History buffs totally love Graaff-Reinet, what with it being the oldest town in the Eastern Cape (fourth oldest in South Africa) with about 220 listed historical buildings. Best of all, you can see just about all the best ones on a relatively short walk around town. And obviously, that is what we did otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.
We parked our car in front of the Graaff-Reinet Tourism office, grabbed a map from the friendly staff in the office and set off up the road towards the church with our first stop being Auty Ira’s Antique shop and the oldest cake in South Africa. Next up is the imposing Groot Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) at the top of the main road. The church was built between 1886 and 1887 with the design based on the lines of Salisbury Cathedral in England. Stone to build the church was obtained locally. The church seats 1,250 people and has a steeple of just over 45 meters high. An interesting feature of the church is that it has a chimney, not something you see every day.
The next stop right behind the Groot Kerk is the Victoria Hall and War Memorial. The Victoria Hall is the “new” Graaff-Reinet town hall and was built in 1910.
In front of the Town Hall in the Mayor’s Garden stands the “Victory Peace Angel”, a war memorial erected after the First World War to honour the gallant Graaff-Reinet men who had lost their lives in the war.
Graaff-Reinet boasts a number of very good museums representing the town’s history, most of them housed in historic Cape Dutch buildings. These museums include the Urquhart House Museum (built somewhere between 1806 and 1821), Old Library Museum (built in the mid 1800’s) and the Old Residency Museum (built somewhere between 1819 to 1831) and were all along the circle route we walked through town.
Because we had the KidZ with us and didn’t want to end up with two bored whiny teenagers, we decided to only go to Graaff-Reinet’s flagship museum, Reinet House. The museum building used to be the Dutch Reformed Church parsonage and was built in 1812. The typical Cape Dutch H-style building was home over the years to Rev Andrew Murray and his son Charles until his death in 1904 before it became a boarding establishment for girls wishing to train as teachers and renamed Reinet House.
The museum was established in the 1950’s and houses a fine array of period furniture and kitchen utensils, a doll collection, medical and dental collection, haberdashery and clothing collection, wagon and transport collection as well as a blacksmith collection. The Mill House with a working water wheel was under restoration when we were there so unfortunately I couldn’t show the KidZ how it works. In the back garden of the museum is an old Black Acorn vine that was planted in 1870 by Charles Murray. A big piece of it had to be cut away some time ago due to fungal rot but the plant still survives.
The last stretch of our walk took us up Parsonage Street past the John Rupert Little Theatre (originally the church of the London Missionary Society) and to the Drostdy Hotel on the main road. The hotel is located in what used to be the office and residence of the local landdrost/magistrate. The building was built in 1804 and first became a hotel as early as 1878. These days the Drostdy Hotel is a five-star hotel with accommodation in the adjacent Stretch’s Court.
By now the KidZ had enough of walking although we literally only walked around one big block and it was time to head to the car that was now just down the road again. Walking around Graaff-Reinet and visiting all these magnificent historic buildings one is grateful that there are still people out there that care for the history and heritage of towns like this.