Every town with deep roots has a “Pastorie” buried somewhere, and White River is no exception.
The renowned Milner post war settlement of British soldiers on farms in the area leads people to think of the town as being an Anglicised one, but the region was used for millennia before then by the hunter / gatherer San people.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Afrikaner Trekboers camped out for several months every year, grazing their cattle and sheep in the verdant Lowveld throughout the arid winters on their home farms on the Highveld. Malaria and Tsetse Fly prevented permanent settlement, although by 1890 Wolhuter, Van der Plas, Jooste and Strydom had established smallholdings in the area.
But here we have a conundrum. Our town history appears to begin in 1904 when the Transvaal Land Department, on Milner’s order, surveyed the valley, yet sometime between 1885 and 1895 an Anglican minister planted a tree on the village green across the road from where the original church stood. The Natal Fig is a national monument and still stands today.
The Vicarage was built near this tree between 1895 and 1905 and is probably the oldest house in White River.
In 1916 the Anglican Church moved to its current whereabouts on the Plaston Road and the house was either given or sold to the Dutch Reformed Church, becoming “Die Pastorie”.
When the Dutch Reformed Church no longer needed the Pastorie, the Dominee’s home became a boarding house and was later converted into four separately let flats.
At one stage, the house was the White River Post Office, and in the 1970’s it was converted into a lawyer’s office and estate agency. In the 1980’s it became a fine dining restaurant called Timbuctoo, run by Mr & Mrs Mike Kay. When the building was sold, a rent increase resulted in the Kays relocating to a site in Allie van Bergen Street, which is now Dr. van Wyke’s surgery.
Between 1995 and the end of 2005, the Pastorie was used as a roadhouse, gay nightclub, restaurant, antique shop, nursery and clothing shop.
In February of 2006 the house was bought and restored by Mr Braam Coetzee and his family and the Pastorie unfurled into a restaurant and bar once again. Alfresco’s was a popular watering hole and had many loyal regulars.
In 2013, the poor old Pastorie was renovated and changed once again, neatly divided between the fine dining Timbuctoo restaurant and sushi bar on one side, and the Coffee Pot coffee shop and Ser.en.dip.i.ty nail bar on the other.
And above it all, huge branches intertwined and supporting each other, the ancient Natal Fig stands guard, spreading over the adjacent Fish Aways restaurant and reaching for Marx Motors next door.
Endearingly, White River’s National Monument appears to protect the Pastorie and its neighbours.
It’s in this spirit that We Are White River intends to nurture and fan the flame of community connection and encourage a positive energy within and about the town.
White River Remembered Claire Nevill Published by Louis van der Merwe