Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa


  • SMITS, Jeroen / a.k.a. Jerome (active 1910-1930) — A cousin of the van der Rijn family, Smits emigrated to Agincourt circa 1910 to work at the Kraus Foundry. It is possible he had some architectural experience in Amsterdam, because several credible designs issued from KBI during the years 1910-1930. The line between architecture and engineering was less finely drawn a hundred years ago.

This afternoon, I nearly missed having a long conversation with someone preparing promotional material about the the architecture department at NDSU. It’s been that sort of day, though you needn’t know what lies beneath it. Things have had a way of working out—until they don’t. In the meantime, a new character joined the Agincourt cast. Actually, he was always there; I just hadn’t noticed.

Jeroen Smits has become my link with the Amsterdam School. Many of you may be unacquainted with that important design movement, one of three dominant schools of architectural thought in the Netherlands in the early years of the 20th century. The others are interesting in their ways, academically, but it is the Amsterdam perspective that holds my attention, partly from a stylistic point of view but also because it is so closely entwined with the architectural expression of Democratic Socialism in that city during the early years of the century.

The two other Dutch perspectives are linked with the Modernism and Traditionalism. The poster child for Expressionist Amsterdam, however, is Michel de Klerk, though there are several others like Piet Kramer, Johan van der Mey, and less familiar names like Boeyinga and Wijdeveld. [I learned of Berend Tobia Boeyinga a few months ago with great pleasure.] But it was de Klerk who drew me to Amsterdam more than forty years ago and brought me back several times since.

There’s scarce little chance that de Klerk-like brickwork will find a place on Broad Street, or that van der Mey’s wrought iron could have been the source for the wreathes on the public library (I’m very sad to say). But someone schooled in those crafts might be Agincourt’s link to a peculiar brand of Modernism with little traction here in the U.S.

I’ve had visions of diluted Amsterdam School elements here and there and wondered how that could have occurred. Enter Jeroen Smits, who may have had a hand in the design of the Northwest Iowa Traction Company maintenance building near the “Industry” station on the city’s southwest trolley loop.

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