Calitzdorp, like several of the towns we visited, started on a farm. Jacobus Pretorius settled in the area, which he called ‘Buffelsvlei’, in 1757, and other settlers gradually followed.
In 1800 Frederich Calitz bought land in Buffelsvlei and it was one of his sons who first discovered the route through the mountains which would become the Huis River Pass through the Swartberg Mountains. Two other sons, JJ and MC Calitz, subsequently bought farms in the area in 1821. The building of the Church and a school in 1857 underpinned rapid expansion. A railway reached the town in 1924, electrification in 1937, and also in 1937 the road to Oudtshoorn was cemented. The Tourist Office provided us with an excellent guide to the town – Calitzdorp on Foot; Historical Routes nos.1 & 2 and we used this to walk for about an hour or so.
Calitzdorp is the centre of port production in South Africa – you can’t escape this fact as you drive into the town through vineyards and past appropriate signs!
The Dutch Reformed Church dates from 1910 when the original building was demolished to build a new, larger church for the expanded congregation. This building seats 2,000 people and I would have liked to look inside, particularly to see the organ about which the organist in Graaff Reinet had told us, but sadly it was locked, like most of the DR churches we visited.
In Andries Pretorius Street, behind the church, is the first parsonage, built c.1860, came into ownership of the Potgieter family, the first ostrich farmers in the area, in the 1870s and remains with the family. Originally the building would have had a thatch roof.
Queen Street was the town’s first main street and building plots were l sold here from 1857. By chance the old road (the concrete road) from Oudtshoorn led us into the town via Queen Street.
The Handelshuis was originally built as a shop in 1908 for the Brink family; Karoo Life was built in the 1880s for Andries Blignaut, a wagon-builder, but recent renovation has apparently spoiled the building; no.16 was built as a shop. Most of the buildings have pretty details – corrugate iron verandahs, broekie lace, or fine front doors.
St Mark’s Anglican Church dates from 1880 and was built as a result of hard work by Mrs Happy Sarah Baldwin who was born in Tristan da Cunha and came to the Cape with the Reverend Taylor. Sarah was a dressmaker and an active member of the English community. The bell was cast in London in 1880 – at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry?
The Homestead was originally a cottage on the farm of Carl Christiaan Stassen; No.3 Queen Street was built for Hansie Vinson of the Brink family (Handelshuis); and No.1 Queen Street was built as another shop for the Brink family and later changed to residential use. (The old families in Calitzdorp included the families Brink, Calitz, Barry, Geyser, Baldwin.)
As always we could easily have lingered but time was passing. As we left the town I noticed housing that is perhaps not quite so charming.