A lovely little town on the Vaal river first established in 1872. Situated about 100km south-west from Johannesburg. Administratively its part of the Ngwathe municipality which encompasses Edenville, Heilbron, Koppies, Parys and Vredefort. GPS coordinates: 26.9008°S 27.4564°E elevation: 1400m.
We have been to it on numerous visits, what did we find there? And just to put it into a time slot, those visits were from 2009 to now, and are still continuing.
One of the attractions are the numerous antique shops which have been coming up over the years, also the art dealers are not far behind now. Unfortunately one thing they have not got right yet is that all these places close on Sunday after noon, and not only the antique shops and art dealers but also the cafes, restaurants and eateries. Thus don't think you can sip a cup of coffee at one of the places in Breestreet.
The little museum is well worth a visit. It is housed in the former magistrate's office erected in 1904. The building has been declared a national monument. It was built in the style of early colonial times in the 19th century.
Exhibits are about the history (human and natural) of the town and its surroundings and the way of life of the people in the earlier days. There are lots of documents, pictures and items of interest on exhibit. And looking at the picture, what else might be going on here?
The museum was opened in 1983 but closed in recent times because of lack of funding. Negotiations are underway to source new funding, this looks promising. The museum can still be visited, but by arrangement only. Iris Andrew is the curator and can be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the middle of town, unfortunately it is not very visible between all the surrounding houses. It is a beautiful white church building. The picture (from Ref 3) on the right shows the church not long after it had been built.
Initially when the town was started the members of the NG church came under the congregation of Heilbron. In 1884 the Parys congregation seceded from the Heilbron church, but it was not until 1890 that they got their own minister, that was T.C.Dönges, who got to work and organised that a provisional church (in the text in Ref 3 referred to as a 'Nootkerk') was build. Work on the present church started in 1899 with completion whilst the Boer War was already under way. The inauguration was mainly attended by the woman and children, since the eligible men had all been called to fight in the war. When the British took over the town they used the church as a fort.
At the end of town, going out towards Vredefort, is the old cemetery on the right. In the north east corner, furthest away from the gate is the really old section of the grave yard. Here is the grave of Sylvia Blanch Lee, who had come out from Canada to help with the Boer War refugees. She died in Parys on the 6 March 1903. More about why she was here and what she did can be gathered from a short transcipt by Ria Myburgh of the Parys Museum.
THE DEATH OF MISS SYLVIA LEË
(by Ria Myburgh)
The sad news of Miss Syliva Lee’s tragic death was conveyed in a small article to her hometown community in Canada, by the Waterloo Advertiser on page three of the April 11th, 1903 edition.
The article read as follows:
“The community was profoundly grieved Sunday by the sad news that Miss Sylvia Lee, who went to South Africa nearly a year ago as one of the party of Canadian teachers engaged by the British Government, had died of enteric fever at Parys, near Bloefontein. A cablegram was received by the family on Friday, announcing that she was dangerously ill. Another cable followed the next day, saying that she had died.
The deceased, who was in her 21st year, was the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R.W. Lee of Brandon, Manitoba and grand daughter of the late Von Arondson Lindsay, with whose family she lived from an early age.
She was educated at Waterloo Academy and McGill Normal School. She was a successful teacher in Cookshire Academy from which she resigned in order to go to South Africa last April.
Miss Lee was a bright, clever girl, with a cheerful and amiable disposition, kind hearted and loyal to her friends and was also a general favourite. Her death comes with all the force of a personal bereavement to many friends.
A memorial service was held in St. Luke’s Church, Wednesday afternoon at three o’clock. The church was filled with a sad and sympathetic congregation. The Rev. T.B. Jenkins, who preached an appropriate discourse, was assisted in the solemn service by the Rev. James Carmichael of Koowiton, the Rev. R. Emmett of West Shefford and the Rev. Mr. Pratt of Montreal. So far as known the remains of Miss Lee will not be brought home.”
Also in this section of the cemetery is the grave of Dr.Brode, the first medical doctor who settled in Parys, and the grave of Adolf Johannes van Coller who was family of the original farm owners on which Parys was established.
