Heritage Route Information
Heritage is broader than buildings: it is our link to the past. Heritage includes among other things the following: cultural landscapes, graves, sites of conflicts, patterns of development, large tracts of land reflecting traditional ways of life, places associated with written or oral histories and many more. What has Graaff Reinet got to offer?
Named after Cornelis Jacob van de Graaf and his wife Cornelia Reynet, “de Wiljdgelegen Colonie van Graaff-Reinet" was established in 1786 and is one of two towns in South Africa named after Dutch governors. This was the fourth magisterial district to be proclaimed in South Africa and as a result received a "drostdy" or seat of local government.
For years it was a certain stopover for every traveler to the interior. Graaff Reinet has experienced four changes of supreme government (including the proclamation of the so-called "Republic of Graaff-Reinet") and at times it has been the focal point of insurgence, political tension and border wars along its eastern frontier. It was visited and described by such early travelers as Barrow, Burchell, Lichtenstein and Moffat. In the mid-nineteenth century the town was one of the starting points for the exodus of the Voortrekkers. Some of the farms tell something of the lives of famous voortrekkers such as Damesfontein Farm, established by Piet Retief’s cousin in 1838. Five generations later the Retief family still run the farm. Andries Pretorius of Blood River fame, farmed at Letskraal from 1818 to 1838. This homestead has changed very little since his departure.
From the late eighteenth century right up to the arrival of the railway, a century later, Graaff-Reinet was a bustling trading centre, and in 1865 there were sixty-four recognised public 'outspans' (a place where travelers could rest and refresh their animals, as well as unharness them from the ox wagons or carts). Inns were established at many of the 'outspans' for the convenience of travelers. Today you will find a vast selection of accommodation to suit your needs.
The Drostdy Hotel, built on the original site of the original residence of the landdrost (magistrate’s court), dates from 1806. Part of the hotel is formed by the restored Stretch’s Court, a lane of Cape Dutch cottages that housed labourers in the 1850’s and now accommodates the hotel’s guests.
Graaff-Reinet is justly renowned for its attractive and well-preserved historic homes and buildings. Several well-known people have emerged from Graaff Reinet, including Lord Somerset, Robert Sobukwe, Beyers Naude, Dr Anton Rupert and Anna Neethling Pohl. Robert Sobukwe’s widow still resides here, and ironically the building that once housed the Graaff-Reinet Commandos, is now named after the former Pan African Congress leader.
Come and step back in time and experience the magic, the stories and the legends of the area.
For further information on Graaff-Reinet`s history see the Activities listing on the Home Page.
DISCOVER GRAAFF – REINET
The Drostdy Hotel, Parsonage Street,
John Rupert Little Theatre, Reinet House,
Urquhart House, The Anglican Church,
Te Water House, The Old Library,
Hester Rupert Museum
From the Magistrates Court in Church Street up Parliament Street through the Drostdy to Parsonage Street on to Murray and Somerset Street back into Church Street.
Church Street is where Graaff – Reinet started as a linear development in an “assemblage of mud huts making a kind of street.
Turn right into Parliament Street at the Post Office. Notice the restored cottages on your right with Kromm’s Inn, part of the Drostdy Hotel complex on your left. At Bourke Street turn left and left again into Stretch’s Court.
Parsonage Street, the second oldest street in town with 13 buildings proclaimed as heritage sites. Church Street creates a north – south axis, Parsonage Street provides the cross axis defined by the Drostdy in the west and the Old Parsonage (Reinet House Museum) in the east. Both buildings were planned symmetrically about this linking axis.
The beauty of this arrangement is best seen at night from the Drostdy’s back porch, through both sets of doors down to the flood – lit Reinet House. The original function of these two buildings reveals an underlying significance: the Drostdy was the residence of temporal authority and the Parsonage the residence of spiritual authority in the town. Both buildings are neo – classical Cape Dutch examples but strikingly different. The Drostdy is long low ground – hugging with a low stoep. Reinet House has an elevanted arcaded podium high stoep and sweeping stair case.
John Rupert Little Theatre
The house is raised up on an arcaded podium an unusual feature in Cape Dutch architecture that accommodates a spacious basemant area part of which probably accommodated slaves and gave to the building the height and dignity befitting the status to which the minister and his family were entitled. Behind the house twin stairways curve down to a cobbled yard. The black Acorn grapevine planted by Charles Murray in 1879 has an exceptionally thick stem and still bears fruit annually. The house is now used as a period museum and is part of the historical Parsonage Street precinct of the Graaff – Reinet Museum together with Residency and Urquhart House. Turn left in front of Reinet House and proceed along Murray Street toward Urquhart House.
