Sandton

A short distance from the modern Fourways CBD lies a highly significant gem from another era... an old house that once belonged to the Van der Walt brothers who farmed watermelons in the area.

Earlier this year I wrote a piece highlighting a few amazing places to see the Joburg skyline (click here to view). Since then I have received several requests to do something similar for Sandton so here it is. If you know of any great places not mentioned, please add them in the comments section.

St Stithians School

In the late 1980s a magnificent statue of a rearing stallion was erected outside the Sandton Civic Centre near the corner of Rivonia and West (just up from where the Gautrain Station is today). It was surrounded by a fountain and became an instant landmark in the rapidly expanding Sandton CBD.

For several years the historic 1906 Driefontein Farmhouse (or more specifically the Wilhelmi House) in Parkmore/Riverclub has been waiting for a new use (click here for some history). The old Sandton Historical Association used to use the house for meetings and functions but this ceased when the organisation shut its doors in the 1990s. I am very happy to report that the historic landmark is set to serve the local community once again.

A common view ventured during small talk at meetings and social occasions I attend is that Sandton has no history. Many people describe the area as rich and soulless while others complain about 'poor architecture' and the explosion of sectional title complexes. In this article I will take readers on a dash around a few significant sites and hopefully persuade the naysayers that Sandton does indeed have a rich and layered history.

It is hard to imagine that the small park adjacent to Redhill School and opposite the Morningside Shopping Centre in Sandton was once a major 'outspan' where weary travellers (and oxen of course) rested on the way to Johannesburg. The following article, first published in the 1984 Sandton Historical Association journal, brings the story alive.

An old 'outspan', at least 150 years old, has just recently become a new Sandton Park, and will be preserved forever as an open place. This is Outspan Park in Morningside.

For many years Bill Hedding was known as the ‘Father of Bryanston’. He played a central role in the development of the suburb and the recording of its history. He was the founder of the now defunct Sandton Heritage Association, a long term city councillor and at one point the Mayor of Sandton. In the late 1970s he gave a speech on the history of Bryanston. Below are a few edited excerpts to give the reader an idea of the origins and development of the suburb.

To the north of Johannesburg lies a hill of great historical, archaeological and geological importance. In the article below Lilith Wynne explores the archaeological aspects of the Lone Hill site. The article first appeared in the 1988 Journal of the Sandton Historical Association, two years after Professor Revil Mason made his 'discovery'.

The aerial view of the old Borrowdale Farmhouse and outbuildings is truly remarkable. Today the area is dotted with established trees and multi-million rand homes so it is hard to imagine the rural landscape of the past. In the article below Valerie Gordon-Bennett shares some of her memories of growing up on Borrowdale Farm before and during the early days of Sandton. The article first appeared in the 1994 annual magazine of the Sandton Historical Association.

 

Last month we published an article from the Restorica archives where the author spoke about the power of excursions to heritage sites to inspire the youth (click here to read). We are sure most readers can remember at least one phenomenal trip during their childhood that has left an impact to this day. Over the last few weeks we have been sent some wonderful stories and photographs of recent adventures.

In August 1988 an article appeared in The Star with the headline 'Sandton historians seeking facts about mystery man'. Researchers from the Sandton Historical Association (SHA) had found a neglected grave in the veld just off Sloane Street in Bryanston but knew nothing of ‘John Richard Davis, born 8th December 1876, Died at Craigieburn, 25th May 1948’. The case generated significant interest and caught the attention of Davis’ daughter Molly Steel and others who helped researchers to build a picture of Bryanston’s mystery man.

It is hard to believe that the land to the east of the Bryanston CBD was once home to a grand hunting estate. The following article, originally published in an old journal of the Sandton Historical Association, sheds some light on the fascinating story.

In the early 1990s the Sandton Historical Association, with expert guidance from Professional Land Surveyor Werner Kirchhoff hoped to erect a Beacon monument to mark the boundary line between two of Sandton's original farms. Although the initiative did not get past the planning stage, the vision for the project was documented in an excellent article written by Avril Reid and Kirchhoff. Below are a few extracts from the article (SHA's 1993 annual magazine) revealing some fascinating history about beacons and boundaries.

I have noticed that many people are trying to establish the location of the Lord Howe Race Track in Kelvin. It is possible that the borehole is still there so if one can find it the rest may fall into line (see sketch below). Another clue that could assist the heritage enthusiast is that the main straight was at the top of a hill and finished in a dip. I can recall these details as I spent quite a bit of time in the pits and in the grandstand as a child as my dad, Prosser Roberts, was a fearsome racer during the 1930s. He raced the Bugatti pictured above.

In a speech given to the Sandton Historical Association in the late 1970s, Councillor Bill Hedding mentioned a very special historical site in the area - a school that managed to survive the onslaught of apartheid legislation and was connected to some of the most influential people in South Africa at the time. It also appears that part of the school is one of the few, if not the only, memorial to US President John F Kennedy in Africa.

It is hard to imagine that there was once a Grand Prix Race Track in Kelvin, Sandton. The article below, compiled by Ted Steyn, uncovers some remarkable local racing history. The piece appeared in the 1992 annual magazine of the Sandton Historical Association.

A few years ago Mushroom Farm Park in Sandton Central was used by the Bombela Consortium to access the Gautrain Tunnel during construction. As soon as the work was completed the company rehabilitated the green space and today it is a phenomenal resource for the Sandton community as well as many local and international visitors. Many people have asked about the name and want to know if there was ever a mushroom farm in Sandton Central.

In 1979 Dorothy O'Kennedy, an old resident of Rivonia, commenced a tremendous journey of discovery to find Rivonia's First Shop. Her story was published in the annual journal of the Sandton Historical Association. We retraced her steps but were unable to confirm whether or not the old building is still there. If you have any information on the shop please contribute to the comments section at the bottom of the article. Rivonia has certainly changed since this piece was first published!

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