P.S.: On a visit in October 2014 it was noticed that the old part of the graveyard is in an absolutely shocking state. Rubbish is being dumped there and by a number of holes dug one comes to the conclusion that grave robbers are at work here.
I am trying to formulate suitable words describing how I feel about this, but cannot come up with anything printable. I am totally disgusted with the people doing this and I am also disgusted with the authorities who tolerate this and possibly are even privy to it. No respect for the dead and no respect for the environment
I have a fascination with old, unused rail lines and installations.
Parys also has a railway station, the trains stopped running. It was a branch line connecting Vredefort, Parys to Dover station on the main line from Vereeniging to Kroonstad. When we first got there, some years ago, the station building was a sorrow sight, no window frames, half the roof missing and full of shit (yes, literally).
Things have changed for the better, a rail contractor has bought the building and is restoring it to its former beauty, using it as his home office. The unfortunate part is that because it is now private property there is a big fence around it. We have found this not to be a hindrance, the security guard is very accommodating and will gladly show you, the genuine tourist, around.
There is more about the station and the rails in redundant rails.
Some of the inhabitants of Parys recognised very early that with the river they had a potential holiday destination. And started projects to enhance this potential. One of the early developments was a pedestrian bridge over the channel to give access to the island. As the inscription says it was built in 1919.
In my younger years I remember that we crossed this bridge in order to occupy a picnic spot close to the river, finding places where one could swim, like in this picture showing me and the dog in about 1968.
The bridge is not in use now, it is actually blocked off on the far end. This is because the island has been taken over by the golf club and they would not want people to take a short cut onto the fairway to play a free game. Its a pity that the island is not available any more for picnicking.
Strictly speaking this shop is not part of Parys, because it is on the other side of the river. I am referring to the shop of Mr.Jalalpor on the far side of the bridge over the Vaal. Its a general dealer, Mr Jalalpor has been in the shop since the 1930th. Either his shop or the building next door was the original customs house, this used to be an international border between the Free State and the Transvaal. Talk to him when he is not serving customers, he has lots of stories to tell going back to the time when Indians were not allowed in the Freestate, that is Parys. He had to have a day pass to enter the town from time to time.
P.S.: Mr Jalalpor died in Sept 2014, his son is now running the shop.
Just over the mountain from Parys towards Vredefort is a monument to the ammunition wagon explosion. It cost the life of Frans Jooste who is buried at this spot.
The background to this is that Christiaan de Wet, coming back from the Transvaal after fighting the battle of Frederikstad wanted to return to the Free State but found the drifts over the Vaal mostly blocked by British troops. He had to make a run for it and managed to cross at the farm Witbank not far from Parys. In his book (Ref 2) he mentions that a wagon containing four boxes of dynamite was hit by canon fire and blew up. The drivers had before this happened already out-spanned the oxen and no other harm came about. There is an other version of the event, a transcript made available by the Parys museum describes the event in more detail. The two drivers, the Jooste brothers, abandoned the wagon when it became clear that the English were aiming for it. Nothing is said about that they out-spanned the oxen. When they were about 50 steps from the wagon Frans decided to return to fetch his jacket, at that very moment the wagon was hit and he died instantly. It is reported that the next day pieces of his body were picked up and buried in the crater made by the explosion. This is the exact point where the monument has been erected. One of the oxen was killed outright and the other one was badly injured and had run off with the remnants of the wagon.
Just outside Parys, on the road to Vredefort, is a monument on the right side of the road. It has been erected by friends of GG Philips, he was hit by lightening and died on this spot on the 26-November-1906. Obviously he was popular amongst his friends for them to erect this structure. Who was GG Philips?
He came to South Africa with the British army during the Boer War and stayed on after hostilities had seized. He worked in Parys as a Assistant Resident Magistrate. At the time of his death at the age of 29 he was on his way from Vredefort, where he attended court, to Parys when the cart he was traveling in was hit by a bolt of lightening.
Ref 1: 'Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa', 1972
Ref 2: Christiaan Rudolf de Wet,'Three Years' War', CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS, 1902
Ref 3: 'Ons Kerk Album van Hollandsche Kerken en Leeraren', publisher: unknown, printed 1917