Winterswijk, The Netherlands

Winterswijk is a municipality and a town in the eastern Netherlands, in a region known as the Achterhoek. The town of Winterswijk has a population of some 30,000 inhabitants and lies in the most eastern part of the province of Gelderland in the Netherlands.

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Founded around 1000 AD it remained an isolated farming community until 1830 when the road from Borken to Zutphen via Winterswijk and Groenlo was built. Around 1840 many individuals and even entire families emigrated to America — to Michigan and Wisconsin in particular.

Tragically, on November 21, 1847, in the United States on Lake Michigan near Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a passenger ship caught fire and sank, taking the lives of some 40 men, women, and children from Winterswijk. Initially, a group of about 51 Winterswijkers had decided to leave Holland and seek their fortune in the promised land of America. After two months of traveling, about 40 of these people lost their lives when the ship SS Phoenix caught fire and sank just a few miles off the shore of their final destination at Sheboygan. Fortunately, it appears that no te Selle family members were among the people who lost their lives. The few survivors were cared for by the Sheboygan residents. Because Sheboygan had no telegraph service, the news of this disaster did not reach their relatives in Winterswijk for almost 3 months! A day of mourning was declared in Winterswijk, heralded by the sound of church bells everywhere throughout the country of Holland. A memorial monument was eventually erected in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, to mark the date and commemorate all those who lost their lives aboard the SS Phoenix.

After 1870 the town of Winterwijk became a center for textiles, such as spinning and weaving and indeed the Tricot factory employed a large proportion of the local population in its heyday. In 1878 the train line to Zutphen was built primarily for the textile industry, which was set up by Jan Willink. Some of the early Winterswijk families, such as the Willinks, have lived there since 1284.

Related: The Lost are Found – A New Perspective on the Passengers of the Phoenix