It developed in the 16th century as a transport and distribution inland harbour for turf. There used to be a lot of waterways in the town, but now only one remains.
People born in Meppel are occasionally referred to as 'Meppeler Muggen'; this translates as mosquitos/gnats from Meppel. This is due to a traditional folk tale. The people of Meppel thought the church tower was on fire. After closer inspection it was only a swarm of mosquitos.