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Dutch Reformed Church

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Dutch Reformed Church, Calitzdorp

Dutch Reformed Church, Calitzdorp

The Dutch Reformed Church is Calitzdorp’s only building category Provincial heritage Site (National monument)

Andries Pretorius street,  Calitzdorp

tel :   044 213 3311
044 213 3400


GPS     -33.532362,   21.68834
-33°31’56.5032″   021°41’18.0240”

Calitzdorp grew around the Dutch Reformed Church building which has stood, since its construction, as the proud centrepiece of the town.

In the early years of the small, scattered farming community, far from any towns and without a church, occasional church services were held at Buffelsvlei (Calitzdorp) and in nearby settlements by preachers from Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn.

Oudtshoorn and surrounding districts – including Calitzdorp – became independent from the Mossel Bay mother church on 15 October 1853.

Because of the distance to Oudtshoorn to attend the four-monthly ‘Nagmaal’ (Communion) services, plans were made to build Buffelsvlei’s own church.

1854   By 1854 plans were under way to erect the church.

1855   On 7 February 1855 the contract to build a church for 4500 riksdalers was awarded to William Harris of Harding and work started almost immediately.

The first church

The first church

1856   Although long thought that the Calitz family had donated the land on which the church was erected, official records show a transfer document dated 16 July 1856, wherein 3 morgen 132.5 square roods (later erf 547 on which the church was built) was sold by the three owners of Buffelsvlei – Fredeik Calitz, J J S Geyser and M C Calitz, to the Church Committee for £22.10 shillings. This information is recorded on page 18 of the book– ‘Ned. Geref. Kerk Calitzdorp 1873-1973’  compiled by HC Hopkins to celebrate the church’s centenary.

1856   It would seem that the building started before the documentation was finalised as on 20 February 1856 the cornerstone of the new church was laid by Dominee van der Riet, assisted by Dominee Dirk van Velden – the first Dominee of  “Lady Smith”. According to the plans the new church was to be 80 feet (24.384 meters) long, 32 feet (9.75 meters) wide and 18 ft (5.48 meters) high.

1857   People came from far and wide to celebrate the inauguration of the rather lovely little church on the hillside, on Sunday, 7th June 1857.

The opening ceremony reportedly started ‘under laden golden orange trees’ on a day of howling winds, before the procession moved on to the church.

In 1857 to make church attendance easier for outlying farmers, land was once again made available to the church by the owners of ‘Buffelsvlei’. This time it was 2.4 hectares (5.9 acres) of adjoining land on Andries Pretorius Street opposite the church.

This land was proclaimed in 1857, divided onto plots and made available to members of the church congregation only. This extended area covered mostly what became the Nagmaal cottages of Calitz, Geyser, Church, Potgieter. Lourens and Fourie streets, and possibly also on the opposite side of – and below the church – the area for permanent residential homes in Queen Street.

Enlarged - or second- church

Enlarged – or second- church

1858   The first erven were sold in 1858 and ‘Nagmaalhuisies’ were soon erected –typically very small with minimal space – just enough to provide overnight accommodation as needed.

It was decided to divide the church plot into smaller sections to sell, to ‘strengthen the church funds’. These were made available for sale in December that year.

1859   One of the original plots was sold to the church for £30 and it was here that the ‘Ou Pastorie’  was built.

1867   At a meeting on 22 April 1867 the Church Council brought up the possibility of Calitzdorp becoming an independent Congregation.

1873   Finally, on 22 February 1873, Calitzdorp became an independent Congregation.

Carl Otto Hager

Carl Otto Hager

Continued growth necessitated the enlargement of the original church building which was done by the addition of a diagonal extension by builder Samuel Orton senior and Carl Otto Hager who worked under the term of ‘boumeester’ (architect).

1874   Richard van Reenen Barry, born in 1849 in Swellendam, became the first preacher of the now independent Dutch Reformed Church. He served the community for 40 years from 1874 to 1915 and this was his only parish. He died in 1920 aged 71 years.

The lovely little cottage at 29 Andries Pretorius street is known as De Eerste Pastorie, as it served temporarily as the parsonage in 1874.

1880   In 1880 the newly enlarged church was inaugurated.

The pulpit, made of yellowwood and stinkwood, was – according to tradition, made in the workshop of Andries P Blignault’s  Wagonry in Queen Street. This building is now known as the Karoo Life B & B.

Eerste Pastorie

Eerste Pastorie

1899     The cast-iron fencing, (which was later included in the Heritage Site description in 1991) was erected around the perimeter of the church grounds, and is thus eleven years older than the sandstone church itself.

1908   After thirty years of good service and a town population which had grown to more than 4,000, it was once again time to consider extending the church to meet the demand.

In April 1908 the council make known that brothers Hermanus Lambertus, Johannes Hendrik and Jacobus Ernst Potgieter of Rietfontein and Buffelskloof had offered to donate a figure of £600 between them to purchase an organ for the church.

1909   Suggestions were made for further extensions to the church building but at the council meeting of 19 June 1909, demolition of the church, and construction of  a much bigger one was put forward.

