Hugo Leggatt showed this photo, taken in about 1905, to his eager audience. The original farmhouse is in the background under the tree, together with its outhouse in the foreground. In the middle, right, is the guest accommodation built by Montagu White.
GEORGE NEWS - Renowned local historian Hugo Leggatt brought history to life during his entertaining talk about the history of Wilderness at the Wilderness Hotel on 16 March. Leggatt is researching and writing a book about the history of Wilderness.
During the talk, Leggatt's impish sense of humour was on display as he effectively made clear his view that the pristine beaches and dunes of not so long ago are under constant threat by beachfront homes from Leentjiesklip eastward.
He presented about 90 images from the mid-1800s to modern times - old artwork and maps, old black and white photos, and newer colour photos.
He outlined the changes brought about by several individuals and their families, including George Bennett, Owen Grant and Montague White, and the growth facilitated first by dirt tracks and difficult river crossings and later enhanced by gravel roads and the railway.
The deep gorges of the Kaaimans and Touw rivers were always a difficult obstacle for ox wagons and it was only the building of a proper road to Knysna in the late 1860s that opened the lakes area to settlement - now the Seven Passes Road.
In 1877 the farm The Wilderness was laid out - the beginning of the village as we know it today. After the end of the South African War in 1902, White's Road was built at a reasonable gradient up the hills above the lagoon and, together with the arrival of the motor car, Wilderness's reputation was secured.
By the end of the 1920s, the old farm buildings were transformed into a proper hotel, roads were laid out, plots were sold and houses were built. In 1928, the railway from George to Knysna was opened with Wilderness as the only station on the line between George and Knysna. Finally, in 1952, a coastal road crossing the Touw River was built, linking George and Knysna for motor vehicles.
The talk, attended by 150 people, was an undertaking of the Wilderness Ratepayers and Residents Association (WRRA). WRRA Chairman Neville Ewing was definitely pleased by the good turnout: "We will definitely carry on with these talks. In the meantime, anyone interested in the WRRA or in becoming members, please take a look at our website, www.wrra.co.za.
Application forms are available on the website."
Wilderness Hotel in its former glory.
Article by John Miller
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