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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of the West-Indisch Huis in Amsterdam

What is West-Indisch Huis?

West-Indisch Huis is the headquarters of The Dutch West India Company, a 17th-century Dutch trading company that founded what would eventually become New York City.

West-Indisch Huis

S Sepp, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

West-Indisch Huis History

When construction finished here in 1617, an elegant mansion had been built. But its first functions were surprisingly unpolished. The ground floor served as a meat market, and the upper as military quarters. In 1623, the Dutch West India Company, founded two years earlier, rented and expanded the building, adding two wings and a central courtyard.

A few years previously, in 1609, Henry Hudson, an English explorer and navigator, became one of the first Europeans to arrive at the island of Manhattan during his travels around present-day Canada and north-eastern United States. He had chanced upon Manhattan while searching trading routes for another Dutch trading company. Later, the Dutch decided to set up a colony in what is now the north-eastern United States: Nieuw Nederland (or New Netherland, ‘neder’ meaning ‘low’ of course, and Manhattan is not famous for its mountains). This new part of the burgeoning empire included the settlement of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, which was later to become New York City. The Dutch West India Company had purchased the island of Manhattan from the Canarsee, an indigenous people, for 60 guilders worth of goods (about $1,000 in today’s money). The governors of the Dutch West India Company made their plans for the new colony within this very building, ordering and drawing up the construction of a fort on Manhattan.

In the mid-17th century, the Dutch West India Company experienced financial troubles that forced it to move to the West-Indisch Pakhuis, one of its warehouses on the IJ River waterfront. After the Dutch West India Company had left, West India House became a hotel in 1660, and in 1825 it became an orphanage and home for the elderly. The building suffered extensive damage in 1975 after a fire, and the next year a foundation was set up to restore and manage it. During the restoration, a fountain was installed in the courtyard, along with a statue of Peter Stuyvesant, the final Dutch governor of New Netherland before the colony was acquired by the British.

Today, this deceptively serene building is used as a conference venue; it also hosts receptions, dinners, meetings and weddings. Several organisations are based here, including the John Adams Institute, a non-profit foundation that fosters cultural ties between the United States and the Netherlands.

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