Nieuwendam, Amsterdam, annexed former village


The former village of Nieuwendam (New Dam) dates from the time when a new dike and a new dam were created here after a dike breach in 1514. The dam had a lock in the small peat river Kleine Die. Life here was mostly about trade, ship building and the transport to the city of dairy produce from the areas behind the dike. Fishermen, ferry owners, merchants and ship builders built houses, warehouses and wharfs here. From 1450 until around 1570 ships went over sea from Nieuwendam to trade in grain and peat. In 1573 the Spanish army destroyed all buildings in Nieuwendam as well as the dikes. The village was rebuilt after 1581.

View along the Nieuwendammerdijk, Amsterdam-Noord

View along the Nieuwen­dammer­dijk (June 2022).

Nieuwendam grew as a string development along the Water­landse Zeedijk (Waterland Sea Dike) and is now a neigh­bor­hood in Amsterdam-Noord. This part of the dike (1.8 km or 1.12 mi long) was named Nieuwen­dammer­dijk in 1924. The old polder lock is still here and there’s a small marina. The village was origi­nally located between the pastures to the north and the water of the IJ to the south. With western and northern winds the small harbor provided a safer (and cheaper) anchorage for sailing ships than the Amsterdam harbor and it was a favorite spot for storing ships in winter.

At Nieuwendammerdijk 300-308 are 5 neo-classicist houses from 1875, built for patients of famous physiotherapist Johan Georg Metzger (1838-1909), who worked from the Amstel Hotel. Among his patients were Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi), Baron de Rothschild and Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon). He received the lots as a gift from Swedish princess Sophia of Sweden, as thanks for treating her oldest son Gustav.

The area was annexed by Amsterdam in 1921 and has been designated as a protected national heritage site since 2014. During the summer months there is a historic ferry on Sundays (IJ-buurtveer, operated by volunteers), leaving from the pier near the EYE Film Museum. It does a lovely 2.5 hour roundtrip of the IJ (hop on hop off), also stopping at Café ‘t Sluisje. Look for a sign with the words “IJ-Buurtveer Sega”. (NL only).

The village of Nieuwendam, detail of a 1749 map by Covens and Mortier

Under the lens the village of Nieuwen­dam, detail of a 1749 map by Covens & Mortier (Allard Pierson, Special Collections UvA).

Waterlandse Zeedijk

After the reclamation of the area had started in the 10th century, the peat land (which had previously been above sea level) started to subside more and more, making protection from the water of the Zuiderzee a necessity. People started to build dikes here from the 12th century on. In 1288, under the Count of Holland, a better dike was built to protect the region from the water of the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea, now a lake called IJssel­meer), from Monnickendam in the north to Oostzaan in the west, but the inland peat lakes to the north of it still had an often open connection to the Zuiderzee.

Detail of a map from 1573 of Noord-Holland and West-Frisia by Christiaan Sgrooten

Detail of a map from 1573 by Christiaan Sgrooten. It shows how big the IJ estuary was (almost reaching the coast in the west near Beverwijk) and the size of the peat lakes north of Amsterdam.

The dike ran along the IJ estuary and the land bordering on the Zuiderzee. There were frequent breaches, until in 1932 the Zuiderzee was closed off by the Afsluitdijk. Before that time, any big north­western storm would push the water into the shallower parts of the IJ estuary and cause dangerously high waters. Every dike breach expanded the Zuiderzee and filled the big peat lakes.

Café ‘t Sluisje & the Nieuwendam Lock

Café ‘t Sluisje (Bar the Lock) is located in a building from 1565, with a terrace on the Nieuwendam harbor. The bar (from 1904) was bought in 2017 by a collective of inhabitants. It got its name from the small lock beside it, the waterway connection between the ditches of the Waterland area and the IJ from 1516 on. Until the end of the 19th century this was still open water, now the harbor is connected to the IJ by a canal, which runs through the poldered-in area to the south of it (Nieuwen­dammer­ham).

Waterland milk barge on the IJ, Amsterdam, detail of a painting by Aernout Smit

Women (and one man, wearing a woolen hat) rowing on the water of the IJ towards Amsterdam on a Waterland milk barge, near Volewijck (a previous headland protruding into the IJ). Detail of a painting by Aernout Smit (1656-1710).

Milk Barges

For over 300 years barges from Waterland crossed the IJ every day to deliver their produce in Amsterdam, until around 1900. In the 17th and 18th century the men of Waterland often were away for months on seafaring ships, leaving the women and girls to take care of the work on the farms. These women were tough: after milking the cows in the morning, they transported the milk in small boats over the peat ditches to the lock in Nieuwendam. In the Nieuwendam harbor the cargo was transferred from the small boats to bigger barges, which would then be rowed across the waves of the IJ — regardless of the weather — to the milk market at Prins Hendrikkade.

Harbor view in Amsterdam with Schreierstoren and Waterland milk barge, painting by J.A. Rust

Harbor view in Amsterdam with Schreierstoren and Waterland milk barge, painting from around 1875 by J.A. Rust (1828-1915).

A large part of the milk was sold to merchants, but these milk maids also sold door-to-door, carrying two large milk tubs on a yoke, while walking many miles in the city. At the end of the day they faced another two and half hour boat journey back home.

Waterland milkmaid in Amsterdam around 1700 and milkmaid selling to an Amsterdam maid

Left: Waterland milkmaid in Amsterdam around 1700 (Rijks­museum).
Right: A milkmaid sells to an Amsterdam maid, lithograph from 1828 by Hendrik Greeven (1787-1854) (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

Nieuwendam Photo Gallery (June 2022)

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