Haarlem Lake, or Haarlemmer Meer, as it was called, is now a commune of the province of North Holland, and was so constituted by law in 1855. It embraces an area of 185 sq km (71.5 sq. mi), and has a population of about 140,000 souls.
The history of this district is the history of many parts of Holland. In 1531, Haarlemmer Meer was a lake covering 6,340 acres. It had for near neighbours three other sheets of water, Leyden Lake (Leidsche Meer), Spiering Lake (Spiering Meer) and the Old Lake (Oude Meer), covering 7,600 acres. In accordance with the usual course of events, these restless waters warred against the low, marshy lands by which they were surrounded, and by successive tempests and inundations the four gradually became merged into a great inland sea, which, in 1740, covered 42,000 acres. As early as 1643, schemes for draining this area were put forward; but the requisite determination for so great and costly an enterprise was not obtained until fifty years since.
In November, 1836, a hurricane drove the waters over the land eastwards, until they washed the gates of Amsterdam, and in December of the same year, a second tempest, this time from the north, flooded the streets of Leyden. This brought matters to a crisis, and in 1840 a law was passed dooming Haarlemmer Meer to extinction. To pass the law was easy ; to execute the mandate involved a task great for even the wonderful water engineers of Holland.
The lake had to be surrounded by a canal, to serve the double purpose of waterway for the traffic hitherto carried across the lake, and to receive the waters when the pumping should begin. The traveller from Amsterdam sees this fine waterway running mile after mile by the side of the railway. This work took five years, and enclosed a water area of somewhat more than seventy square miles.
The average depth was thirteen feet, and it was computed that 1000 millions of tons of water had to be removed. The first engine constructed was built by a London firm ; and cost, with the plant, ,36,000. It was able to discharge 1,000,000 tons of water every 25^ hours.
Later on, two other engines were added. The pumping began in 1848, and by the middle of 1852 the bed of the lake was dry. The total cost of the work was ; 1,080,000, and the 42,000 acres of recovered soil were sold for ^780,000, so that the cost of the work to the nation was only ; 300,000. Roads now traverse in all directions, and farm houses stand upon the spots over which the boats of the Hollanders carried provisions by night to the beleaguered burghers of Haarlem in 1573, and where, upon the ice during that awful winter Spaniard and Dutchman met in deadly fight.