go! - - Regulars - – Jens Friis

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 philip­po­ and philip­po­

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.

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