Thursday, August 19, 2010

Witrivier (K 8)

Name: Witrivier


White River lies just north of Nelspruit not far from the border with the Kruger National Park. It is not a large town but it is certainly an area of stunning scenic beauty. The climate is said to be one of the best in South Africa, lovely and hot days in summer when rainfall is at its highest and cool nights during the winter. The farms tend to be relatively small but the agriculture is intensive with tropical and citrus fruits in abundance, and vegetables and cut flowers readily available.

The Afrikaans name Witrivier (White River) refers to the colour of the water in the river nearby. The water normally has a milky appearance which is caused by a high concentration of kaolin.

The farming tradition of the community that settled here after the Anglo-Boer War has remained virtually unchanged to this day. Lord Milner, erstwhile administrator of the defeated Transvaal, demarcated land on the 'Emansimhlope' - a tributary of the Crocodile River whose name translates from the Swazi as 'White Waters' - to demobilised Boer and British Anglo-Boer War soldiers and offered them an opportunity to settle here as citrus farmers.

In 1904 a land survey by the Transvaal Land Department was carried out with the idea of establishing an agricultural settlement in the area. Plots were made available to ex-servicemen from the Boer War, a weir was built over the White River and a canal constructed.

However, the new farmers soon realised that citrus farming in the area was a trial that tested men to their absolute limits and which most just couldn't endure. Droughts, insects, disease - all of these factors contributed to the slow draining away of these would be farmers, until in 1911 only a single farmer was left of this development - a man by the name of McDonald, a Scotsman.

The start of the town
At that time a successful bid of 10 000 British Pounds for 10 000 acres of the failed settlement was made by a syndicate of 5 men from the vicinity - Exley Millar, Clem Merriman, Reverend Ponsonby, Colonel William Barnard and Henry Glynn. From this, they established the White River Estates. In 1916 it became a private company, the capital having grown to 30 000 British Pounds. Further development was temporarily delayed by the First World War, and resumed again in 1918.

The first homes were built from wattle-and-daub, and citrus was planted. The village first consisted of a cottage, an outspan on the site where the Dutch Reformed Church stands today, the White River Hotel (in those harsh days a hotel was of course an absolute MUST), police station and stables and the Magistrates' Court and residence. Horses (the transport of the time) had to be "salted" in an effort to be made immune to the feared horse sickness.

Citrus farming established itself as the main agricultural activity of the region and, in 1924, it became clear that the citrus farmers had to form an organisation which could represent the industry.

This led to the establishment of the White River Fruitgrowers' Co-operative Company and the first citrus crop was packed in 1925. In 1926 the railway to Nelspruit was extended to White River which greatly assisted in the export of citrus. (Source - White River Remembered, Claire Nevill)

The township spread over an area of about 8 kilometers and today accommodates about 2500 farmers on small holdings. Their main focus is the cultivation of vegetables, sub-tropical as well as tropical fruit, timber and flowers.

White River is today also home to the well known Macgregor Macadamia Nut Farm and offers a popular holiday destination for those who are looking to enjoy the splendour of the Crocodile River Valley. The town also has a reputation for arts & crafts. Also known as Witrivier (Afrikaans), the town is probably better known under the Afrikaans name than the English "White River".

White River recently became known as the safest and most pleasant town to visit in South Africa.

A Tree as historical monument?
Between 1885 and 1895 a tree was planted by an unknown Anglican minister where the old village green was, just over the road from the original church. This tree is still standing (not ingenious to the area) but has been declared an historical monument as it is a Natal Fig.

A house was built near this tree in the 10 years following the planting of the tree. Known as the "Vicarage", it is today generally regarded as possibly the oldest house in White River.

In 1916 the Anglican Church moved to where St George's is found today on the Plaston road. The house was then aquired by the Dutch Reformed Church and became know as "Die Pastorie". It is unclear if the house was sold or given to them.

Then follows an unclear period in it's history, but it was used as boarding house after the church stopped using it, and later converted into flats. At some stage the house was also used as a post office.

In the '70's it was used a offices for estate agents and lawyers.

In the '80's it was a fine dining restaurant - Timbuctoo - run by a married couple with the surname Kay.

Between '95 and '05 the house was used a roadhouse, gay nightclub, antique shop, restaurant, nursery and clothing shop.

In Feb 06 Braam Coetzee and his family purchased the house and restored it after which it was used as a restaurant to the present time. The restaurant opened with only 6 tables in April 06. In May 06 the dining room opened, followed by the bar in June of that same year.

Today the Alfresco Restaurant offers fine cuisine to patrons, and the somewhat colourful past history makes the dining experience that much better!

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