Laingsburg Town History
Many early travellers stayed with Stephanus Greeff, at the farm Fischkuil, near where Laingsburg today stands. These passers-by enjoyed talking with Stephanus and his wife Martha Maria , and listening to their great plans for developing the area. Greeff, considered to be the father of Laingsburg, played a major role in the establishment of the village. At his own expense he built a church. His house was a popular stop.
The earliest travellers praised men such as Greeff who opened their homes and hearts, provided food, shelter, fodder and and oft-times medical care to individual travellers and post coaches users.
Among the earliest callers was Hendrik Swellengrebel, whose father had for a time been one of the governors at the Cape. He returned to Holland with his family, but was unable to settle beneath the grey Dutch skies. He missed the African sunshine . So, he returned to the Cape and began exploring the hinterland. He wrote about his adventures and commissioned a friend to paint scenes, particularly in the Karoo, so that he could share its magnificence with people in Europe. In 1776 he described a dreadful drought in the Laingsburg area. It forced men to abandon their farms and move closer to civilisation. He wrote of the many abandoned farms and described the hardships faced by those who had sufficient courage to remain on the land.
In his report Swellengrebel stated that even the game had disappeared and at on one long stretch through the “Thouwsgebergte” (the mountains near present-day Touws River) and Matjiesfontein district the drought was so bad he saw only one “korhoen”. He wrote of the weather, thunderstorms and floods, little realising that in 200 years time a town, built in this same area would be fighting for its life against the flood waters of the Buffels River . But, times were not always bad. In De Mist’s writings he tells of a delightful five-day long hunt during which seven men in the party each shot 17 eland and a huge variety of other buck.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In 1862 Stephanus Greeff acquired the farm “Zoute Vlakte” (Salty Flats) . Today the town uses this farm as a source of water. Isolated graves near the old homestead record the passing of those who could travel no further. Among them was Margaret, the first wife of Henry Greene, who became civil commissioner at Colesberg. A devout woman, she became ill on one of the post coaches and had to stay over at Zoute Vlakte for medical attention. She died. A black granite tombstone marks her grave. It states she died as she lived “secure in her faith in The Lord.” The farm had shade and fresh, drinking water. It soon developed into a popular stop. In 1879 Greeff acquired “Vischuil aan de Buffelsrivier” with the specific purpose of starting a settlement. At Greeff’s request a portion of this farm was surveyed “for the establishment of a village”. However, before this dream could become a reality a servitude being rerouted. Greeff appealed to John Laing, the commissioner for crown land and public works. He agreed to the rerouting.
JOKES RESULT IN A NAME CHANGE
For a short while the fledgeling village bore the same name as the farm. Later, the settlement was called Buffels River and, when the rail came, the name changed to Nassau to avoid confusion with East London’s Buffalo River. Then the name was changed to honour John Laing, whose decision to move a servitude made the creation of a town a reality. For a while the town was called Laings Town. However, in local parlance “town” was pronounced “toon” and, as that was the Afrikaans word for “toe” jokes began to mushroom. A quick change resulted in the village being called Laingsburg before any jokes stuck.
On January 25, 1981, Laingsburg was devastated by a flood. Within a few hours the whole town was under water and residents were fighting for their lives.
It was a traumatic time during which 104 people lost their lives and only 21 houses were left standing. Highwater marks are indicated on lamp posts and in the Dutch Reformed Church, one of the few buildings that remained standing.
Others were the railway station, Dutch Reformed church hall, the DRC Mission and the Lutheran Mission Churches, The Magistrates Court and Post Office, as well as a few private residences also survived.
But almost all were badly damaged. Most tourists are astounded to learn how high the flood waters rose. Only the roofs of houses were visible. A video tape of the flood can be viewed at the library which also has a collection of photographs and press cuttings covering the devastation. The Voortrekker monument on the south side of the town was washed away. Later as all its blocks were recovered and it was rebuilt.
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