Graaff-Reinet Heritage Route
Graaff-Reinet Heritage Route

Heritage Route

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.




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.
This was named after Captain Charles Lennox Stretch a government land surveyor who acquired a portion of the old Drostdy grounds in 1855 subdivided the ground and sold it to coloured folk. It is they who built the little houses in this street which were subsequently restored in 1969 -70 and let as individual cottages until incorporation into the restored Drostdy Hotel complex in the late 1970’s. Proceed through the main building of the hotel an unusual design in the Cape Dutch idiom, which was the original seat of local government housing the courtroom and landdrost’s quarters. The building was designed by the renowned French architect Louis Thibault and completed in 1806. It was later to become a hotel and extensively altered to become a double storey building by 1900. Historical Homes of SA bought the hotel in 1975 and restored in to its original form. The unusual gable is thought to have been inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. “1804” refers to the original construction date. The hotel’s front entrance looks onto Parsonage street.

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
Travel down Parsonage Street to take in the John Rupert Little Theatre originally the church of the London Missionary Society the gabled house next door was its manse. The next three houses form part of the Parsonage Street Home for the Aged.  Opposite is the Library replicating the façade of the first school in the hinterland. Notice No20 on the corner of Cross Street. It has an interesting parapet and decorative timber framework (broekie lace) verandah added during the Victorian period. Next see serveral typical old style flat roofed cottages on the left No16 has an unusual arched portico and matching fanlight above the door.  The last house on your right is the former Residency of the Magistate a well preserved example of a Cape Dutch H –plan town house with an exceptionally fine early 19th century fanlight above the front door. The tapering opening in the bottom row of windowpanes was designed to hold a lamp to light both the steps outside and the passage indoors. The open furrows in front of this and many other buildings in the town were used for irrigating the gardens and form part of a system of furrows laid out in the 1820’s under the direction of Andries Stockenstroom.  Visit Reinet House at the end of the street. It was built in 1812 as a parsonage for the ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church. Andrew Murray the fourth incumbent is the most well-known and was succeeded by his son Charles.  The frontage of Reinet House is an excellent example of of the symmetrical Cape Dutch thatched roof gabled architecture of the the early 1800s.  The winged hourglass ornament in the gable pediment signifies that time flies.

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.

Urquhart House on your right with the old market square beyond. Urquhart House was restored in 1992 and now provides the only reminder of Market Square’s former architectural splendour. Built between 1806 and 1821 by Johann Hendrick Gryling a prominent businessman and member of the “Heemraad” of Graaff –Reinet it later became the home of Mr Herbert Urquhart (MBE) who served the town as mayor for 21 consecutive years from 1915 – 1936.

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
The building of a church for the growing Anglican congregation in Graaff – Reinet was encouraged by the newly appointed Bishop Robert Gray who visited Graaff  -Reinet a distant out post of his Cape Town Diocese in 1848. On Bishop Gray’s motivation funds were raised and the Rev. Andrew Murray and the Dutch Reformed Church amongst others gave generously. The original portion of the church the present nave was duly built at a cost 1600 pounds and consecrated by Bishop Gray in 1856. The channel sanctuary porch and vestry were added later. It is the oldest church building still used for worship in the town. The church is built in a plain English Gothic style with characteristic simplicity set in solid stone.  Alongside is the rectory built in1894 a good example of high Victorian architecture with steep pitched roofs and austere rectilinear decorative elements and references to Gothic architecture. These two buildings form a fine precinct of 19th century ecclesiastical architecture. Across the street there are numbers 20,24 and 26 Somerset Street number 24 unusual with three identical doors and three windows and was probably built as commercial premises. Is flanked by numbers 20 and 26 both with excellent examples of original Victorian decorative timber fretwork verandahs. Number 26 is a particularly noteworthy and virtually intact example of a typical Victorian home. It still boasts a delightful pull doorbell at the front door.

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.
Walk on to the Hester Rupert Art Museum.This the fifth oldest church in South Africa was built in 1821. One of three remaining churches built in the form of a cross it has an exceptionally beauty – ful ceing. Uses as a mission church and school it was called the “Oefeningshuis” (a house of service) because in those days no church was permitted to be erected closer than three days’ horse ride from an existing Dutch Reformed Church. In 1965 a petrol company bought the site for a petrol station.  Dr. Anton Rupert and the Rembrandt Group saved the church from demolition restored it and converted it into an Art Museum.  It houses a good collection of South African Art.

Architectural features in Graaff-Reinet

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.


Anglo Boer War History
Dutch Reformed Church History
Biblical Panels in Church Hall
Christian and Jewish Cemetries

For further information on the above visit the official Aberdeen Tourism web site


History of Nieu-Bethesda
The Owl House
The Old Mill
The Old Church

For further information on the above visit the official Nieu-Bethesda Tourism web site 

