Sint-Annablok, Biesenhof, Ter Rivieren … The children’s farm at the Rivierenhof in Deurne has different names. The farm’s history dates back to the 18th century, when Deurne was still “farmer’s country”.
The original farm was demolished at the end of the 19th century. A new house was built in its place, which, like the previous ones, was inhabited by tenant farmers who worked for the owners of the Rivierenhof castle at that time.
In 1921, the then county government purchased the entire range that is now the Rivierenhof, including the castle and farm. The farm was converted into an experimental farm where students of the neighboring Agricultural and Local School of Sciences, generally called the “Boerinnekess School”, learned the tricks of the trade.
The peasant girls have since disappeared, but today thousands of disciples from all over the county are still immersed in the farm life in the courtyard. For example, schools can take baking or cheese-making workshops and take a tour of the farm.
During Heritage Day on Sunday, April 24, which this year has the school heritage theme, the history of the petting zoo will be explained. Kee Van Den Eynde, a teacher in the province of Antwerp, gives us a preview of what to discover on Sunday.
Kee shows us a copy of a map of Ferraris from the end of the 18th century. The map turns green from the many meadows and fields that Deurne counted at the time. A dark spot can be seen in what is now Turnhoutsebaan: the original farm.
“We actually know very little about the farmers who lived and worked here,” says Key. ‘Except that they were probably all gardeners or tenants of the lords of the Rivierenhof castle. Only from 1891 can we say with certainty who lived here:. Then the peer of Hermanns and Theresia Bertels moved here. We know this thanks to their descendants, the Huyskens, who gave us Pictures from that time. Their story ends in 1921, when the province of Antwerp bought the park and everything that was part of it.”
At the same time, the county bought the Boechout Agricultural and Dairy School, which was located in the Rivierenhof. First in the guard house, from 1924 in the newly built schoolhouse next to the petting zoo where today the Avant Rivierenhof School of Regional Education is located.
“The school changed its name to the School of Agricultural and Local Sciences, but is generally referred to as the Boerinnekes School,” says Key. “On October 15, 1922, the first day of school began. The school was for the daughters of the farming families of Kempen. They had learned everything to be a good farmer’s wife: cooking, chopping, washing, ironing, but also making cheese, milking cows, taking care of animals, putting Vegetables in preserves, … “
Farmer Jean and Aaron
Practical lessons continued on the farm. “It was an extension of the school,” says Key. “Girls came from the Farmer’s School to milk the cows, maintain the vegetable garden, look after the animals, … Farmer Gus did the hard work, like plowing, who looked after the yard with his wife Anna and five sons. One of these sons was Jean, who took over from his parents in 1985. Many zoo visitors will remember him as Farmer Jan. He retired in 2018 and was succeeded by Farmer Aaron.”
In 1975 the farm was converted into a petting zoo, when the farm girls also left the adjacent school building. There is much more to say about the Rivierenhof’s petting zoo than just the story of its adorable residents.
If you want to know more, you can still register for a guided tour on Sunday 24 April at the website of the province of Antwerp.