My last trip down to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth took a slight different form from the usual. Normally one would barrel down the N2 trying to cover the distance as quickly as possible but on my last trip down I decided to turn off into each of the towns along the N2 through the Overberg for a closer look. The one thing I do when I get to a new town is to look up the local historic Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) which often is one of the main reasons these towns got established.
The first town I stopped in was Riversdale. Riversdale was established as a new parish on the farm Doornkraal by the DRC of Swellendam in August 1838. The town on the banks of the Vet River near the foothills of the Langeberg was named after Harry Rivers, Commissioner and Resident Magistrate of Swellendam from 1834 to 1841. The present church on Church Street was built in 1907 and has an organ which was imported from Scotland at a cost of R1 800 at the time.
My next stop was the town of Heidelberg on the banks of the Duivenhoks River. The first Dutch arrived in the area in 1725 and Andries Gous received a grand for the farm Doornboom. In September 1855 the Riversdale church council bought a part of the farm Doornboom on which to lay out a town. They named it Heidelberg after the city in Germany, the source of the Heidelberg Catechism and, like the new Heidelberg, built on the banks of a river. The beautiful Dutch Reform Church with its Gothic architecture is in the center of the town and was built in 1914, celebrating its centenary this year.
Swellendam is the fourth oldest town in South Africa and was declared a magisterial district in 1743. The town was named after the governor of the Cape and his wife, Hendrik Swellengrebel and Helena Ten Damme. By 1795 the local burghers was tired of the maladministration and inadequacies of the Dutch East India Company and decided to revolt, declaring themselves a Republic. This didn’t last long though as the British occupied the Cape later that same year. The very unusual Dutch Reformed Church as you see it today was completed in 1911. Built in an eclectic style, the gables are baroque, the windows Gothic, the cupola vaguely Eastern, and the steeple extravagant. Surprisingly, all the elements work together wonderfully. Inside is an interesting tiered amphitheater with banks of curving wood pews facing the pulpit and organ.
The town of Riviersonderend doesn’t have a lot of history attached to it and was only established in 1922 when the farm Tierhok was sold to the church council when the local DRC congregation was established. The church stands on the N2 and was built that same year. I wonder how many people drive through in such a hurry that they don’t even notice it.