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History of Caledon
Caledon has a rich heritage indeed! A few centuries ago the Khoi-Khoi people were the first to discover the iron-rich hot springs on the slopes of the Swartberg, long before Europeans arrived in the Cape. Once the settlers began developing infrastructure in the Overberg though, these warm mineral springs became particularly renowned. In 1710, Ferdinand Appel even erected a building for visitors to stop in and enjoy the curative waters, many would travel from far and near to relax in the baths.
Similar to other springs around the country, these thermal pools are not related to volcanic activity and are free of any organic matter. Eventually a bath house was built in 1797 and a village called Swartberg sprang up around this attraction. It was later renamed Caledon in honour of the first British governor of the Cape (1806 - 1811) and 2nd Earl of Caledon, Du Pre Alexander (1777–1839).
In 1811, the farming community around these Swartberg slopes had grown substantially which warranted the building of a church and establishment of a drostdy (magistrate under Swellendam). By 1813, the first Dutch Reformed Church was consecrated.
The area saw a boom in commerce around the 1840s, largely due to the introduction of wool producing Merino sheep in the district. From a relatively poor grain-producing area, Caledon evolved into one of the most prosperous farming areas in the Overberg due to ever-expanding wool export opportunities. This is when remarkable growth was seen in the town with the number of households doubling in size by 1860.
Samples of Caledon’s thermal springs were submitted to the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and were awarded the first prize as one of the world’s highest quality mineral waters. This resulted in even more visitors to this farming village and became a large part of Caledon’s history. The influx of new people to the town also increased once the Cape Railway Line reached Caledon in 1902. Around 60 years later though, this line was eventually closed with the last train leaving for Cape Town from Caledon in July 1962.
In 1927, the historical Caledon Wild Flower Garden was established as part of the greater nature reserve of the Klein Swartberg Mountain. The renowned flower show happens here annually in spring (September) which exhibits an amazing array of fynbos from the area.
Today, the village of Caledon is a district that is primarily agricultural and is still considered the capital of the extensive Overberg farming areas. Most activities include grain production with a fair amount of stock farming and of course wool production too. The best time to visit the area is in the spring when the rolling hills of yellow canola fields are in full bloom!