Someone calls Stellenbosch the ‘spine’ of Stellenbosch. The meandering path breaks the grid pattern of most towns and tells about the intimacy and authenticity of Stellenbosch. This ‘carriage road’ to the Cape (“de wagenweg naar de Caab“) was a road slowly shaped by the wheels of wagons and coaches driving between the Cape of Good Hope and Van der Stel’s small settlement.
The dream of a picturesque residential street
Dorp Street wasn’t in the first place a residential street or formally laid out, therefore properties developed much later than in the rest of the historic core. Old maps and documents show that in Drostdy Street and Church Street properties were available as early as 1686, but in Dorp Street only by 1710.
When the first four streets were laid out, Grootte Kerkstraat, Kleine Kerkstraat, Plein street and Andringa Street, it was decided to set aside the land between the church and river (i.e. the upper part of Dorp Street) to later create houses for those serving the community (such as the smithy, the predikant, sieketrooster, sexton (koster) and school master. The vision was to create a ‘fraai’ residential street with a row of houses facing the river. Eventually the “wagon road” was re-purposed to this end. The houses, however, faced towards the road in stead of towards to the river (p.63).
Houses, farms and plots
On the Hertzog map of 1817 (drawn by the young land surveyor Hertzog) a number of houses had been built on the old ‘wapad’. These houses have long, rectangular back yards, creating a stretch of agricultural land along the Eerste River used for gardens or vineyards (such as House Lucy until quite recently). Further away from the town center, a series of farmsteads appear along Dorp Street, including Vredelust, De Hoop, Libertas Parva and Voorgelegen (it was land from Voorgelegen that was used to build the new mill – read here). On the 1710 drawing of Stellenbosch (by E.V. Staden) the artist show Voorgelegen in detail, complete with thrashing floor and hay stack.
The presence of farmsteads in a busy commercial street adds to the unique ‘rural character’ of Stellenbosch. Today Vredelust is the office complex next to Gino’s. Added to this are the leivore (irrigation streams) running alongside the road, another part of Stellenbosch’s historical heritage.
‘n Series of historical jewels
Apart from the beautiful farmsteads such as Voorgelegen (Dorp Street 116, with its early Cape Dutch architecture), many of the historical buildings in Dorp Street have remained largely unchanged. Dorp Street 100 to 118, as well as the row of single storey houses nos. 137 to 149 still stand today (no. 137 is where Oppie Dorp is today). D’Oude Werf and Coopmanshuys were both originally single story buildings, but, like many others, altered to include a second storey. No. 116 – 118 have special architectural value because their window frames are built in a ‘typically late nineteenth-century style’.
More Dorp street heritage stories
- One of Dorp Street’s heritage jewels is the old Lutheran church, which is today GUS. I researched the history of the gallery in one of my previous blogs – this gallery housed the collection of Maggie Loubser! Art lovers may also enjoy the blogs about the library’s cat, our visit to the Zeitz MOCAA and the PJ Olivier art center.
- Deluxe Coffee Works, or ‘Smidswinkel’ is an example of celebrating heritage in Stellenbosch today. The street’s name, Aan-de-wagenweg, demonstrates how Dorpstraat was known as the ‘wagenweg‘.
- Markstraat flows from Dorpstraat with an elbow. It is one of the lesser-known historical streets in the town but contains a lot of interesting buildings, such as the Kruithuis that was once used as a market building and later a fire station.
The Stellenbosch Heritage Foundation
Experts believe it is important to be sensitive to a town’s ‘fabric or place’. It can have a major impact on the town’s economy as well as the health of its residents. This is something that the Stellenbosch Heritage Foundation regards very highly. They mean:
In looking for growth, politicians and officials often focus too much on “wow”, and neglect the fabric of place. Fabric of place endures. Cities that focus on fabric of place hold out better against economic collapse, and support growth longer. (Stellenbosch erfenisstigting).
Changes to sensitive urban environments must respect the spirit, the prevailing character, and genius loci of a place; otherwise it will lose its identity (Norberg-Schultz, 1984, in R. Donaldson).
‘nDromer is ‘n jong Stellenbosser wat graag skryf oor die dinge wat jy miskyk of vanselfsprekend aanvaar Sy hou van stowwerige boeke en spinnerakhuise en om te sien hoe die verlede nie altyd is wat jy dink of verwag nie. Sy skryf sedert 2015 elke week iets oor Stellenbosch, sy erfenis en sy mense.