UNDER CONSTRUCTION, this could take a while
Kroonstad a town on the Valsch River in the Northern Free State, geo position: 27.662°S, 27.233°E and 1361m altitude. Founded in 1855, it was the first town established in the Free State north of Winburg. According to Wikipedia it had 111000 people living there in 1991.
The seeds for the establishment of a town are found in the Winburg congregation of the NG church (Dutch Reformed Church). The Winburg congregation
covered a huge area, all the way north to the Vaal. People living that far from their church could only attend Sunday services occasionally, that was
usually for 'nagmaal' (holy communion). Some farmers in the area had got together to conduct services in their homes. It was already in 1852 that the
people in the area decided that they should built a church. In 1854 the Volksraad (peoples council, parliament) instructed the magistrate of Winburg,
Joseph Orpen, to search for a suitable place. A town was proclaimed and the first stands went on sale on the 30 April 1855, that was the beginning of
Where does the name come from? Ref 1 and various webpages in the internet mention two possibilities, named after a horse owned by Sarel Cilliers or a person referred to as 'lang Adriaan' or it is named after Cronstadt in Russia. Ref 2 also mentions this, here is the translated passage about this subject: It is fairly certain that Kroonstad was named after Kroonspruit, the drift near the village where 'ou Kroon', the horse of Sarel Cilliers had an accident during the days of the trek. The faithful animal stepped into a crack and was so badly injured it had to be shot. That way Kroonspruit and later Kroonstad are a reminder of this horse. It is also possible that the earlier spelling was Cronstadt refers to the Russian naval fortress Cronstadt in the golf of Finland. It was making headlines at the time because of a naval battle between Russia and England. But as much as this explains the earlier spelling, I have no doubt that the naming of Kronstad was to commemorate the name of Sarel Cilliers horse. I checked on the topographic map, there is a Kroonspruit which leads into the Blomspruit and from there into the Vals River. There is also a farm called Kroonspruit and also a farm called Kroondrift just to the south of Kronstad.
It should be a busy railway station, but it is not. The decline in rail traffic has had its affect on the station. The once proud station building is a burned out ruin. I am not sure the railway still offers passenger service here.
Kroonstad is at the cross roads, the north-south line connecting Cape Town and Johannesburg, there is line connection to the Natal coast through Bethlehem and the line through Viljoenskroon to Kleksdorp. This last one I know only goes up to Vierfontein, the bridge over the Vaal is not useable.
The large goods terminal, if still in action, looks totally underutilised. Access to it was through an open and unguarded gate.
The railway 'came to town' in 1892. That was the line driven at much haste from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg.
p.s.: I may have to correct this last sentence. Driving past there, Jan 2020, I noticed a fair amount of activity at the good terminal. Perhaps it has been revived somewhat.
One of the early official buildings that survived till today. Built in 1878 it not only served for the court but also the magistrate and the police. The police cells are behind, not used as such any-more. Part of the building is used today by an attorneys office, it is thus still to some degree used to serve the law.
The first church was built
in 1862, it was very basic, dung floor, thatched roof and no chairs or benches. It did serve a second purpose during the Basuto war (1865) when it was
fortified for the protection of the inhabitants of Kroonstad.
By 1877 the congregation was financially strong enough to erect a proper church. The design for it was by Carl Otto Hager, an architect from Dresden in Germany. He was well known around the Cape for his neo-gothic designs.
This second church was demolished and a new bigger church erected in its place, that is the church still in use today. The architect was WH Ford, who has been the designer of a number of churches and buildings in the Cape, Free State and the Transvaal. The church in Frankfort was also his design. There are similarities between these two buildings, the large dome is a central feature in both churches.
In the tower is the bell. What is interesting about this is the date it was cast, on the bell it states 1871. This means the bell did service already in the first church. It was made at Warner & Sons in London.
It is very difficult to take a picture of the church because of its location in the middle of a busy town. Thus I rather present a picture taken shortly
after the inauguration in 1904.
The congregation was founded in 1897, initially they had their services in the magistrates office and later in the town hall.
Saint Andrew's Presbyterian church was the 3rd of three churches designed by the Till brothers (JH and AE Till) for the English speaking congregations of Kroonstad.
The stained glass windows attracted attention. The one in the picture is on the head side of the church, consisting of three panels. The writing at the bottom: "In memory of Rev.WJ Warnock BD, who founded this congregation in 1897. Presented by the Sunday School."
Full name is St Georges Anglican Church.It was inaugurated in April 1904 by the Bishop of Bloemfontein. The design was done by the Till brothers who were also responsible for the design of the two other English churches, see Presbyterian and Methodist church. Not sure how much design they actually had to do in this case. A note found in the records states "St George's is an exact copy of the All Saints St. Margrite Church in London'. Also interesting to read that the plans for a new church were already made whilst the Anglo Boer war was still raging. A committee was chosen in August 1901 already to plan for a new building.
The present church had a forerunner, it was a small church constructed of timber and corrugated iron with brick lining around the outside and ceiling boards. It measured 34 by 18 feet and was erected in 1892 at a cost of £400.
The first Methodist minister was Rev Charles Harman, who came here in July 1874. He laid the foundation stone for the first chapel in 1875. With time the chapel became too small and the congregation moved to a hall donated by the municipality. The proceeds from the sale of the chapel (£500) were used to enlarge the hall in 1895.
A new church, the present one, was built and opened in November 1903. A neo-Gothic design, the architects were JH and AE Till.
To get over the Vals river there was a drift about where the Alexandra bridge is now. The bridge was built and completed in 1905, it was named after the wife of king George of Britain and it was the cause of some quarrels in town.
When the bridge was first conceived it was agreed that the costs would be split 50/50 between Public Works of the Free State and the town. To help the town pay its share Public Works would loan them the money of about £5000 for three years. There is a letter from 1907 where Public Works demands that it be paid. But the matter was allowed to drag on. In 1911 the council decided to sell stands on the south-side of the river to pay their debt. For that they had to get approval from the rate payers and they gave a clear 'no' and in fact passed a motion of no confidence. The whole council resigned and new elections had to be called.
A reason for the refusal to pay for the bridge was that many people still preferred to use the drift rather than the bridge. The bridge is very narrow and there have been incidents when animals crossing got into panic and in fact there is at least one report where an animal jumped over the railings falling to its death at the rocks below.
The new council proposed that the town borrows £5373 to pay Public Works and strange they had no problem getting this approved by the rate payers.
In the church yard is a big statue of Sarel Cilliers. It is there because he played a major part in the early history of Kroonstad. But foremost because he was the author of the vow that was made before the battle of Bloodriver in 1838. At the time he was the spiritual leader of the Voortrekkers. For the later part of his life he lived at Doornkloof.
Ref 1.: Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Nasou Limited, 1974
Ref 2.: G.B.A.Gerdener, 'Sarel Cilliers - Die Vader van Dingaansdag', 1919
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Ref 3.: Dot Serfontein, 'Keurskrif vir Kroonstad', Perskor, 1990. A chronicle of the founding, growth and future of a Free State town.
Ref 4.: PJ Nienaber, CJP le Roux & Etiene Botha, "Vrystaat Fokus", CUM Boeke, 1982