In the early 1870s, towns in the northern Free State were situated very far apart and members of different churches had to travel great distances to participate in religious services. It was then decided by the Ring of the Dutch Reformed Church to implant the idea of a congregation north of the Rhenoster River into the minds of the residents of the farm Klipspruit, on the Vaal River, which was owned by four van Coller brothers. After long deliberation by the brothers, the first erven were laid out in 1876, and the little town of Parys was born.
The first few years of existence did not bring much development to the town, but the fact that it was situated en route to Johannesburg from the south, meant that the gold rush of 1886 on the Witwatersrand brought prosperity and wealth to Parys as it was used as a stopover and later as trading post. The outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war in 1899 brought the bustling town to a standstill as many ‘burgers’ had to leave the town to fight in the war. The town and surrounding area was the scene of much guerilla warfare because, surrounded as it is by hills and the river being full of woody islands, it was an ideal place for snipers. General de Wet ensured that good use was made of the natural advantages provided. Some remains of forts are still visible today in the hills around the town.
The completion of the railway sideline to Parys in 1905 meant that Parys had suddenly become more accessible to the public and this in turn led to the growth of the town as a holiday resort and industrial centre. The town was now being marketed as The Pride of the Vaal and city dwellers flocked by train to the lush green river banks and special swimming facilities and accommodation provided by the Village Management Board of the time. Bungalows were built on Woody Island and were serviced by the Woody Island Ferry. Unfortunately this venture did not last very long due to the inaccessibility of the island during flood periods. By now, residents of the town had felt for quite some time that a bridge across the Vaal River was no more than its just due. The Woody Island Ferry service crossed on to Woody Island and from there another ferry completed the crossing. The service was indifferent and accidents happened frequently.
Farmers on the Transvaal side even preferred to go to Potchefstroom, forty eight kilometres away, rather than face the expense of the ferry crossings. Towards the end of 1913, Tenders were asked for a reinforced concrete bridge over the Vaal, and the contract was finally awarded to a Mr Warren. The work was started in May 1914. The outbreak of the First World War three months later, caused long delays and the bridge was only finished and opened for traffic around Christmas 1915. As a consequence of the bridge over the Vaal, trade grew and Parys was seen as a new market for farmers from the then Transvaal side. Many new buildings were built as more and more traffic ran through the town.
Not many of the original buildings and historic places remain today. The current Parys Palm Court Hotel is still one of the surviving turn of the century buildings (the Parys Hotel), as is the museum (once the magistrates office) and “Moedergemeente” Church in the centre of town. There are, however, quite a few original and beautiful old houses remaining in and around town.
Industries that have come and gone is the Orange River Canning Company, Parys Basket Works that used a special kind of willow planted on the river banks, a jam factory, boat building factory, cold drink factory and Parys Roller Milling Company. By the middle 1950’s big industries like ARWA, BASA (nuts and bolts factory), Vaalrivierse Tabakkooperasie, Vetsak (agricultural co-op which was founded in Parys) and Metro Clothing Company had settled in the industrial area of Parys. Only a handful of industries remain today, and, like in the early days, the town is becoming increasingly popular as a weekend and holiday destination to people wanting to escape the pressures of city life