Sedgefield is a resort town located along the Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, situated between the two lakes Swartvlei and Groenvlei. In addition to the lakes it boasts miles of white sandy beaches, and has been a favourite holiday location for Karoo farmers for many years. The farmers travelled by oxwagen to their campsite at Swartvlei before a road was built to the town. In 1921 a railway connection between George and Knysna was planned and the project was completed in 1928 by routing the line over a new bridge crossing the adjacent Swartvlei. In 1940, the town was given a postal service outlet and in 1947 the road through Sedgefield was completed, thus fully integrating the town into the commercial route between George and Knysna.
Sedgefield History -Town Proclamation
When investigating Sedgefield history one finds that the area was first part of a larger farm called Ruigtevlei. It was divided into 9 lots in 1878, and only then does Sedgefield history really begin.
In 1876 James Hooper found a gold nugget in the Karatara River which sparked the Millwood gold rush that reached its height in 1886. It was relatively short-lived as the reefs never delivered the expected results and the goldfield proclamation was officially revoked in 1924.
His son Charteris Hooper of Robben Island fame was noted to have swum the distance between Platbank and Gericke's Point past Swartvlei Beach on a regular basis. Platbank is at the top right of the photo below, and Gerick's Point bottom left past Swartvlei Beach. The point can clearly be seen in the next photo..
In 1929 Sedgefield was proclaimed a town and managed by the Divisional Council of George. A Village Management Board was created in 1956.
Locals invited friends who told friends who told family who started coming for holidays, pitching tents or buying small plots and building modest holiday cottages, happy to rough it for the pleasure of enjoying the spectacular scenery, beaches and the glorious fishing to be had in the sea, river estuary and surrounding lake.
The village was still in its infancy consisting of a garage, a shop or two, the caravan and camping site owned by Alf Widman and a small number of simple residences. As there was no "main road" then the few residences faced the railway station with entrances facing George.
Sedgefield history reflects that to many, Sedgefield was at that moment in time, a mole and mosquito-infested vlei that suffered very cold and wet winters. It was acceptable for short stretches as a summer vacation spot but it didn't have much to commend it as a permanent residential address!
Sedgefield history indicates that conditions remained primitive for many years. Wells supplied water. Oil lamps and candles supplied light. Wood-stoves were the cookers. Then small generators were introduced and water pumps could be used to draw up borehole water.
The village sits on a large deep underground river that runs out to sea and an aquifer that’s closer to the surface, the extent of which, is still not mapped or fully known today.
Sedgefield history indicates that even when the 7 Passes (dirt) road was built and people could come by car, many times a team of oxen was called upon to pull out a vehicle stuck in deep sand. In those days there was no shop in Sedgefield only Jan Sak's Cafe at the Karatara T-Junction. It also doubled as a butchery and Post office agency. There was no bridge over the estuary and all goods came via Ruigetvlei or Karatara. Indeed it was early days of Sedgefield history.
The N2 tarred road that linked George and Port Elizabeth was completed in 1952 and upgraded by LTA in 1985.
Before the railway line, the Swartvlei camping site had long been established dating back to the early 1800's when people had travelled by ox wagon on rough gravel roads from inland and up country to spend some summer weeks enjoying sand, sun, friend and family time on Swartvlei Beach on the shores of the estuary. All they needed travelled with them. The loose mole infested sand was hard work for the oxen that also had to contend with swimming across the Swartvlei to get the wagons to the campsite.
Once, sometimes twice a year, they would make this journey sleeping under the wagon for one night along the way, staying for one or two weeks. It was a relaxing time for the hard-working farmers. They enjoyed the abundant fish catches in the lagoon and sea. Time was spent too, socialising with friends and family. The trip was always a great adventure for the children and they revelled in carefree days playing together in the sand and sea and swimming in the lagoon.
In 1935 one Robert Daniel Charles Stevens who was prosecuted by the Forestry Department because he refused to accept and pay for a permit from a Forestry official who approached him at the campsite. Witnesses ranging from 70 to 91 years of age, Solomon Petrus Terblanche (Roodekraal Farm), Johannes Jacobus Barnard (Bergplaas), and Stephanus Terblanche argued for the defense saying they had camped at Swartvlei with their families as children and it had been known as picnic place before their time. Ministers had held church services there. On the evidence presented the Magistrate, Mr P.H De Villiers conceded that the Swartvlei Peninsula was well established as a public camping ground and charges were dropped against the defendant.
In 1987 an attempt to develop the Swartvlei site into a township was defeated afetr a lenghty battle. Click here to read that story.
Opposite the Swartvlei campsite