Frederiksoord and Willemsoord, respectively 6 km north-east and 6 km north-west of Steenwijk, are well-preserved examples of the Dutch pauper colonies that aroused interest in many other European countries in the first half of the 19th century.
The depression that followed the end of the Napoleonic wars led to an increase in pauperism, and in 1816-17 a charitable society, the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid was formed in The Hague with the object of purchasing land on the heathlands of Drenthe and Overijssel provinces for the settlement of paupers. One of the society’s founders was General Johannes van der Bosch (1780-1844) who had experience as a colonial administrator in the East Indies. The two colonies, together with Wilheminaoord, 10 km north of Steenwijk, were established in 1818-20. Plots of 3 ha, considered sufficient for the support of a family of six, were laid out, and each family was provided with a house and a cow together with free educational facilities and medical care.
Much labour was expended in making the land cultivable, and in improving the navigation of the River Aa through to the Zuyder Zee (Ijsselmeer). Bricks were made from clay on the spot and mortar was manufactured by burning sea shells with turf from the heathlands, and most cottages were roofed with reed thatch. Sheds were constructed to accommodate hand looms. General van der Bosch is commemorated by the Hoeve van der Bosch, the principal building at Willemsoord, a huge traditional farm building that stands by the elegant church of 1851.The plots and farmhouses were laid out on grid plans.
At Williamsoord two types of farmhouse can be distinguished, both rectangular in plan, extending back from narrow road frontages, one with the entrance to the front and a semi-hipped roof, the other with an entrance on one side and an outshot on the other.
Frederiksoord was notable for a school of agriculture, horticulture and forestry established in 1884 by Gerard Adriaan van Swieten. The gardens remain but the school moved to Meppel in 2005. A small museum at Frederiksoord has displays illustrating the history of the colonies.