Living with water in Gelderland, past and present

Oral history stories about historical water management

Living with water and drought is not only an issue today but also in the past. What did you do as a farmer if the Slinge flooded? How did estates ensure sufficient water in canals and ponds? How did a copper mill work? What was water management like in the past and today?

Farmers, estate owners, (retired) employees, dike wardens, water board heirs, water millers and stream volunteers told their stories.

Map Tour oral history Living with water:

Since 2016, volunteers from the Oral History Working Group Gelderland have been recording life stories about historical water management in order to make the work of the water authorities (past and present) visible. All kinds of people have been interviewed: a laundry owner, volunteers who maintain streams and springs, estate owners, farmers, millers, people who experienced dike breaches up close. How did they live with water?

This is a special project because these stories have been recorded province-wide for the first time.
All the stories can be read via a map tour on the website of Landschapsbeheer Gelderland.

Stories from Gelderland

De oorspronkelijke boerderij Klein Amerika, die is afgebrand in 1944
The original Klein Amerika farm in Renkum, which burned down in 1944

Map tour of oral history stories of farmers, citizens and outsiders in Gelderland


Stories of farmers, citizens and outsiders in Gelderland: oral history stories from all over Gelderland collected and written by the volunteers of the Oral History Working Group Gelderland in 2014.


What did life in the Gelderland countryside look like in the past seventy years? Twenty-four personal stories paint a picture. From laundry day to slaughter, from sowing to harvesting and from going to school to marrying to increase one’s property; it is all covered in this publication. But also the shepherd and the miller tell about their lives and thus offer a glimpse into the rural development of the past years.



Tractor driving from the age of six, farmers who had more children than cows, haymaking leave and leave to look for lapwings’ eggs. But also ‘working your whole life for a small cupboard with a few things, the clothes you wear and a Bible’. These are a few examples of personal memories that give an impression of life in the countryside some seventy years ago.


In a family with a large and a small servant, a large and a small maid and eight children, one had to work hard to make ends meet. Everyone worked in the fields to bring in the harvest. The farmer’s wife and the maid were busy doing all the laundry on laundry day. And after the slaughter it was a week of roasting and preserving meat. Togetherness and noaberschap do not represent an idealisation of reality, but were indispensable in everyday life.


Developments such as the first ‘rietuug zonder peerde’, the influence of the leasing law and the relationship between Scholte farmers and their leaseholders are discussed. The same applies to the now topical theme of parents living at home and caring for each other across generations. Not only farmers tell their stories: a shepherd and a miller have also found a place in this publication. Their stories illustrate, among other things, the influence of mechanisation and land consolidation.


Much knowledge about historical farmyards and farm life has disappeared. Farmer’s wisdom, traditions and customs are fading away. The layout of farmsteads is changing. The countryside moves with the times and adapts to new functions. However, the cultural-historical landscape is important for a vital countryside where it is good to live, work and relax.


Several years ago, Stichting Landschapsbeheer Gelderland and Erfgoed Gelderland took the initiative to record life at farmsteads. Personal stories contribute to a greater understanding of the farmyard as a central part of the cultural-historical countryside. Volunteers from the Oral History Working Group Gelderland enthusiastically took to the roads and lanes: from Culemborg to Winterswijk and from Ederveen to Zelhem. They interviewed the country folk who lived and worked here over the past seventy years, resulting in this publication.

Cold War

Casemate at Arnhem, part of the IJssel Line © MartinD/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

During the Cold War, there was a threat of land invasion from the East. In Gelderland, the hostility between East (Soviet Union) and West (United States) left impressions. Witnesses tell about this special period (1945-1989) in oral history interviews.

The special, which ties in with the theme of the Erfgoedfestival 2020, contains stories that were recorded by the Werkgroep Oral History Gelderland.

Also included are stories from the municipality of Arnhem’s project on the Defensiehaven. The Defensiehaven was part of the IJssellinie: a defensive structure that was kept secret as much as possible until it was dismantled in the 1960s and beyond.

Defense Harbor


Oud-militairen vertellen, soms voor het allereerst, over hun ervaringen rondom deze geheime haven aan de Rijn.

De Defensiehaven was onderdeel van de IJssellinie: een waterlinie uit de Koude Oorlog die het land moest beschermen tegen een mogelijke invasie van de Sovjet Unie. De IJssellinie en daarmee de Arnhemse haven waren tot het einde van de Koude Oorlog uiterst geheim. Verhalen over deze tijd zijn daarom heel schaars.