Pilgrim's Rest, Places of Interest and History

In the 1840's the world wile gripped with gold fever, when large quantities of this precious metal were discovered in California. These early finds stimulated the search for gold in other countries. The history of the Mpumalanga gold fields date back to ancient times, when unknown miners worked the quartz reefs for gold. Traces of their mining activities can still be seen all over the Northern Province and Zimbabwe. A series of minor gold deposits were founnd in the northern parts of southern Africa between 1840 and the early 1870's. The first gold rush in South Africa took place in February 1873 when payable gold was discovered by McLachlan, Parsons and Valentine on the farm Geelhoutboom. President Burgers visited the fields, named the digger's camp Mac Mac and declared the area the New Caledonia Gold Fields. One of the Mac Mac diggers, Alec 'wheelbarrow' Patterson, left the area to prospect further a field. Patterson found rich gold deposits in the Pilgrim's Creek. He kept his discovery secret, but soon afterwards another digger, William Trafford, also discovered alluvial gold in the creek. The news of this rich strike triggered the first major gold rush in South Africa. Pilgrim's Rest was declared a gold field on the 22nd of September 1873. The Gold Commissioner moved his office to Pilgrim's Rest and by the end of 1873, there were approximately 1500 diggers working 4000 claims in and around Pilgrim's Rest. The valley was rich in gold and big finds were also found at Starvation Gully, Peach Tree Creek, Brown's Hill, Poverty Creek, Golden Point and Breakneck Gully. The first decade after proclamation, mining activities centred mainly on the recovery of alluvial gold. Gold was recovered from the streams and the banks of the river and creeks by means of sluice-boxes and cradles. An estimated amount of R2 million worth of gold had been removed during the first seven years of gold mining in the Pilgrim's Rest Valley.

Pilgrim's Rest was the social centre of the diggings and a busy community in 1874- 1875, consisting of the Upper, Middle and Lower Camps. The petering out of the alluvial deposits and the outbreak of the Sekukuni War (1876-1879) resulted in the decline of the gold fields. The scale of the Pilgrim's Rest gold fields cannot be compared with that of Australia or California, but it did produce a large amount of gold and for some time the Pilgrim's Rest diggings caused much excitement in South Africa. After the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881) the reinstated Republican government instituted a policy of granting concessions to individuals and companies, in an effort to stimulate industries. In 1881, David Benjamin, a London financier, obtained the mining rights concession on the farms Ponieskrantz (on which Pilgrim's Rest is situated), Ledovine, Waterhoutboom, Driekop, Grootfontein and Belvedere. Benjamin compensated the remaining diggers and formed The Transvaal Gold Exploration and Land Company. In 1895 various smaller companies amalgamated with the above company and in 1896 the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (TGME) was formed. The history of the TGME at Pilgrim's Rest is one of fluctuating production, An average of 300,000 tone of ore per annum was mined in the period 1930-1950, In the fifties ore production fell to an average of 50,000 tone per year, Sub-quality ore, unstable ground, scarcity of labour and floods were but some of the problems that the TOME had to deal with at Pilgrim’s Rest. In 1972 the TOME closed down Beta mine, the last operational mine at Pilgrim’s Rest. Since 1974 Pilgrim’s Rest has been managed by the Provincial Administration as a living museum.

 

PLACES OF INTEREST

Alanglade House Museum once the mine manager's house has a fine collection of Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco styles of furniture, dating between 1915 and 1930. The museum is not open to the public other than by a guided tour.

Alcock's The original Alcock's store is now restored as a Saloon Bar and Restaurant.

Anglican Church The church was built by diggers in 1884 and the original bell can still be seen.

Bank House The old bank house originally housed 'De Nationale Bank der Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek' and later Barclays Bank. A part of the building was used by the bank manager as a residence.

Cemetery To reach the cemetery either climb the steep path from the Methodist Church or drive to down-town Pilgrim's Rest and follow the signs. Amongst the graves is that of a tent robber {marked 'Robbers Grave' and lying at right angles to the others) who was shot after having robbed one of the diggers.

Diggings An interesting guided tout on the gold panning activities is available.

Dredzen Shop and House Museum Dredzen Shop Museum is representative of the typical general dealer store during the period 1930 to 1950. The articles on display date from a period covering 20 years and were therefore not always simultaneously available. The home and life style of the post Second World War years can be seen in the Owner's residence adjoining the shop.

House Museum The House Museum, built in 1913, is an example of the wood and corrugated iron architecture which is typical of Pilgrim’s Rest. In 1976 the building became a house museum and was furnished to epitomize a middle class home of the early 20th century in this area.

Joubert Bridge The bridge was built in 1896 and was named after the mining commissioner. It stone arches proudly span the Blyde river and the bridge offers the visitor a dramatic entrance into town.

Methodist Church In 1874, the year after the Pilgrim's Rest gold-rush began, the Methodist church established a ministry there to cater for the spiritual welfare of the diggers. The Rev. J .Good, who was appointed to serve the Pilgrim's Rest congregation in 1910, recorded that the first Methodist Church to be erected was 'sent out from England in sections in 1895 and used as a stable in the Anglo- Boer war'. It also served as a school. The original church, however, was demolished in 1911 after a suicide inside the building and a more substantial structure took its place. The foundation stone was laid on the 14th of October 1911 and a new manse was also provided for the minister just behind the church.

