Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 13:30

Just a few hundred metres from the Sandton Gautrain Station is a little piece of history... the 'Little Church in the Pines', one of Sandton's oldest buildings. Below are a few passages outlining the Church's history taken from the 1992 Sandton Historical Association magazine. The author? None other than the legendary Juliet Marais Louw...

"The little church is still there in Stella Street, Sandown, its story begins with that colourful personality, Sytze Wierda who came from Friesland in Holland in 1887 to organise the Public Works Department for President Kruger. With Sytze Wierda came his wife, Hermina, and his four daughters, Nellie who was twenty at the time, Hendrika, fifteen, Anna, twelve and Suse, eight.

Mr Wierda was an architect who had designed the Central Railway Station in Amsterdam, among other work. For the Kruger government he planned the Raadzaal and the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, the Paardekraal Monument, Johannesburg's Rissik Street Post Office and the old post offices in Braamfontein and Jeppe, also the Marshall Square buildings, the bridge over the Olifants River, Wierda Bridge over Ses-Myl-Spruit on the Pretoria Road (the railings have been incorporated into the gates to Rivonia Primary School), the forts of Klapperkop and Schanskop in Pretoria and the Johannesburg Fort. In addition he surveyed the Delagoa Bay railway line. His salary was £500 a year.

Nellie Wierda married Charles Ferdinand Obermeyer who had come from Holland in 1882. He chose to become a most skillful cabinet-maker and later a builder and contractor. During the Anglo-Boer War, he worked in the Boer Hospital at Newcastle, Natal, where he constructed one of the earliest X-ray apparatuses in the country.

Mrs Obermeyer's health began to deteriorate and her husband bought a house at the corner of Maud and West Streets Sandown. Another of Sytze Wierda's daughters, Suse, moved in next door. Louis Spath had studied for the priesthood; he thought he would see the world before retiring from it and so arrived in South Africa from Switzerland in 1911, married Suse Wierda and stayed on as secretary in the offices of the New York Life Assurance Company. Mrs Obermeyer did not live long after coming to Sandton and the Spaths lost their only son, aged thirteen, because an attack of appendicitis had been diagnosed too late for him to be taken to hospital over the rough track connecting Sandown with Johannesburg.

 

Little Church in Pines - Foundation Stone and Plaque Grouping (The Heritage Portal)

 

Meanwhile the third sister, Anna Wierda had married Simon Notten, a Hollander, also connected with the New York Life Assurance Company. The Nottens bought Athol House, standing on a hundred acres of land. The homestead had been designed by Sir Herbert Baker after the Anglo-Boer War. Old Sandowners remember Mrs Notten as a women of great personality and charm and her home was beautiful, with many exquisite family heirlooms. Alas! This stately home has been bulldozed off the face of the earth...

Systze Wierda died in 1911 and his widow eventually came to Sandown to live with her daughter, Mrs Notten. Every Sunday the clan foregathered in the lounge at Athol House, where Mrs Notten held a service. Behind the hedges and across the dusty road lived the Millers and they came too, as well as Mr and Mrs Willie Neethling who lived opposite the Spaths in Maud Street. Mrs Notten would read a sermon out of a Hollands translation of the works of Reverand Charles Haddon Spurgeon, famous Baptist Preacher of the nineteenth century. Once a month the Millers, in their turn, would hold the service in the living-room of Oom Rooibaart's cottage across the way.

It was Mrs Notten who first thought of building a church in Sandown and her mother, old Mrs Wierda, accordingly talked her son-in-law Mr Obermeyer, into donating a piece of land. Mrs Notten organised a sale of work in her lounge at Athol House and raised eighty pounds - a large sum for those days. It paid for the bricks and wood. Oom Rooibaart and his eldest son, Martiens, whom we called Boet Miller did the brick work and the plastering, while Mr Obermeyer set the window and constructed the pews, the doors and the roof timbering. The builder, M.C.A. Meischke, had a pulpit made in his Braamfontein workshop and presented it to the new congregation. He had, incidentally, been the builder of the east and west wings of the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

The opening ceremony was performed by the Mayor of Johannesburg, Mr Edwin Orlando Leake [after whom Orlando in Soweto is named]. Mr Obermeyer himself laid the foundation stone on 11 July 1925 and it can still be seen today on the front of the church. The church was interdenominational. Every week a different minister came from out of town and services were alternately in English and Afrikaans. Dr J.E. Ennals came from the Rosebank Union Church, Ds Piet Cillie from the Nederlandse Gereformeerde Kerk in Braamfontein and Dr William Nicol from the Irene Church at the Union Grounds, who was subsequently administrator of the Transvaal. The church was run by a board of trustees, all ministers of the Braamfontein N.G. Kerk, the Clifton Methodist and the Rosebank Union Churches. Occasionally, retreats were held for the clergy.

Minnie Notten, one of the Notten's daughters, was the organist and she trained two little choirs of about ten members each - one English, one Afrikaans.

Nearby lived the Hoskens. Mr Hosken's father was Fred Store, one of five brothers, owning the well-known drapers' establishment, Store Brothers, in Eloff Street. Together with Joey Notten - another daughter - Mr Store went the rounds of the big wholesalers and other firms to collect money for the Sunday School for some twenty children. On small chairs, they sat at their tables under the pines, until Oom Rooibaart Miller and his sons built them a little hall behind the church. To this day one may read on the foundation stone that it was laid by Mr Jacobus Miller. Joey and Minnie used to take the Children to the zoo for their annual picnic and there was always a Christmas party.

Joey Notten was married in the little church to Edgar Fearnhead, brother of Johannesburg's mayor. Another notable ceremony was the old Mrs Wierda's funeral.

The Nottens, Obermeyers, Spaths and other members of the congregation vanished slowly over the years. Eventually the congregation dwindled. In 1956 fourteen-year-old Adriaan van Beek - Sytze Wierda's great-grandson - set the Sunday school going again. Mrs Drummond who owned a poultry farm in Summit Road, brought a station-wagon load of children from her area every Sunday. Dr Robin Wells tried to hold services but was frustrated by the general apathy. Then the Rosebank Union Church decided to organise 'Operation Sandown', beginning with personal visitation throughout the district.

There came a day in 1966 when the Reverand Sidney Hudson-Reed, with some of his deacons, pushed open the door of the tumbledown little building in Sandown. The interior was filled with smoke, the walls were covered with graffiti, on the floor lay a heap of charred hymnbooks with the altar-cloth from the pulpit on top of the pile - the cloth alone had failed to burn.

There followed a long labour of love, when for weeks the men of the the Rosebank Union Church devoted their spare time to scraping and painting walls and furniture, laying out the garden, signwriting, renovating equipment. Musical instruments, furniture, shrubs and plants were donated and the ladies provided tea for the workers. It took three years to re-establish the congregation. Finally the delightful personality of the veteran minister, the Reverand J.S. Green, with his snowy hair and gently humour filled the pews.

Much of old Sandton has made way for progress and development and the Little Church has lost its pines, replaced by the backdrop of high rise buildings but its simple style adds great character and charm to our town and the church has become an important and interesting feature of our history. We hope it will survive for many years into the future.

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