1910  A great deal of planning followed. Designs were invited by the church council and 26 were received. Of these, two were selected and a vote of 18 to10 went in favour of the design with model, submitted by Oudtshoorn company Simpson & Bridgman’s architect Mr Watson Hall. However, members of the church were not satisfied with this decision, and a further vote gave final acceptance to the Neo Renaissance-Byzantine design of second architect, Mr Wynand Hendrik Louw of Paarl.

1910  After a final, leave-taking service on Sunday 31st July 1910 the old church was demolished. The foundation of the new church, the building style of which is typical of the sandstone architecture of the ostrich era of the Little Karoo, was laid on the 17th December 1910.

1912   Considering the logistics of building such a fine sandstone building in 1912, it is astonishing that the church  was completed within 2 years. Stone was brought by ox wagon from Swartkop (Vleirivier) and dressed on the building site. More than eleven thousand cut stones were used in the building and the French Marseille roof tiles were believed to have been landed at Port Elizabeth and transported inland by rail. They would have been brought from Oudtshoorn by wagon.

Piet Strydom, builder

Piet Strydom, builder

Architect W H Louw

Architect W H Louw

J E Vixsboxse - supervisory architect

J E Vixseboxse – supervisory architect

Builder Piet Strydom worked meticulously for 20 months on the project, overseen by architect Johannes Egbertus Vixseboxse of Oudtshoorn. The architect who designed the church was Wynand Hendrik Louw of Paarl..

The new church was completed in 1912.

Total Building Cost of the church was £12,790.00.

The magnificent organ – which is said to have had 942 pipes, and considered the best in the country at the time, was imported from Hamburg, Germany. It is believed to have been made by the Laukhuff factory in Hamburg and was erected in the church by GW Price and Son of Cape Town.

The final cost for the organ was £852. The difference between the original £600 and the final figure could well have been for installation costs.

The solid oak pews, shaped like benches, can seat 2 000 (1 400 + 600) people. Because of its enormous size, the vestry table (5,2m) had to be made on site.

There is a residual story concerning the completion of the 90 foot (27.432 meter) tower. Apparently no-one was prepared to work any higher than the scaffolding would reach, and only one man Oom Cornelis ‘Koot’ Grundling – obviously nick-named ‘Wildebees’ for a reason – was prepared to continue. Without records, one can only wonder at how the cupola was fitted and with their massive weight, how the bells were hoisted into position, The bells which cost £425 were cast in Germany and were donated by J J Grundling and his wife, in memory of their grandson Jacobus Johannes Grundling Meyer.

1912   The Oudtshoorn Courant on Thurdsay 25th April reported about the forthcoming event the next day :

“Everything is being done to make the place look neat and tidy. Dwelling houses are being repaired, the streets improved – and new dresses made! The 26th of April 1912, will be a memorable day for Calitzdorp”.

Merry-go-round at inaugural celebrations

Merry-go-round at inaugural celebrations

After all the inauguration of such an imposing church doesn’t take place very often! And once again the town was referred to as ‘Gamka dorp’.

A well attended ‘bioscope’ was shown the night before opposite the Bawdon’s hotel, and a little ‘merry-go-round’, looking something like an overgrown mushroom entertained the crowds.

The same Courant article commented on the Calitzdorp streets thus

“ …. I imagined  myself walking along George Road, for the condition of the streets compare very favourably with the aforementioned thoroughfare, and as far as the lighting up of the streets, the Calitdorp streets are on par with George Road !”

26 April 1912. With great excitement in a festive atmosphere the beautiful new stone church with its striking steel ceilings, lovely organ, acetylene gas lighting (in use until 1937), tall bell tower housing the clock from Holland and five enormous bells, was inaugurated.

The church bells with from left: J E Vixseboxse, Mrs & Mr Jacobus J (Dik J) Grundling (donors), builder J P Strydom

The church bells with from left: J E Vixseboxse, Mrs & Mr Jacobus J (Dik J) Grundling (donors), builder J P Strydom

There was a real festival air about the town the Friday morning of the great event and visitors had come from as far afield as Riversdale, Ladismith and Laingsburg. Dignitaries with Dominee Barry of Calitzdorp, were Dominees Murray of de Hoop, W A Joubert of Paarl, W de V de Wet of Ladismith,  D Rossouw of George,.A M McGregor of Oudtshoorn,  J P Burger of de Rust,  van Rensburg of Vanwyksdorp, not forgetting the Elders and Deacons – a veritable legion of religious fervour. The organ was played by Mr H Greeenwood, blind organist and music teacher from the School for the Blind in Worcester.

Indeed a memorable day for Calitdorp!

1917    Due to the feather crash and drought, conditions in Calitzdorp were so bad that in February 1917 the Dutch Reformed Church Council granted amounts of between 5 and 10 shillings to 43 extremely impoverished families.

1964  A new electric organ console was installed in the South gallery in 1964.

Although restoration had been done on the organ many times through the years, major work was done in 1964 by S A Orrelbouers and a grand celebration for the “new” organ was held on Saturday, 22 August that year.

1984  In 1984 further restoration was done on the organ by a Mr F E Clift

It is not certain at which stages of repair and restoration additional pipes were added, but according to the organist in 2011, the organ today has 1 495 pipes in 7 sets.

1991    On 22 February 1991 the imposing sandstone Dutch Reformed Church was declared a National monument – now known as a Provincial Heritage Site.