Pilgrim’s and Sabie News .The first locally printed newspaper to be circulated on the Pilgrim's Rest Goldfields was the 'Gold News' on 24 January 1874. Shortly after it was first published, an Irishman, W.J. Phelan, became the new editor and he changed its name to 'Goldfields Mercury'. In 1910 the first 'Pilgrim's and Sabie News' was published with T.W.S. Craig as its editor. The original premises of the paper which was situated between the present building and the Pilgrim's Hotel was totally destroyed by fire some time between 1916 and 1919. Subsequently the printing works was moved to its present site. This building was originally a private residence constructed during the late 19th century.

Reduction Works. The increasing production in ore after 1896 necessitated the establishment of a central reduction works at Pilgrim's Rest. By 1897 the first buildings were erected and consisted of a stamp mill, smelting house and a few offices. There were several mines in the area and an electric tram was built to convey ore from the outer mines to the central reduction works. The reduction works were closed in 1972 when the last mine at Pilgrim's Rest ceased production. The run down buildings have been restored and made available as a museum to the public. Visitors may join the daily guided tours that are conducted by trained guides.

Royal Hotel The hotel was built in 1894. One of the most interesting features is the bar which was once a chapel in Cape Town before being dismantled and shipped to Pilgrim’s Rest via Delagoa Bay.

Panorama Route (North on R532)

This scenic route commences along' the R532 at the top of Louis Trichardt Ave., signposted Ohrigstad, which goes directly to the Blyde River Canyon, while the scenic route R534, a 15,4km loop along the escarpment, branches off to the right at 2.2km and rejoins the R532 at a point 8.1km from Graskop.

Pinnacle Rock is a tall column of weathered quartzite littered with bright aloes. It rises 30m above the indigenous forest in the surrounding Driekop gorge. A source of the Ngwaritsana river cascades through the dark depths of the narrow cleft on the right at the head of the gorge.

God's Window at an altitude of 1730 m, offers magnificent views across the Lowveld, Kruger National Park and the Lebombo mountain range in the distance. The nature reserve at God’s Window includes a rain forest and beautiful Aloe gardens scattered with large outcrops of sandstone, weathered into haunting prehistoric shapes. A trail leads through the rain forest along the escarpment edge towards Wonder View affording panoramic views over a vast expanse of the Lowveld.

Lisbon Falls are a spectacular 95m treble cascade that tumbles into the dark green pools far below. Lisbon creek is typical of the area where early diggers panned for gold.

Berlin Falls were named after the farm on which they are situated and are 45m high. They originated as a result of the differential weathering resistance of the local rocks. The scene should not be missed as there are some excellent vantage points revealing the entire drop.

Bourke's Luck Potholes at the confluence of the Treur and Blyde rivers is one of the most remarkable geological phenomena in the country .Through millions of years, the swirling whirlpools which occur at the confluence, have caused water born sand and rocks to grind deep cylindrical potholes into the bedrock of the rivers.The potholes are named after Tom Burke who recognised the gold potential of the area. He became involved with the mining enterprise which owned the properly. However, there is an element of irony in the name, as the main find of gold was not on their ground but on the opposite side of the river.

Blyde River Canyon. A scenic spectacle, the Blyde River Canyon lies within the 27,000 hectares of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, a 57 km belt which runs north from Graskop along the escarpment. Owing to variations in altitude, temperature and-rainfall, a great diversity of vegetation occurs. On the high-lying southern section which has a high rainfall, extensive grassy slopes and dense areas of rain forest with yellow wood, boekenhout, forest silver trees, etc. and ferns are to be found. The central area has mixed Sour Bush veld and thorn trees, while the northern area and foothills are known as the Lowveld Sour Bush veld.

Lowveld View Site is on a flat rocky mountain top at an altitude of 1219m and appears to be 'only a little lower than the canyon peaks. Paths lead to the edge of the 16 km canyon, an awe inspiring view. Fat below the Blyde river foams and tumbles along the rocky canyon floor winding like an enormous green snake and eventually flows into the Blydepoort Dam. Dense vegetation with moss and ferns fill the deep krantzes and the upper rocks are covered with vivid lichen.

Three Rondavels View Site affords magnificent views of the famous peaks of quartzite and shale, known as the three rondavels while the Blydepoort dam lies calm arid serene far below. The poort or mouth of the canyon lies between Swadini and Mariepskop, which was once the scene of a great battle between Swazi raiders from the south and local Bapedi and Mapulana tribesman, who used the flat crest of the mountain as a place of refuge and a fortress whenever they were attacked. The Bapedi and Mapulana tribes became tired of the continual Swazi raids and under the leadership of Chief Maripi Mashile, they climbed to the top of the mountain peak opposite Swadini and bombarded the Swazis with large boulders in what became known as the battle of Moholoholo, 'the great, great battle '. The Swazis were heavily defeated and thereafter the mountain was named Maripi in honour of the Mapulana chief.