Stellenbosch - Historical Residences and National Monuments

1. Libertas Parva – this H-shaped, elegant Cape Dutch mansion was built by Lambertus Fick and dates back to 1783. This Dorp Street residence was once the home of the Krige family, whose daughter Sybella (“Issie”) met, charmed and then married Jan Christiaan Smuts while he was a student lodging diagonally opposite at Ackermannhuis. They were married in the left front room of Libertas Parva on the 30th April 1897 by his Theology Professor, J I Marais.

Libertas Parva has also played host to other famous figures – Cecil Rhodes, the clever “Onze Jan” Hofmeyer, and Cape Premier John X Merriman. The complex, its period character preserved, contains an art gallery and a museum.

Libertas Parva is one of the most impressive Stellenbosch buildings in Cape Dutch style – the remarkable balance of Haupt’s street facade, the imposing gable, and the two front neo-Georgian doors. Lambertus Fick probably added the four elegant end-gables after 1819. When viewing the building from the southern side, it is noticeable that the back leg of the H is longer than the front one – probably developed later as such for utilitarian reasons.

The Rembrandt Group bought the whole complex in 1969 and today it houses the Rembrandt Van Rijn Art Gallery, one of the country’s finest private art collections, and the Stellenryck Wijn Museum. The art gallery has displays of famous South African artists, including the talented painter Irma Stern, sculptor Anton van Wouw and his painter godson Jacob Pierneef. The Stellenryck Wijn Museum is situated in the original wine cellar, its old vats, presses and implements telling the story of wine-making through the ages. Among the more rare exhibits are a wine jug from Biblical Israel, Greek and Roman amphorae, a Scandinavian beaker and some fine examples of early furniture and glassware, including bottles from the Dutch-ruled Cape of the 18th Century.

2. Oude Rozenhof – one of the most conspicuous and decorative buildings in Dorp Street, Oude Rozenhof was built during the period when English Edward VII was on the throne. Previously, J H Neethling’s father had built a home in 1826 on his allocated part of the old farm Weidenhof. Jan Henoch Neethling was born that same year – rumour has it that he was born in the slave quarters as the house was not yet complete. Sections of the old Neethling home are still recognisable in the present Oude Rozenhof, built in 1905. It was constructed as a hotel, The National Hotel, near Bosman’s Crossing railway line, a stop for people wishing to board for a trip to Cape Town. A small complication arose when the hotel could not obtain a liquor licence, so the facility became a hostel for young women who had arrived in Stellenbosch to study music, cake icing and deportment.
Because of its location being a little distance from central Stellenbosch, many of the girls sought alternative accommodation and the condition of Oude Rozenhof slowly deteriorated. The building has recently been restored and again houses young women, but who have now transport, unlike days gone by.

Of note are its stucco embellishments and white mouldings around doors and windows – standard on any dignified building in the first part of the 20th Century. The turret, similar to those on the houses of Marais and Gonin in Van Riebeeck Street, were considered to be stylish and must have finishes. Of note, too, is the rounded fanlight and an exceptional arched gateway, all adding allure to an already fascinating Dorp Street.

3. Oom Samie se Winkel – located in Dorp Street, “Uncle Samie’s Shop” takes one back to the early 20th century to the days of the old general dealer who stocked everything that was needed by a family of the time. One of the more popular tourist attractions in Stellenbosch, the shop was one of the first trading stores in Stellenbosch. It was owned by Oom Samie Volsteedt from 1907 – Oom Samie was apparently well-loved due to his kind-heartedness and generosity. During the years it was given various facelifts and now sports an attractive Victorian look, what with its pavement veranda and delicate cast-iron tracery.

For a supreme olfactory experience, step inside to be greeted by scents of tobacco, dried fish, tanned leather and a variety of spices. Stocked to the roof rafters, the shop can offer the tourist everything from ostrich eggs and other curios to lacework and home-made preserves. A quaint tea garden is located at the back of the premises.

4. Gratitude – Rev Meent Borcherds arrived in South Africa in 1785 with little more than a gold coin to the value of 11 shillings on him. He received a meagre salary of £75 a year, and with careful financial management was eventually able to purchase a piece of land that bordered the Eerste River in 1795. With further saving, he managed to build his beautiful home in 1798.

La Gratitude is truly a magnificent example of Cape Dutch domestic architecture – Borcherds’ artistic flair and education in classical culture equipped him with the necessary skills to build a gabled house of such perfect proportions. The gable bears the all-seeing eye of God, surrounded by an aureole, placed above the gable window.

In 1932, La Gratitude became the property of Mr W Winshaw, who arrived in South Africa from Kentucky in the United States of America in 1900 managing 4 000 American mules destined for British forces. Deciding to stay in South Africa, he began trading as a wine merchant. In 1925, he founded the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, which later merged with Distillers to form Distell, the largest firm in the South African liquor trade. It was probably during his time that La Gratitude was expanded with the addition of rooms on both sides of the original street frontage.

La Gratitude today hosts “The Big Easy Restaurant & Wine Bar”, set up in the original homestead, and owned by Ernie Els & Jean Engelbrecht –“The Big Easy Restaurant & Wine Bar” was named after Ernie’s inimitable golfing style which became his popular nickname. Featuring cutting-edge design and décor, the new premises in the old homestead delivers a comfortable and relaxing environment in which wine lovers can kick back and enjoy the outstanding wines of the Stellenbosch area, wines of friends and neighbouring producers, and some of the finest French Champagnes.

5. Die Braak – this spacious village green once played host to meetings and festivals, feasts and games, and occasionally still fulfils this function. It was used as such particularly at the time of the year when Simon van der Stel’s birthday was celebrated (14th October), usually with a fete and open market. Die Braak (fallow land) was commissioned in 1703 as a parade ground for the Cape settlement’s burgher militia, and for some time, its military origins were underlined by the firing of a cannon from the nearby Kruithuis. The same was the Dutch East India Company’s arsenal or powder magazine.

The only building on Die Braak is a church – St Mary’s on the Braak, a late 19th Century thatched-roof Anglican Church. The reason that no other building has been erected on this site follows a pact made with God in 1811 when Stellenbosch had an earthquake – all the inhabitants ran out on to the open area and prayed to God: “You save us and we will keep this land vacant”. The pact has been upheld to this day.

Die Braak has seen its fair share of sporting activities – cricket was the most popular sport and a pitch was laid in the centre of the open ground. By 1870, the village had five cricket clubs. But cricket was stopped when Nico Theunissen (the first Stellenbosch “Springbok”, who played against the cisiting MCC in 1888) kept hitting the ball through the front window of the jewellery shop belonging to Mr Bastiaanse. Cricket was followed by athletics and then rugby.

Since its commissioning, Die Braak has had many different names: “Exercitie Plein”, King’s Square, Queen’s Square and Adderley Square. But no matter whatever names the Town council gave it, to the people of Stellenbosch, it will always lovingly be known as Die Braak.

6. The Rhenish Church – this beautiful thatched building’s east nave was built in 1823 by Het Stellenbossche Medewerkende Zendelingsgenootschap as a place of education and worship for slaves. The classicist eastern gable was almost a replica of the western gable of the Moederkerk before the latter was remodelled in the neo-Gothic style in 1863. The new building was commissioned in February 1824 by Rev Meent Borcherds. Also attending were Lord Charles Somerset, Rev Erasmus Smit and the Wesleyan missionary, James Archbell. When Erasmus Smit was followed by Rev Luckhoff, the congregation grew so rapidly that in 1840, a north wing had to be added.

The original pulpit, made in 1703, was donated by the Groote Kerk of Cape Town to the Rhenish Church at the request of the Stellenbosch missionary Society. When the Moederkerk in Drostdy Street, Stellenbosch was converted into the neo-Gothic style, they donated their baroque pulpit, built by master carpenter Londt of Cape Town, to the Rhenish congregation (their 1703 pulpit was probably pretty rickety by this time) – this magnificent and ornate Londt pulpit still stands proud today.

7. The Rhenish Institute – The Rhenish Institute was originally a large single-storey building, having been built well before 1817. The Anglican, Rev F Carlyon had acquired it by 1850, but Rev G Terlinden, a Rhenish missionary, bought the dwelling to house the Rhenish Girls’ Boarding School, the same having been founded in 1860. After a few alterations, the first 12 girls were able to move into the new school and hostel. As the school grew, further alterations were made: the entrance was changed to face Die Braak, the sides were extended and a new storey was added. These additions occurred between 1880 and 1890.

Rhenish Primary and Rhenish Girls High School (the oldest high school for girls in South Africa) celebrates 150 years of existence in 2010. The two schools now have their own school and hostel buildings elsewhere in Stellenbosch. The Rhenish Institute is an elegant building and stands as a monument to the tenacity and foresight of a few men of faith who believed in their calling – Rev Terlinden actually bought the building and then offered it to the Rhenish Institute as a gift.

8. The Kruithuis – the VOC Kruithuis, in all its white-washed glory, stands on an island between the former Rhenish Primary School and Burgher House, alongside Die Braak. It is perhaps the most recognisable of all Stellenbosch buildings. It was erected in 1777 as the Company’s arsenal and gunpowder house, with the builder being Michael Rambusch of Danzig, under commission of Philip Hartog and Lambert Fick.

The building features a neo-Classical bell-tower. As security was an issue, the structure was built for protection – the walls are almost 70 cm thick, the roof is vaulted for added protection and the building is surrounded by a high wall and handsome arched gateways. Although not used as an arsenal today, its military origins are reflected in the display of antique firearms, edged weapons and sundry VOC memorabilia of the Dutch period and beyond.

In times past, especially during military parades, a canon used to be fired from the Kruithuis, underlining its military purpose.

9. The Burgher House – Now housing the headquarters of the Historical Homes of South Africa and serving as a museum, the home was originally built by Antonie Fick and completed in 1797. It was used initially and for some time as the local landdrost’s house, but was then bought by Rev P D Luckhoff in 1839 to be used as his parsonage for nearly 40 years. When he retired, the Rhenish Missionary Society bought it from him to be used as a parsonage for their missionaries, but gradually the condition of the house deteriorated until finally it was donated to the State in1952 and then the Municipality in 1959. It was well restored and let on long lease to the Rembrandt Tobacco Company, who used to have their board meetings in this historic setting.

As a museum currently, the building boasts a fine collection of old furniture, glassware and ceramics. In terms of design, the main gable is a fine example of neo-Classical style of decoration.

10. The Moederkerk – the history of the “Mother Church” dates back more than 300 years to a church built on the site of the present day d’Ouwe Werf Hotel. In 1710, a fire destroyed this first church – its foundations can still be seen under the restaurant of the hotel. A new church had to be built and in 1722, Rev Henricus Beck and his church council decided to hold a lottery in order to raise funds for the construction – it was not very successful. Eventually the little “cross church” was completed and consecrated in 1723. Here men and women were seated separately – the men were allocated pews along the walls and the women were seated on “juffrouwens-stoelen” or “ladies’ chairs” in the centre of the church. The governor and other dignitaries sat in special pews for “notables” under canopies.

In 1807, the vestry was added behind the pulpit. In 1814, three of the wings underwent expansion with an extension of 5.34 meters each, some further windows were added and a neo-classical gable was built by master carpenter Wiehann, made in the style that was fashionable in the rural areas after about 1790.

By 1860, it became clear that the church needed further extension to house a growing congregation. The church was enlarged in the neo-gothic style according to the plans of Carl Otto Hager, a German (Dresden) master builder and architect. In 1863, the present church building and tower were consecrated. Despite contributions and generous donations from some members, as well as the donation of the pulpit, the railings and three bells of the belfry, extra funds were necessary to meet the expansion/building budget, so a great bazaar was held on Die Braak, with livestock, horses, poultry and wine up for sale. The bazaar was successful, raising over one thousand pounds for the building fund.

The church, today, has undergone its fair share of changes, not just in appearance, but also in governance – in the past, the church had just two elders and four deacons. The church council currently has well over 100 members.

11. The Theological Seminary – before becoming a building that served the church (from 1859), it had been used for balls in its reception rooms, housed visiting governors, high commissioners and other dignitaries when visiting Stellenbosch and acted as a court of law when trials were heard. In fact, on this very site on an island in the Eerste River, Simon van der Stel camped with his party for the first time in 1679. Six years later, together with van der Stel, High Commissioner Hendrik Adriaen van Reede tot Drakenstein commissioned the first Drostdij and it was built and completed on the island in 1687 by master carpenter Adriaen van Brakel.

In 1710, the building was destroyed in a blaze ignited accidentally by the magistrate (Samuel Martini de Meurs) whilst attempting to light his pipe in a howling south-easterly wind – the dry thatched roof caught alight and soon the building was enveloped in flames. In 1762, another fire destroyed the building again and the building was seriously challenged by the flood of 1768, which swept away the bridge and the stable of the Council House. The old building and its elegant gable remained as such until 1868, when Carl Otto Hager added a second storey. In 1905, the building was remodelled again to its present form.

In 1769, the year after the flood, the far bed of the river was deepened and paved with boulders and the flow of the river on the side of the village dried up – there was thus no separation of the Drostdij and the village any longer. In 1828, however, local government by the College of Landdrost and Heemraden was abolished, followed by 12 years of rule by a resident magistrate and a civil commissioner – the Drostdij stood empty. In 1853, it was bought by some villagers and ceded to the Church Synod, which was later offered as a facility for a seminary. So higher education, in effect, began in Stellenbosch in 1859 with the inauguration of the Theological Seminary.

