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History of Grabouw / Elgin
The history of the Elgin / Grabouw region has been predominantly influenced by agriculture, in particular deciduous fruit farming. However, before the beginnings of its world-famous apple farming industry in the early 1900s, it was a small community built up around trading stores and ox wagon stopovers such as the historic Houw Hoek Inn. The town of Grabouw itself was built on a farm called Grietjiesgat, which was obtained in 1856 by a painter, Wilhelm Langschmidt, and was named after the German town where he was born.
The Elgin Valley was also home to early inhabitants of the Western Cape, evident in the name of the surrounding mountains, Hottentots Holland, “Hottentots” being the name given to the Khoikhoi people who lived in the area before the arrival of European settlers.
The predominantly Coloured and Afrikaans-speaking population is a testament to a diverse cultural heritage and as in many other parts of South Africa, this cultural mix represents a history of complex relations. Before the arrival of European settlers, this fertile region over the mountains from False Bay was a place where Khoikhoi pastoralists grazed their cattle and wild animals no longer seen in the Cape today, roamed freely.
The Molteno family was instrumental in the growth of farming in the early 1900s which led to Elgin Valley becoming the largest single fruit exporter in the world. Interestingly, one of the pioneers of farming in the area was a woman, Kathleen Murray. The cousin of the famous Molteno brothers, she made history in the 1920s by first becoming a successful apiarist (bee farmer) and then expanding her expertise into poultry, pig and fruit farming.
However, in addition to the role of the Molteno brothers, Sir Antonie Viljoen is also regarded as an agricultural pioneer and even started propagating vines in 1908. The cellar went out of production in the 1940s, but his farm, Oak Valley, is recognised as the first commercial producer of deciduous fruit in the region. Sir Antonie Viljoen also planted black wattle in the area for charcoal. His role in the Anglo-Boer War and his political career in the Cape parliament have also gained him notoriety in history books.
Edward Lombardi also made the Elgin Valley famous with the popular soft drink Appletiser, which was launched in 1966 on his farm Applethwaite. The company is now owned and operated by SAB Miller. Other recent developments include the growth of wine farming in the valley, which has resulted in a unique appellation of cool climate wines. Today, there are over 18 wine farms in the valley, including large wine estates to boutique wineries that pride themselves on using traditional fermentation methods.
Tourism is also a growing influence in the general Overberg region, and Elgin is now synonymous with mountain biking and other outdoor activities. Other attractions in the area include hiking in the nature reserves that surround the town, as well as the numerous farm stalls, restaurants and wine farms in the area. Overall, the Elgin Valley has been shaped by an abundance of resources, and today over 40% of all the apples grown there are exported. Apple varieties include Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. The farmlands are also known for their flowers and roses.
Today, Grabouw and the Elgin area are popular holiday and wedding destinations and their proximity to Cape Town and Cape Town International Airport have made them an accessible getaway for both international visitors and Cape Town residents. In addition to the fact that many tourists stop by on their way to other locations along the N2, the Elgin Valley hosts several events and festivals throughout the year, predominantly during the summer months.