by William Minnick
Antonie Jacob (A.J.) Betten Jr., an early Orange City settler, prominent citizen, and owner of the Century Home, was born in 1843 in Noordeloos, South Holland in the Netherlands to the Rev. Antonie Jacob and Jacoba Harmeina (van der Hagt) Betten.
You could say the young Betten’s early years in the Netherlands were volatile. His father became a leader in the separatist religious movement that was dominating the Netherlands Reformed Church, the Dutch state church. This caused separatist leaders like Betten’s father and Hendrik Scholte, Pella’s founder, to immigrate to America where they could establish their own church.
In 1847, when the young Betten was only four years old, he and his family made the long sea voyage from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Boston, Massachusetts along with other separatist followers of Scholte’s. This voyage took a total of 13 days and the ship, “The Nagasaki,” followed by three other steamers, encountered violent sea storms.
While in New England, the 800 Dutch immigrants were taken care of by Presbyterians who offered to feed and board them for a couple of days. Soon the immigrants were headed west by rail, wagon, and boat to Saint Louis, Missouri, settling temporarily before making their way to Iowa, and founding the town of Pella, Iowa.
The Betten family settled on a farm about an hour and 15 minutes walking distance from Pella. One this far was a large field of grain and a narrow log cabin. An associate of Rev. Betten, Henry Hospers, a mayor of Pella and founder of Orange City, described life at the Betten cabin, “Entering his (Rev. Betten’s) log house, which is very narrow, one sees various books, along with a clock which adorns the rough oak logs in a peculiar way. Toward evening, one usually sees Dominie (Reverend) Betten, sitting on a horse, with a cap and farmer’s jacket, dressed totally as a countryman, looking for his grazing cows. His wife and children, who are all well contented, seem fairly pleased with American life, yet when one gets into conversation with her, one always hears, ‘What a difference, your mother will learn something…”.
Ups and downs followed the family. In 1849, Jacoba Betten, the mother died. Adriana van Pelt, a twenty-two-year-old widow, would find herself the new “Mrs. Betten” to Rev. Betten who was sixteen years her senior.
To add to the turbulent years, starting in 1849, Rev. Scholte, the spiritual leader and founder of Pella, was temporarily barred from preaching in the church. In 1854, he was permanently cut off. Both times were due to the unethical financial and business dealings of Scholte in the community. A.J. Betten’s father was active in the endeavors to unseat Scholte, and when the task was completed, he was positioned to step in and lead the church full-time.
As A.J. Betten Jr. grew older, he saw dysfunction growing in his family. The Reverend and his second wife did not get along. Family dynamics, possibly due to the second wife, led the eldest son, Jan, to leave home and never return. This wayward son would end up moving in with a family in Missouri and fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The Reverend’s family relationships and marital troubles caused him to wander from church to church, eventually finding himself destitute and somewhat excommunicated.
In 1865, at the age of 22, A.J. Betten Jr. would fall in love with the local butcher’s daughter, Maria Rhynsburger. He and Maria’s marriage would blossom for the next couple of years as the young Betten worked in the mercantile industry in Pella.
In 1871, Henry Hospers asked him to join a new Dutch colony that was being formed and run the mercantile store for the settlers. That year, A.J. and Maria, along with their three sons, made the decision to move to the new Dutch colony in Northwest Iowa, Orange City. Throughout his life in Orange City, he became a prominent and active citizen.
While still working in the mercantile business in Orange City he was elected county auditor for Sioux County, was a member of the Board of Supervisors, was town mayor, councilman and member of the school board. He served as a deacon and clerk of the consistory in his religious duties. In 1885, Betten bought the town’s Dutch language newspaper, “De Volksvriend” (The People’s Friend), and edited and published that for six years, eventually selling it and returning to the mercantile business until a fire destroyed his store and caused him to retire from public life.
His time in Orange City was prosperous. A.J. would even be reunited with his pastor father who moved to Orange City in 1876 after divorcing his wife. The Reverend’s ex-wife also moved to Orange City and is buried in the cemetery under her maiden name.
The Reverend moved in with Anthony and Maria. His ex-wife on the other hand opened a saloon, Hotel Betten, where according to historian Charles Dyke, “of which not much good was said.”
Though it was an exciting and prosperous time, it was also full of heartache. Three of his children passed away at a young age, but the biggest blow was the death of his beloved Maria in 1894.
This message was printed in De Volksvriend from Betten on the morning of Maria’s death:
“This morning, about six o'clock, my beloved wife and the children's faithful mother Maria Johanna Betten, born Rhynsburger, in the age of more than 50 years, gently and calmly passed away.
We mourn and are deeply saddened; but not without hope. For we believe that our God will bring her and all our loved ones, from whom we have been separated for a while, with all those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, to Him, and we with all who have loved His appearing shall always not be the better.
Also, on behalf of the family.
A.J. Betten, Jr
For the many expressions of sympathy and loving support during the illness and after the death of my wife, I express my heartfelt thanks, also on behalf of my family.”
Not much is known of Maria’s death. Her obituary stated that she suffered from a “malady” and left for Chicago for several weeks in hopes of relieving it, but died before she could return to Orange City. The death of her sixteen-year-old son also seems to be blamed and it “affected her badly and her intimate friends can testify how heavily that blow fell upon her.” For the last two years of her life, she had been confined to the home and even underwent surgical aid.
Four years after the death of Maria Betten, A.J. met a schoolteacher who taught at the Northwestern Academy in Orange City. In 1898, he and Cornelia Vander Linden would marry. Between 1898 and 1925, they would live happily together, eventually building a big white house near the center of town. This house is what is today known as the Century Home.
The couple would make this house their home from 1900 until Betten’s 1925 death.
In the spring of 1925, A.J.’s health had been ailing, but over the summer of 1925 he rallied. His obituary states that during this summer he took great delight in his home, The Century Home, and its garden. He later died in October at the age of 82.
The Dutch Heritage Boosters remember A.J. Betten and his wives through the maintenance of the Century Home. Next time you walk around the house and the garden, imagine this prominent pioneer admiring his surroundings and taking pride in his accomplishments.
The following sources aided me in the research for this blog: