Northwestern has seen a multitude of events during its time of 150 years. From two world wars to multiple assassinations of U.S. presidents. From harvests of plenty to no harvests at all. Through the good and the bad, NW has seen it all.
In 1870, led by Henry Hospers, Dutch colonists from Pella, Iowa, founded the town of Orange City. The colonists were looking for cheaper and better land to live off of. It has been said that when a Dutchman in the 19th century moves to a new region, there are two questions that are likely on his mind: “Is there a school for the children?” and, “Is there a church for my family?”
So it can be said that the second building to be erected in OC was a schoolhouse that doubled as a church on Sundays until the settlers were able to afford a formal place to worship. The school, though, was not capable of learning because of inadequate and outdated curriculum; it was also hard to focus in the winter months. It was then that the city set aside 1/5 of its proceeds to help establish a school of higher education. During this time, the settlers had in mind a design primarily for preparing the young people for college. Soon, the settlers reached out to the Reverend Seine Bolks to keep hopes alive for a school. The Reverend had rendered valuable assistance in establishing an academy in Holland, Michigan in 1851 and added a college program there in 1866.
In 1875, through Bolks’ efforts, there was serious consideration given for a plan which involved purchasing a section of 640 acres of Sioux County farmland and using the land to establish a school. Unfortunately, during that year, there was an invasion of millions of grasshoppers that destroyed about 2/3 of the crops that year, causing the proposal for a new school to drop. Poor harvests would continue, while combinations of intermittent floods, hailstorms and droughts made the dream of an academic building dwindle. In 1878, Bolks retired from ministering at First Reformed Church because of poor health, but he continued to show an interest in the founding of an academy with the help of his successor, the Reverend Ale Buursma.
With the addition of the Reverend Ale Buursma and better harvests in the early 1880s, the hopes and dreams of a school became a reality. On July 19, 1882, several local clergymen and businessmen met to finalize plans for a school which grew to be known as Northwestern Classical Academy. The goal for the establishment of an institution was “learning for the promotion of science and literature in harmony with, and religion as expressed in, the Doctrinal Standards of the Reformed Church in America; and to exercise such other and incidental powers as are granted to corporations for educational and religious purposes.”
The initial plan for the Academy was to build it between Orange City and Alton. This was proposed in order to save on the cost of land and to equally benefit the inhabitants of Orange City and any interested persons who lived in the east and northeast of town. The plans for the location of the Academy changed when Hospers donated a town block of 16 lots, which is where it stands to this day.
The very first class day for NWCA was on Sept. 23, 1889. Since then, NW has grown to hold over 1,200 students with options in 46 majors, and its campus has expanded to over 15 buildings. Students walk across the modern-day NW campus green without realizing how much the college has grown in the past 150 years.
As NW has been through a lot of changes, from being an Academy to a Junior college to a four-year college, it continues to change and adapt to educational needs in hopes of continuing to be a place where students can call home.