For several decades it was the ideal of individuals and institutions to establish a museum where the visitor could experience the rich history, of over 150 years, of Bloemfontein/Mangaung and its surroundings. The National Museum took the initiative to realise such an exhibition where the history of the city and the role all its inhabitants played, are portrayed. This exhibition was opened to the public on 18 September 2002.
The Museum’s History Department reached out to all the communities to obtain information and donations so that some of the displays, such as those portraying the celebrities in the fields of sport and entertainment/art/culture, could be realised. Role players in the community were also contacted to give their opinion on and impression of the displays. In this way the community was involved in the project. The generous donation of the City Council’s historical objects and photographs undeniably helped to create an interesting and informative display. The Museum also made use of the opportunity to put on display many of its valuable and beautiful collection items that have been donated over the years by members of the community. Themes that feature in the Hall include the following:
- The founding of the City (1846)
- A diorama of early Bloemfontein (1851)
- An historical photo-display of the 150th anniversary of the City, centered around Maitland Street as the main street and Hoffman Square.
- The constitutional development of the Free State from its beginning as the Transgariep (before 1848), through the Orange River Sovereignty (1848-1854), the Orange Free State Republic (1854-1902), the Orange River Colony (1902-1910), Orange Free State Province (1910-1996), to the present Free State Province (since 1996), including information on its leaders.
- The historical architecture of the City, which portrays exceptional views of many of the old buildings/houses, some of which have since been demolished, and of President Brand Street as conservation area, while beautiful scale models of amongst others the St Patrick’s Church (demolished 1954) and the impressive Grand Theatre (demolished 1953) enhance the display.
- Well-known celebrities in the realm of art/culture/entertainment that Bloemfontein, Thaba Nchu and Botshabelo have produced over the years – it is indeed an eye-opener when all these people are put together to see who has a connection with Bloemfontein/Mangaung and its surroundings. Furthermore, old musical instruments, as well as a ‘musik-automat’ that was the forerunner of the juke-box, are on display.
- Highlights and important events in the history of the City over 100 years, such as the surveying of the first properties and the first newspaper, market, library, bioscope, bank, electricity supply station, telephone, flight demonstration and traffic lights, as well as the occupation of the city during the Anglo Boer War; the huge flood of 1904, the 1925 revolt of black inhabitants against suppression, the naming of a passenger ship after Bloemfontein, the visit of the British Royal Family in 1947 and the fact that Bloemfontein was the first city in South Africa with a trackless tram service and to employ women as traffic officials.
- The medical history of the City, including the role of San shamans and traditional Sotho dingakas.
- Bloemfontein as founding city of the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party (NP); the recent discovery by the Museum of the exact founding place of the ANC in the City is also portrayed.
- Well-known sports personalities with a Bloemfontein/Mangaung connection.
- A bronze bust of Major Henry Douglas Warden, founder of Bloemfontein, which was donated to the Museum, aptly graces the Bloemfontein/Mangaung History Hall.