Beautifully engraved certificate from the Graskop Exploring Company issued
in 1902. This item is hand signed by the Company’s Directors and Secretary and is
over 99 years old.
The first records of Graskop history start in 1843, with the arrival of the Voortrekkers in the area. In 1838 Louis Trichard - in search of a port not under British rule - had reached Delagoa Bay via a particularly arduous route through the Olifants River Valley. This journey was completed at a tremendous cost in lives lost to fever, probably malaria. In 1843 Andries Potgieter - who had just founded Potchefstroom and on the advice of Trichard - took a more southerly route which turned out to be virtually impossible - let alone arduous !! After negotiating what is known as CASPERS NEK Pass (named after Paul Kruger's father who pioneered this oldest existing road in the region still in use), the party reached the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment down which there was no possible descent at that point, or - by line of sight - 50km in any direction. Leaving the women and children and a few men outspanned on the banks of the river just below the top of the escarpment - with strict instructions that the waiting group return to Potchefstroom if the scouting group had not returned by a date two months into the future - the men went in search of a way down to the Lowveld 1000m below. Access to the Lowveld was discovered to be via an animal track on a land under the control of a local chief named Koveni - hence the Afrikaans translation Kowyn - and onto Delagoa Bay where, for various reasons, the men were delayed. The waiting party, after staying a fortnight longer than instructed, left the river on who's banks they have been anxiously waiting, named it "Treurrivier" (River of Sorrow). A few days later the returning men caught up with their womenfolk on the banks of another river which was promptly named the "Blyderivier" (river of Joy).
In the year 1850 the farm GRASKOP - so named because of the vast tracts of grassveld and singular lack of trees in the area - was owned by one Abel Erasmus who in later years was to become "native commissioner and magistrate" for the entire Lowveld and escarpment region. The local, indigenous people gave this redoubtable hunter the name "Dubula Duzi", in recognition of the fact that he waited till the very last moment before firing on his quarry.
Gold was discovered in various places all over the region in the 1870's and the GRASKOP area was no exception. Though not as dramatic or lucrative as elsewhere in the region, the watchful eye may still notice the scars of long (and not so long) past mining operations around GRASKOP and Pilgrims Rest. As recently as 1996, the last of the prospecting "characters" in the area decided to hang up his pan.
"Jock of the bushveld" belongs to the late 1880's and the early 1890's. Two chapters of this classic African tale - namely "Paradise camp" and "Baboons and Tigers" - took place a stone's throw from GRASKOP.
By the 1890's, the need for a more effective route for necessities at Pilgrims Rest - in particular - allowed Max Carl Gustav Leibnitz to make his own fortune. Almost single handed this man turned the existing animal track into the first "Kowyns Pass" - the present one is the third and was completed in 1957 at a gradient of one in fourteen. The original pass had a gradient in some places of one in three. At the top of the pass Leibnitz built a toll gate and Inn. Leibnitz's original pass could not by any stretch of the imagination be called a road. The ascent was a 2 to 3 day grind of sweat, hard work and foul language. Going down the pass was no game either because huge branches had to be attached to the wagons to assist with braking. Needless to say the trade in liquor was very brisk indeed - even though Leibnitz did not have a licence. This fact, as such, wasn't a problem; but when the magistrate from Lydenburg passed through every second week on his way to the Lowveld, liquor was hastily hidden and there where many irate, thirsty men mumbling themselves to sleep.
On one auspicious occasion the magistrate - who was aware of the illegal liquor trade and didn't mind the odd tipple himself, pointedly asked Leibnitz why he didn't sell liquor. "Who will look after the toll gate while I'm gone for a week fetching a piece of paper?" came the arch reply. At the truth and logic of this the magistrate relented and handed over the necessary forms which were duly signed and witnessed.
A railway spur from Nelspruit through the farm Sabie and onto the farm GRASKOP was begun in early 1910. This railway line was completed and ready for the opening ceremony on 18th June 1914. GRASKOP was declared a town later that same year. By 1918 GRASKOP had a primary school, church and a store. Talk of the town becoming a farming community was just that, talk. Because of the high rainfall, vegetable and fruit farming was not a viable enterprise. Although there had been cattle around for some time, the predominantly sour grass nature of the veld - which the cattle preferred not o eat, as well as the permanently wet nature of the veld which caused hoof rot, nipped in the bud any idea of cattle or dairy farming on a large scale. As a result of these factors Graskop remained predominantly a railway town.
Then in the late 1920's and early 1930's came the depression. In an attempt to create as many work opportunities as possible, the government of the day decided to plant trees in the area. Trees were always going to be planted here, but the decision turned a fifty year plan into a five year plan as thousands of white men planted the first trees by hand and received a pittance for their labour. That pittance however kept many thousands of loved ones from starving in those dark days. Since the depression and after the cutting of the first trees (as a matter of interest and rule of thumb, the trees in the region only grow for 15 years before they are felled), GRASKOP became a timber town with a little more prosperity than before.
By the time the second world war started, GRASKOP had a population of 700 people. The town hall had been built and there was a golf course as well as a horse racing track, both of which there is no trace today. The one thing that never changed was the constant stream of tourists who were entranced by the region. Although it was as rough as it could come on the gravel roads of 30 years ago, many people came and were overwhelmed by the splendour which abounded, despite the fact that the roads were virtually impassable in the rainy season and so dust filled during the dry winter months that one had to keep one's distance from the vehicle in front.
At that time the Bourkes Luck Portholes - already a prominent tourist attraction - was spanned by swing bridges and a trip to the Three Rondavels viewpoint was an overnight affair. Many residents of the region are the offspring of men who found that they could - or would - not exist outside the "encircling comfort of these hills". This "encircling comfort of the hills" attracts many hundreds of thousands of people to the Greater Escarpment Tourist region each year, and a large proportion of these persons are returnees.
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