Visiting Frank's Restaurant on Main street for a burger, fries and a malt, my husband and I discovered this wonderful newspaper article framed on the wall by our booth. It was written by Barbara Tiritilli (staff reporter) from Chicago's American on July 31, 1967.
Website manager, Susan Norder - March 2020
ZEELAND, Mich. — This is the place to come to, 300 miles round-trip from Chicago, for a quiet Sunday.
On reports that the town, situated 5 miles southeast of Holland, is unofficially the quietest town in the United States, Chicago’s American photographer Al Phillips and I made a Sabbath visit to find the reports quite right. And here’s why.
There are no hotels, no movie houses, no theater, no bar. The town’s 100 stores, all lined up under a canopy on one and a half blocks along Main street, include one dress shop, one drug store, a book shop, and several snack shops. All closed.
THERE ARE 4,857 persons in town. Yet on Sunday no children played outside. Few cars passed. There was no laughter, no music, no voices, no sound anywhere. A teenage boy walked alone down Main street. A man sat alone on a front porch reading.
At Zeeland’s main intersection, State and Main streets, the only sound you could hear was the clicking of a stop light tethered by cable overhead to two wooden poles.
“Nothing ever happens here on Sunday,” said Case Karsten, secretary of Zeeland’s chamber of commerce. “We have church services morning and evening. Afternoons, everyone just sits at home reading. Isn’t that what people everywhere do — go to church on Sunday?” Karsten asked.
THE TOWN'S 10 churches are situated almost one a block. These are primarily Reformed, Christian Reformed, Free Methodist and Baptist. Two Christian Reformed churches are situated on Church street. These faiths prohibit almost all activities except praying, reading, and eating on Sunday. On Sunday’s most Zeelanders curl up with a copy of the Good Book, and pass the day of rest, literally.
If a non church-going newcomer moves into town and tries to paint his house or do other chores on Sunday, he is soon invited personally by all churches in town. Then neighborhood pressure “usually backs him down and he learns he can’t do those things here on the Lord’s day,” Schout said.
THERE'S JUST NOTHING to do here,” said Dan Smith, 13, who will be a freshman at Zeeland High in September. “During the week we usually go to the beach 10 miles away. Our parents drive us and bring us back. Else we play softball or baseball. But Sundays there’s nothing unless you visit relatives,” Smith said.
Saturday nights are the big nights here. The one dress shop is open till 9 p.m.,” said pretty Meredith Dinger, 15, who is visiting her grandparents here with sister Chris, 18. “You can’t dance or drink. Smoking is terrible. This is a nice place for small babies and old people. But the rest leave here as soon as possible,” Meredith said.
At the Parkview Nursing home, one elderly woman saw Phillips’ camera and became visibly upset and left the room. She said, “If they take pictures and put them in a newspaper, we'll all be stricken. I don’t want any part of this.”
The 120-year old town was founded in 1847 by a party of immigrants from The Netherlands.
THE TOWN HAS experienced more than a century of progress and today it’s cosmopolitan, an outstanding home town,” Karsten said. The town’s industrial area includes 35 factories, among them 9 hatcheries producing annually more than 9 million chicks and turkeys.
A plan for the town for 1970 proposed by a University of Michigan graduate architect provides major improvements for the shopping area.
Karsten said this town’s record number of hatcheries make Zeeland one of the largest hatching centers in the United States. In fact, this is probably the egg-laying capital of the world.
Source: Tiritilli, Barbara. “Quietest Spot in U.S.? - Zeeland, Mich.” Chicago's American, 31 July 1967, p. 24.