Wageningen has always been a good place to live. The museum documents the local history of five thousand years. The first settlers found fertile ground between two moraines from the ice age - the Grebbeberg and the Wageningse Berg - and with the Rhine at the door they had good connections to the rest of the world.
Because of its strategic location Wageningen was granted city rights as early as the 13th century. To strengthen the city Duke Charles of Guelders built a castle shortly after 1500.
An imposing 17th-century model of the fortified town with its moat, walls, towers and castle makes up the centerpiece of the history room of the museum.
After the destruction of the castle by French troops in 1672 the then lord of the castle, Baron Adolph Lubbert Torck, built a new castle on the foundations of the old one.
In the basement of the museum can be seen the remains of the gatehouse of Torck’s castle.
Torck was a great politician and at the same time a sharp businessman, a figure of regional and national reputation. In Wageningen he several times held the post of mayor. He had the streets improved, provided street lighting, had wells dug for safe drinking water, founded a Latin school and had an impressive number of mansions built. Torck made eighteenth-century Wageningen a place of elegance, a town with high potential.
But during the following century, this potential was not fulfilled. Although there were cigar factories for the processing of the locally grown tobacco and in the floodplains of the Rhine there was an extensive brick industry, the inhabitants had little benefit from these early industrial developments.
The work was usually very simple in nature and the wages were correspondingly low. The social conditions of the workers were often very poor.
In the meantime the new employment led to an increase in population. To create more space, the walls and gates around the city were demolished. On the ramparts a town park was constructed. Slowly but surely new initiatives took place in the social and cultural fields providing a high school, a theater, a hospital, churches and a synagogue.
The turning point in Wageningen’s modern history took place in 1876. That year the Dutch government decided to establish state agricultural education and to build the first agricultural school in Wageningen. The location of Wageningen – at the heart of the country, surrounded by a wide variety of soils – had been crucial for this political decision.
While brick factories and cigar industry disappeared from Wageningen during the twentieth century, education and research in the field of agriculture grew considerably. In fact, the university and related research institutes developed into a world known centre of life sciences. Nowadays Wageningen’s social and cultural situation is firmly characterized by the omnipresence of scientific staff and students. The town itself has more or less become a well equipped campus site.