Susan Taylor Block's Collection of Van Eeden Research
Scope and Contents
This collection contains information regarding the second iteration of Van Eeden farm colony in the 1940s, gathered as research material by local author Susan Taylor Block for her 1995 publication, Van Eeden. The first series of the collection features photocopies of original material from the Alvin Johnson Economic Papers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This mainly includes correspondence between Alvin Johnson, the founder of the new colony, and the settlers, who were Europeans of Jewish descent escaping the early days of World War II. These letters reveal the working and social conditions of Van Eeden at that time, particularly in terms of the success and failures being experienced. Also included are daily journal entries by Sarnia Marquand, Alvin Johnson's secretary, providing an administrative and external perspective on life in the colony.
The second series contains photographs of the Loeb, Heimann, and Wolf families--some of the original settlers of the second phase of Van Eeden--as they lived and worked in the colony, as well as photographs taken by Block when she interviewed former colony families in the later 20th century. These photographs are largely undated, though circa the 1940s and 1990s, respectively. The third series contains the remainder of Block's research, including publications she wrote or collected, newspaper articles, and various documents on both Van Eeden and Jewish history. Materials date from 1938-1995.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research use.
Copyright 1996 University of North Carolina at Wilmington, all rights reserved (subject to exceptions). Certain items in this collections were conveyed to UNCW without the accompanying copyright. Where the donor did not convey copyright to UNCW, copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Van Eeden, located in Pender County, North Carolina, was the site of two separate attempts to establish a European immigrant farm colony. Originally named for Frederik van Eeden, a Dutch physician and scholar, Van Eeden was a joint effort between him and local businessman Hugh MacRae, begun in 1912, to provide Dutch families land to farm. Due to various factors, including the insuitability of the soil and a lack of leadership, the Dutch families steadily left throughout the next two decades, until the last family finally moved in 1938. In 1939, MacRae sold 100 acres of the farmland to the Alvin Corporation, led by Alvin Johnson of the New School for Social Research, in New York. Van Eeden would thus be settled again, but by German immigrants sponsored by Johnson.
Alvin Johnson, a first-generation American of Jewish descent, hoped to liberate Jewish citizens from Nazi Germany and provide them with a means of support once they arrived in the States. Many Jewish Germans had tried to emigrate to the United States but were hindered by paperwork and a need for sponsors and jobs. MacRae, experienced in placing immigrants in agricultural colonies, and Johnson, with his knowledge of land cultivation, went to President Roosevelt for assistance. With financing procured, Johnson renovated six of the existing Dutch cottages and added four more, as Jewish families began arriving to Van Eeden that same year. Each family was provided with 10 acres of land, a small house, and a cow, all of which was to be paid off in twenty-five years with the sale of their harvest.
Ultimately, the land and weather proved harsh for most of the immigrants, and many left in search of professions more suited to their educational levels, as they were university-trained and knew nothing of farming, having chosen to settle in North Carolina solely due to their desperate circumstances. Max Wolf, one of the first German settlers at Van Eeden, had been detained and tortured in two concentration camps before he and his family were able to obtain visas to move to the United States. Other families had faced similar hardships and did their best to make a life at Van Eeden until they were able to do better elsewhere. Lasting only a few years, all of the families left the second Van Eeden by 1943, ending the colony for good.
Susan Taylor Block (1951-2022), a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, was an author who published several local history books and wrote frequently in publications throughout the Cape Fear Region. Her book, Van Eeden, on the immigrant farm colony, was published in 1995.
2 Containers (Contains two document boxes and one oversize folder.)
This collection is arranged into three series: the Alvin Johnson Economic Papers; Photographs; and Susan Taylor Block research materials. The contents of each are arranged chronologically, where possible.
The Alvin Johnson Economic Papers series is named for the collection in which the original documents are located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
This collection was donated by Susan Taylor Block on January 29, 1996.
This collection was originally processed by Melissa Blake. It was reprocessed by Tess Will in the Fall of 2022.
- Susan Taylor Block's Collection of Van Eeden Research
- Tess Will
- 2022 November 17
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Part of the Randall Library Special Collections Repository