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Riversdale discovered

Destination Garden Route | Riversdale discovered

Today my ‘African chick’ and I found ourselves in Riversdale. I must admit, it is a town I generally pass on the way to Cape Town or the Winelands. Sometimes I stop to fill up the tank and stretch the legs. Sort off halfway between the Garden Route and the Mother City. I didn’t think much of it…

But today we said goodbye to a distant family member who spent the last years of her life here, and after the gathering ‘Chick’ and I decided to explore a bit. It is Saturday, and end of the month, and one thing that we immediately noticed were the long lines in front of all ATM machines, and the loads of people doing their shopping. Town was buzzing, vendors were loudly advertising their goods, and kids were barefoot using the old steam train next to the central taxi station as their jungle gym.

The streets are wide, the ‘Hoofstraat’ and the ‘Kerkstraat’ is were it seems to be all happening. Although the town, named after Harry Rivers, the then Civil Commissioner of the Swellendam district, was founded quite a while ago, the atmosphere feels amicable, unpretentious, honest and down to earth.

When the first erven in the town were sold in 1838, it did not take long before the need for a proper trading store emerged. That same year the original construction was built by the Barry family, also from Swellendam. More than 20 years later it became the jail, the police station and the court rooms as well as the ‘hanging room.’ The jail wardens used to live on-site.

Besides obviously the ‘hanging room’, the whole complex breathes an atmosphere of a laid-back, Mediteranean or even medieval village. The cells and different rooms of the Old Jail nowadays hold different types of antiques, Africana art pieces and feel-good interior decorating pieces. The hanging room is still the hanging room…. But the little courtyard oozes with character, and yummy cheese and carrot cakes are being served under the avocado trees.

Three houses around the corner is another historical gem of Riversdale: the Julius Gordon Africana Centre in the Versfeld House. Julius Gordon was born in Riversdale at the end of 1892 and qualified as a lawyer 22 years later. Later on he continued studying and although he qualified as a medical doctor in 1938, he never practiced as such. Theodore Versfeld, also born in Riversdale, but a few years before Gordon. He also studied law and took over his father’s law firm in 1912. Both men remained bachelors, but to leave a legacy for future generations. Gordon left his collection of paintings and antique furniture, while Versfeld bequeathed his home on Long Street to Riversdale. The building and grounds are beautifully kept, and worth visiting for that alone.

Chick and I got there just too late, as the House was about to close. A quick walk-through made us realize that Riversdale has much more to offer than we ever realized. And now that we have spent a little bit of time here, all we have to do is to come back!

Die Ou Tronk / Old Jail is open from Monday – Friday: 08h00 – 17h00 and Saturdays: 08h00 – 13h00. For more info: Louise Malherbe on 028 713 4300 or louise.malherbe@outlook.com;

Julius Gordon Africana Centre is open from Monday – Friday: 10h00 – 15h00 and Saturdays: 10h00 – 12h00. For more info: 028 713 7939.

Riversdale does not have a Visitors’ Information Center but both places had maps and brochures of things to see and do in the area available.

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Have you visited Riversdale?  What did you discover?