses. He could not get his nine cows from the barn in time and they were burned to death. His garage and toolshed also burned, but his house was spared.
The burning shingles traveled to Weenum’s neighbor L.T. Elzinga. His barn that was empty also burned to the ground. Burned shingles were found later up to three miles west of Borculo. Many farmers at this time did not believe in carrying insurance on their buildings. Despite his loss with no insurance, Weenum was an optimist and said he would rebuild his barn and replace his livestock as soon as possible.
Despite their loss that day, no one was injured when the church burned, and the Borculo congregation also remained optimistic. In the Zeeland Record five days later, it was reported that a huge tent had been erected at the church site, and a morning service would be held on Sunday, April 17, as usual.
A building committee was appointed, consisting of the following members: Gerrit VanBeek, Paul DeGroot, Luke Luurtsema, Louis Vollink, Ben DeRoo, Harm Stremler, and Henry Wesseldyk. The building committee decided to have the new church designed by a professional church architectural firm and chose the G&J Daverman Company of Grand Rapids. The church buildings they designed were known to be both functional and economical to build. Bids were let and later the church builders were chosen. Herm TenBroeke was chosen to build the structure and finish the upstairs and John P. Lamer to finish the full basement. They both encouraged volunteers to help. The economy was good at this time and they decided to build a new and even finer church building with a full basement and a new Hinners organ, to meet their needs in the coming years.
During the summer months the large tent collapsed, and the congregation met in the vacant large horse barn located just east of the church. In the horse & buggy days, a horse barn was an important building on the church property. Nearly every rural congregation needed one to protect the horses who brought people to church each week from the weather. The horses needed a place to be stabled for the length of the service.
Usually the family would enter the front or south side of the church from their buggy or surrey, while the father would continue on to tie up the horses in the church barn. This took some time and the father would enter the church a little later, often after his family was seated. But with the coming of the Model T, fewer and fewer folks used the horse barn anymore. I can only remember one couple who came to church with horse & buggy – they were John and Alice Kieskamp.
On November 8, 1927, a new and very functional church building, with a new organ, was solemnly dedicated. It was nearly all paid for by the many hours of donated work and also donated building materials. The Daverman design is still visible when looking at the church as it stands today, even after renovations.
The organ was rebuilt in 1950 and again in 2017, at which time the Borculo CRC held an organ dedication (from https://borculocrc.org/organ-dedication):
“Worship is our highest calling and public worship of God’s people is the clearest expression of this eternal purpose. One of the central ways that God calls us to respond to Him is through music. Martin Luther said, ‘Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits.’”