From the Cape Dutch neo classical period it is built on the condensed H – plan the lofty thatched roof spanning the depth of two rooms rather than the conventional arrangement of a roof spanning a single room dept only. This gives rise to a particularly tall front gable as can clearly be seen. The pilaster gable and the façade are finely proportioned and the large plaster expanses cleverly embellished with stucco ornamentation including floral medallions and a circle of rope bound round its stock. The house’s traditional kitchen complete with open hearth range and oven (bakoond) has a peach – stone floor rarely seen today but once a favoured and particularly durable floor finish in rural areas of the Cape . The building now accommodates the Graaff – Reinet Museum’s collection of Victorian Furniture library and genealogical research archive. Anecdote recorded in the Graaff –Reinet Herald of 1856 related that the builder of Urquhart house was a descendant of one of the Dutch admirals van Tromp and that the anchor was placed in the gable to honour his illustrious ancestor. This literal interpretation seems unlikely when viewed in the context of the use of symbolism in the gable ornamentation of Reinet House. The anchor was used as a heraldic device at least as early as the Batavian period at the Cape (1803 – 1806) and has been symbolically associated with stability and hope for considerably longer. You will enter Market Square at its south western extremity. Market Square was proclaimed in 1815 to remove the noise and activity associated with trading away from the public outspan of Church Square. Soon Market Square became the residential locality of choice for the wealthy business people of the town and was surrounded by many fine Cape Dutch thatched gabled houses. Alas no more! Turn left into Somerset Street. On passing the intersection with Cross Street you will reach St James Anglican Church.
St James Anglican Church
Te Water House on the corner of Somerset and Church Street is a building worthy of particular attention. This was a private home built circa 1818 as a fairly typical Cape Dutch H – plan town house with thatched roof. The large brandsolder (loft floor) was masonry made of heavy beams and a layer of bricks and dagha (made of mud and ant – hill soil sometimes mixed with cow – dung and / or blood) the loft was a wonderful place for children to play in on rainy days. The thatched roof and gables were removed when an iron roof was added. Other features on the property are a flat roofed kitchen with a huge kitchen range a heavy chimney and a low and uneven ceiling. Te Water is a good example of the layering over time which architectural alterations wrought.
The Old Library Museum on the opposite corner was formerly the Library built by public subscription in 1847. Originally there was only the central section but the building has had to be enlarged several times. Step inside if time allows and you will find numerous interesting displays including fossils costumes and the Robert Sobukwe Exhibition.
Hester Rupert Art Museum.
Centred front doors with the same number of windows on either side.
Old windows with small window panes set close to the outside wall to allow for deep window sills inside.
Fanlights to give light to the central passage when the front door is closed.
Wooden shutters to shield the windows from the Karoo heat.
Some interesting personalities
Lived in Te Water House it was built by Dr Krebbs an emigrant from Germany and when he died Mr. F.K. Te Water married the wealthy widow Krebbs.
Frans Karl Te Water was born in Brussels. For health reasons he sailed for the Cape of Good Hope at the age of 18 to become a private tutor for a family in the Bedford district. Not happy there he was returning home via Graaff Reinet when he noticed an advertisement for the post of Town Clerk an was duly appointed. He subsequently became well set up as an auctioneer and general agent: In the 1860’s the town suffered a severe depression. F.k.Te Water was Chairman of the Municipal Board in 1865. His uncompromising and resolute decisions did much for the survival of the town. Later he represented Graaff Reinet on the Cape Legislative Council in 1869. The Te Water family occupied this house for almost a hundred years and two of his daughters Mrs Keegan and Mrs Goldman fondly known as “Aunt J” and “Aunt T” are remembered to this day. On one occasion “Aunt J” showed her disapproval of a municipal decision to chop down an oak tree alongside her house. On the appointed morning she took a chair and sat in front of the tree and nothing or nobody could budge her. The tree was not chopped down.
HISTORY ON ABERDEEN
Anglo Boer War History
For further information on the above visit the official Aberdeen Tourism web site
HISTORY ON NIEU-BETHEDA
History of Nieu-Bethesda
For further information on the above visit the official Nieu-Bethesda Tourism web site
Heritage Route Map
Heritage Route Points of Interest