Retiree rediscovers 100-year-old division beacon
This was a symbol showing the boundaries between farms
T IS AN ordinary, ugly, old concrete block, surrounded by litter and weeds, to which no one would even give a second glance while driving along busy Oxford Road.
But to the trained eye of Werner Kirchhoff, an 84-yearold retired land surveyor, it is a historical gem – a beacon which was erected in about 1897 to mark the division of three historic Joburg farms.
Kirchhoff lives in Melrose and often drives along Oxford Road. Last week, however, his heart jumped with excitement when he spotted the forlorn, but familiar, concrete block on the pavement, close to Glenhove Road. For years it was covered with a hedge and weeds, but now it was visible, standing there proud and intact, with just the top metal part missing.
It had been, he remembered, a familiar landmark which he used to see every day as a child while riding down Oxford Road on a trolley bus to school.
The beacon marked the boundaries between three farms – Braamfontein to the west of Oxford Road; Syferfontein to the north-east, which was developed by HB Marshall into the suburb of Melrose; and Klipfontein, owned by Barney Barnato’s company JCI and which became the suburb of Houghton.
“It eventually disappeared from view when a hedge grew up around it. I didn’t know its fate and believed it had been removed or destroyed. I was very excited to see it now that
Ibuilders have cleared the site to start construction of a new building,” said Kirchhoff.
He speculated that the owner of Syferfontein, HB Marshall, would ride past it every day on his way into town and might have felt the farm beacon was not sufficient to protect his land, so he would have asked his brother-in-law, Johan Rissik, who was the gov- ernment surveyor, to build a trigonometric beacon. That would have been in about 1895.
HB Marshall was a property owner who sold two plots to Cecil John Rhodes between Fox and Commissioner streets, to erect the gentlemen’s club now known as the Rand Club.
Kirchhoff explained that this one was what was called an “indicatory” beacon. The orig- inal one would have been placed in the middle of Oxford Road. So when the road was built a couple of years later, the original would have been removed, and replaced by this one on the pavement in the same geometrical land-surveying lines.
Kirchhoff said it was an important beacon, because it was from that point that the land surveyors of the time could see and plan townships.
He immediately went to buy some white paint, and repainted it, saying these beacons were all painted white.
He also made contact with the developer of the land whom, he said, was interested in preserving and restoring the beacon, even though it was on the pavement.
Kirchhoff ’s family is well entrenched in South African history. His father Peter was an artist who was one of the sculptors of the friezes at the Voortrekker Monument. In fact, he and his family are clearly portrayed in the friezes.
Flo Bird of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation said: “This is so exciting to find an old farm beacon in Rosebank. What a treasure. It is a huge find and such an exciting way of demonstrating the age of the area. Rosebank all looks so new, but this will give it a sense of time,” she said.
Bird has reported the find to the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority hoping to get the owners to fund a blue plaque for it explaining its significance.
CERTAINTY: Retired professional land surveyor Werner Kirchhoff shows how he was able to confirm that the beacon he saw along Oxford Road in Rosebank was the one he used to see from a trolley bus years ago.
OVERJOYED: Werner Kirchhoff paints a beacon that he rediscovered along Oxford Road. The beacon has been there for over a century. Kirchhoff last saw the beacon when he was a youngster.