THEN & NOW
Philippolis, 85 years later.
Part of the main route between Cape Town and Johannesburg used to follow the current R717 via Philippolis in the southern Free State. Nearly 50 years ago, however, the route was altered to bypass Philippolis and go through Springfontein (40 km away) instead. The new route later became the N1, but it remains a mystery as to why it was moved in the first place. Maybe the apartheid government wanted to show off the new Verwoerd Dam (now the Gariep Dam)? It’s the biggest dam in the country and close to the N1. Or it could be that the road between Colesberg and Philippolis goes through several gorges and around several koppies, making road maintenance that much more challenging. The winding road caused a fair share of car accidents and six garages in Philippolis flourished before the route was diverted. After the diversion, every garage except one closed down. The old photo was taken circa 1932, in front of Hattinghs’ Garage, which was next to a stately Victorian home that belonged to the Jacobson family. The vehicle in the old photo might have “Crash Squad” on the back, but it has a Cape Town number plate and no tow bar. Look closely and you’ll also see the word “film” on the car – it might have been a prop for a movie and probably didn’t see actual service. The road was known as Church Street back then, but in 1938 it was renamed Voortrekker Street to commemorate the Great Trek. The trees you can see in the modern photo hadn’t been planted yet. Hattinghs’ Garage was in a double-storey building that was demolished decades ago. The space is now known as Nienaber Square. It’s a shame that the petrol pumps have been lost. In later years, the Jacobsons donated their house to the municipality and it became the Philippolis library. The library and the adjacent Transgariep Museum were recently renovated by the Free State government. The R717 is a great alternative to the N1. It’s 7 km shorter and much quieter – just remember to fill up in Trompsburg or Colesberg. The filling station in Philippolis is only open from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays, and maybe for a short stint on Sundays after the church service.
For more information about the oldest settlement in the Free State, visit philippolis.org.za and philippolis.co.za
SURVIVOR. The diversion of the main route between Cape Town and Johannesburg put most of the garages in Philippolis out of business. Hattinghs’ Garage also closed down.