Heritage Route Map

Heritage Route Points of Interest

  • The important role played by the Jewish "smous" in the sparsely populated interior of the Cape Colony is recognised in a simple monument erected alongside College Road.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • This monument in memory of the Voortrekker leader was erected in 1943. The monument can be seen about 3 km from the town, at the Camdeboo National Park Offices on the N9 to Middelburg, the route to the north and into the interior, which the...
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • On the 26 June 1902 the foundation stone of the new Town Hall in Church Square named “The Victoria Hall” was laid but building operations only started in April 1910. The town hall was designed along Flemish Renaissance lines.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The building in which the John Rupert Theatre of Graaff-Reinet is located was formerly a Congregational Mission Church and the original pulpit can still be seen in the foyer.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The old powder magazine stands alone on the hill to the north of Graaff Reinet.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The Neo-Gothic building in Middle Street was originally a place of worship for the Mantatees, a refugee Sotho tribe that had fled south across the Orange River in the 1820’s. The Jan Rupert centre has at present on exhibition "Jean...
    Phone: 049 892 6107
  • The Drostdy at Graaff-Reinet was established in response to petitions from the Boers of the region. On 6 February 1795 a gathering proclaimed the "Graaff-Reinet Colony"
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • Helen Martins lay ill in bed one night with the moon shining in through the window and considered how dull and grey her life had become. She resolved there and then, that she would strive to bring light and colour into her life. That simple decision...
    Phone: 049 841 1733
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  • The Camdeboo and Graaff-Reinet area is home to a number of farms which are associated with major events in South African history. Come and visit the places where great figures lived.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • Three months after the end of the first World War a public meeting was called by the Mayor, Mr. H Urquhart, at which it was decided to erect a monument, on the most prominent site in town, in honour of the gallant Graaff-Reinet men who had lost...
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The former Residency, situated diagonally opposite Reinet House at the end of Parsonage Street, and forming a unique architectural complex with it, is a well-preserved example of the early 19th Century Cape Dutch H-shaped house.
    Phone: 049 8910664
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  • The present day Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bourke Street, between Somerset and Middle Streets, was consecrated on the 23rd April 1957 and the High Alter on the 24th April 1957. First class relics of St Pius X and St Maria...
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • In 1875 The Graaff Reinet Club was established and in 1880 a new clubhouse was erected on Church Square. From 1900-1902 the officers of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, stationed at Graaff Reinet, made use of the club.
    Phone: 049 892 4094
  • The Camdeboo Fallen Heroes Monument is situated at the entrance to the town on the Middelburg Road and is dedicated to those activists who suffered in the apartheid regime.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The Royal Block was constructed during the early 20th century, quite possibly as housing for the labour force during the construction of the Van Ryneveld’s Pass Irrigation Dam in the 1920’s.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The scaled-down replica of the Paardekraal monument was erected south of the bridge over the Sundays River.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The large erf at the southern extremity of Market Square, on which Urquhart House stands today, was granted in freehold to Johan Hendrik Greyling on 1 January 1806, which places it amongst the earliest plots transferred into private ownership.
    Phone: 049 892 5650
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  • The Graaff-Reinet Museum or “Reinet House”, formerly a Dutch Reformed Church parsonage, was built at the expense of the Government in 1812 during the ministry of the Rev. Kicherer. It was the home of three ministers prior to 1822.
    Phone: 049 892 3801
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  • What is a drostdy? It is the office or residence of a landdrost, a Boer magistrate in a rural district of South Africa prior to the establishment of British administration. The Old Drostdy in Graaff-Reinet has undergone many changes since...
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The San and Khoi Memorial which stands of a hill on the Aberdeen Road approach to the town dedicated to the Hottentots and Bushmen that lost their lives to conflicting interests with farmers between 1702 and 1809.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • Dedicated to Boer soldiers "in memory of the fallen in the struggle for Freedom and Justice".
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • Due to discontent in the congregation a split occurred in the Groot Kerk. The main cause of the breakaway segment’s dissatisfaction seems to have been centered on the autocratic personality of the Rev Naude.
    Phone: 049 - 892 3460
  • In 1871 the foundation stone of the Trinity Church on the corner of Caledon and Bourke Streets was laid and on the 15 September 1875 the official opening of the church took place. In 1894 it was necessary to enlarge the building and at the same time...
    Phone: 049 892 2366
  • Anglo-Boer War on Ganora Farm
    Phone: 049 841 1302
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  • The original foundation stone for this building situated on the corner of Bourke and Middle Streets was laid on the 9th July 1913. After undergoing many transformations including being used as a cinema the building was reconsecrated on the 21 May...
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • Located in Church Street, Graaff-Reinet, is housed in the fifth oldest church building in South Africa. It was built and consecrated as a Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1821, 35 years after the founding of the village of Graaff-Reinet in 1786.
    Phone: 049 807 5700
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  • The oldest original church building in use is St James’ Church situated in Somerset Street. The original church consisting of the present nave was built and consecrated on the 29 October 1850. The chancel and sanctuary were added in 1868 and...
    Phone: 049- 892 2458
  • 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 several towns in South Africa named after Dutch governors. This was the fourth...
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • While limited privately sponsored library facilities were available in Graaff-Reinet from about 1818, it was not until 1847 that the citizens of the town established a public library, subscribing funds to build the central building in Church Street.
    Phone: 049 892 3801
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  • Te Water House More Info
    This is one of the many wing-type houses that existed in the centre of the town. H-shaped and probably dating from 1820 the gables have been clipped and the façade woodwork added in about 1870.
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • During the Anglo-Boer War Gideon Scheepers formed his own commando, which operated in the Cape Midlands. He was captured by the British troops and charges of alleged war crimes were laid against him. At the court hearings in Graaff-Reinet he was...
    Phone: 049 892 4248
  • The first recorded church was in Church Street. Building of a church started in 1792 but was destroyed by fire in 1799 before it could be completed. A second church was completed in September 1800 on the site of the present Dutch Reformed Church or...
    Phone: 049 892 2422

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