12. Stellenbosch Village Museum – the clustering of a number of historic houses dating from a few eras in a single museum complex provides an interesting insight into the past. Encompassing the years between 1709 and 1850, the buildings and gardens have been realistically restored to their original character and condition. Each is decorated and furnished in its relevant period style.

    a. Schreuderhuis – this town house was built in 1709 by Sebastian Schreuder, a Saxon soldier employed by the Dutch East India Company. Architecture and appointments are basic, with thick lime-washed walls supporting a reed ceiling and thatched roof. The interior furnishings and the garden are typical of a Stellenbosch home of the period 1680 – 1720, the furniture being made from locally available materials. The windows are tiny and the floor is made of simulated clay (the original would have been of clay earth).

    b. Blettermanhuis – this H-shaped elegant six-gabled house was originally the home of Hendrik Bletterman, the last magistrate of Stellenbosch to be appointed by the Dutch East India Company. The home represents a wealthy dwelling during the period 1750 – 1790. It was built in 1789 in the 18th Century Cape style. After Bletterman died, it became the offices of the government, while the barn alongside the house became a school for slaves, then a theatre, then a pox hospital and later the police headquarters.

    c. Grosvenor House – this elegant house was built by Christian Ludolph Neethling in 1782, and added to by successive owners until reaching its present form in 1803. Grosvenor House, along with Koopmans de Wet House and Martin Melck House in Cape Town, is one of the finest examples of a two-storeyed, flat-roofed patrician town house, of which there was a fair amount in Stellenbosch and Cape Town. Decorating the classical facade are fluted pilasters supporting a prominent cornice. The house is characterised by early 19th Century appointments and a large garden and represents the period from 1800 to 1830.

    d. OM Bergh – the house was originally a thatched-roof, H-shaped, gabled building, but was altered during the 19th century to what it is today. It was the home of the Swede, Olof Marthinus Bergh and his family, from 1836 to 1877, and was decorated with rich-coloured wallpaper and heavy furniture and accessories from the period 1850 to 1870.

13. Erfurthuis – the origins of this home can be traced back to the late 1600’s when the land formed part of the farm granted to Harmen Jansz Porgieter in 1683. In 1876, Johan Marthinus Beyers built the imposing double-storey dwelling with the impressive wood and wrought iron balcony rising to the roof on all sides of the house. It derived its name from the town of Erfurt in Germany, the same being the birthplace of the Beyers’ ancestor.

In 1911, the house was bought by the curators of the Bloemhof School for Girls and converted into a boarding house for young girls.After some time, the house became the property of the Dutch Reformed Church Council who converted the building into offices and a storage area. In 1988, the Trustees of the Stellenbosch Museum bought the house and after restoring it, use it as their headquarters.

14. The Toy and Miniature Museum in Stellenbosch – the museum possesses a collection of 1:12 scale miniatures, room boxes, miniature houses, antique dolls, cars and cuddly toys. An extremely detailed miniature of South Africa’s famous Blue Train (the only one of its kind in Africa) is displayed. The train travels from a miniature Stellenbosch, through the Cape Winelands and the kountains to the Karoo, where it passes Matjiesfontein before it returns back to Stellenbosch.

The museum has a small shop where one can purchase Doll’s House furniture, accessories and other gifts. The museum is located in the old Rhenish parsonage in Market Street, Stellenbosch, behind the Visitors’ Bureau.

15. Ou Hoofgebou (Old Main Building) – at the time of the bicentenary of Stellenbosch in 1879, the community decided to erect a monument in its commemoration. They decided, after playing with the idea of building a town hall, to rather build a stately new college building. This showed the importance given to education in Stellenbosch.

Rev J H Neethling had already bought a piece of land and he made sure that Carl Otto Hager was commissioned to design the building. Hager had previously designed the Moederkerk in neo-Gothic style, but now created a masterpiece in a style which could be termed Cape classical. The foundation stone was laid in December 1880 and the building was finally finished in 1886. It was initially named Victoria College (from 1887 until the founding of the University in 1918).
The fine facade includes a pediment depicting the institutions coat of arms supported by lions, a colonnaded veranda, an ornamental balcony and impressive fanlights over the upper windows.

16. Old Lutheran Church – situated in Dorp Street and designed by Carl Otto Hager, the architect of the Moederkerk and the Ou Hoofgebou and who lived at De Eiken on Market Street, this delightful former Lutheran Church was erected in the Gothic-style and dated from 1851.

After the church had fallen into disuse, Dr Anton Rupert bought the facility and donated it to the University of Stellenbosch. The Art Department of the University now regularly uses the church and adjoining building as the university art gallery and displays the works of well-known artists.