History of Villiersdorp
There was once a time when wild animals, the San and the Hottentots made their home among the pristine and wild valleys where the town of Villiersdorp sits today. With the arrival of the first French Huguenots at the Cape in 1688, early farmers were to become the first permanent residents of the valley. Being cattle farmers, there was little need for roads at the time and the mountainous terrain meant that the area remained isolated and undeveloped late into the 19th century.
It was only in 1843 when a local farmer named Pieter de Villiers appealed to the Governor of the Cape to lay out a settlement on part of his farm, that the town of Villiersdorp came into being and took his name. Scandal struck when the daughter of Pieter De Villiers married a farm labourer named Petrus Graff. The marriage was allowed on condition that the De Villiers name would not be lost.
The couple went on to have three sons, including the noted David De Villiers-Graaf, who made a fortune of money as a Minister of Parliament in Cape Town. David returned to his roots as a benefactor of the town with a lofty donation to establish De Villiers Graaf High School, which remains the town’s principle institute of education today.
In 1855 Villiersdorp became a municipality and development slowly began to take course. Oak and gum trees were planted along the streets for aesthetic reasons. The valuable acorns from the oak trees caused a bit of a stir as people began taking them at such a rate that the Commissioner had to declare them property of the municipality! Today the towering trees create an oasis of shade and shelter along the avenues.
With the laying of a telegraph line in 1983, the postal connection upgraded from horseback carriers that used to visit the town once a week from Groenendal, to become a postal agency before the eventual establishment of the post office. The telephone connection was made in 1913.
During those days farming was largely concentrated on grapes for wine production, so when the markets crashed in the early 1920’s residents had to find an innovative alternative for their harvests. They did so by turning grapes into preserve syrup known locally as moskonfyt. The product can be purchased at the Kelkiewyn Farm Stall.
In 1922 a man named C.C Jooste led the way in building a moskonfyt factory. It is supposedly the only one of its kind on the planet. The factory also became the origin of the Co-operative Union, as it is known today. It is the oldest operating co-op winery in South Africa and the only place in South Africa that processes and dries persimmons.
Villiersdorp continued to develop at a steady pace with the first municipality motorized truck bought in 1934 and the laying down of tar on the Main Street in 1936. In the late 1970’s South Africa’s 7th largest dam was built – the Theewaterskloof Dam and it dramatically changed the microclimate for farming. The conditions for growing fruit were greatly enhanced and became a major turning point in the town’s development.
Telling tales of 150 years of history, Villiersdorp is a town built on heritage and community-fostered hospitality. The simplicity of country life and high produce means that the town morale is high and the oak lined streets welcoming. While it continues to see steady development, this humble fruit-producing valley will always retain the essence and appeal of country life.