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South African Resource Portal
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South African Resource Portal
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Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal

This building in 95 St. George Street, known today as the First Raadsaal Museum, is the oldest surviving building in Bloemfontein and has a very interesting history.

With its sturdy white walls, dung floor, small windows and thatched roof, it is the only example of the pioneer building style remaining in the Free State capital. It was erected in 1849 by the soldiers of the British Resident, Major H.D. Warden, only three years after the founding of Bloemfontein in 1846. This small, simple pioneer building was the cradle of the administration, education, and church in the area north of the Orange River in the early 19th century.

It was the first school building north of the Orange River; it served as a church until 1852; it was used by the Legislative Council of the Orange River Sovereignty and, from 1854, by the Volksraad or Legislative Council of the Republic of the Orange Free State as Assembly Hall. When the Volksraad moved to larger premises in 1856, the building reverted to its original use as a school until 1877.

The First Raadsaal Museum is today a satellite of the National Museum, which is quite fitting, as it was also the founding place of the National Museum in Bloemfontein. The National Museum was founded in the First Raadsaal in 1877, where it was housed until 1915. To accommodate the growing Museum collections, a western wing was added in 1885 and an eastern wing in 1891. The western wing was demolished in 1970 because it became dilapidated. The building was vacated in 1915 when the Museum moved to its present premises in Aliwal Street, and it was then used for various purposes —as a church, offices, a store room for locust poison and a recreation hall. It was proclaimed a National Monument in 1936.

The First Raadsaal was made available to the Museum by the Government in 1975 to be restored in its original historical context. The restored First Raadsaal Museum was opened to the public on 20 July 1977, exactly 100 years after the founding of the National Museum in the same building. The history of the establishment of the Free State is depicted here. The Raadsaal Museum site also houses a Wagon Museum where various wagons and carriages are housed. Today it is a declared provincial heritage site and are protected by the National Heritage Law.

Text: Dr. Marianna Botes l Historian l National Museum Bloemfontein

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