Jagersfontein, South Africa’s oldest mining town, was established in 1870 on the farm of that name. When a 50-carat diamond was found on the property the farm was declared public diggings. The Cape Government bought the original farmhouse for use as an office and established what must be one of the most unique gaols in the country, right in front of the house – a Eucalyptus tree trunk to which the prisoners were tied. In time the diggings yielded even bigger stones such as the 972,75 carat Excelsior Stone (1893), the largest in the world until the Cullinan Diamond was found in 1905, as well as the 637-carat Reitz diamond (1895). In fact, eight of the 24 biggest diamonds ever found in the world came from this mine, the first place in the world where a diamond was found enclosed in its mother stone (blue ground/Kimberlite). The so-called “jagger” diamonds became renowned throughout the world and legend has it that Al Capone, the famous organised crime boss from Chicago, also owned one. In more recent times Elizabeth Taylor, the well-known film actress, became the recipient of a 20-carat “jagger” diamond. Today, Jagersfontein’s “Big Hole”, reputedly the largest, man-made, vertical-sided open diamond mine in Africa and even bigger than Kimberley’s Big Hole, is a popular tourist attraction. The famous South African golfer, Bobby Locke, lived in Jagersfontein as a boy.
Adventure And Sport
Hiking: The three-day, approximately 55 km Diggers Big Hole Hiking Trail takes hikers through typical Free State vegetation, up a steep ravine, the Donkerkloof, and past a beautiful fountain where overnight facilities are available. Many species of birds and game can be seen on the trail. There are shorter hikes too, all of which start at the Diggers Big Hole.
Horse riding: Horse rides can be organised on a farm in the vicinity. Contact the Jagersfontein Horse Riding Club for more details. The International Horse Endurance Race is run here every year during July.
Hunting, 4×4 routes, horse riding, bird watching and game viewing: Various private farms and guest houses in the vicinity of town offer a range of different adventure activities.
Sport: The town boasts a gymnasium, golf course and bowling and tennis clubs.
Steam Train Marathon: This annual event coincides with the International Horse Endurance Race during July and sees athletes “racing” the train from Jagersfontein to Fauresmith.
Woolwash Dam: Camping, angling and boating opportunities are on offer at the dam, 10 km north of the town.
Art And Crafts
Taxidermy: Visit the local taxidermist, much frequented by trophy hunters, and see some of the exhibits at the shop.
Glaasstudio Trust: The crafters at Glaasstudio Trust make lovely works of glass and wire, a typical South African art and craft form. On sale are wire baskets, bowls and lamps, as well as animal, insect and bird figures. Hand-made glass and Ostrich Egg art are also available.
Itumeleng Women’s Sewing Group: The group makes and sells traditional Xhosa, Venda and Sotho ethnic dresses, dolls’ dresses and several other garments and articles.
History And Architecture
Battlefield sites: The Battle of Boomplaats took place on 29 August 1848 in the vicinity of the town. This battle, fought to reassert British authority in the area known as the Orange River Sovereignty, cost the British dearly even though they did manage to achieve their goal. The British subsequently erected a monument commemorating and naming those who died here. Also visit the Swartkoppies Battlefield site, situated on the Farm Swartkoppies, in the district.
Historic Churches: The beautiful old Roman Catholic Church was built in 1881 and features exquisite original paintings depicting the stages of the cross as well as a beautiful baptismal font. Both the Dutch Reformed and Methodist Churches were built in 1881, the Anglican Church being erected ten years later, in 1891.
Historic Buildings: The town boasts no less than five buildings that were designed by the renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker. These buildings are the Town Hall, the Standard Bank Building and the building next to it, the old Barclays Bank Building and the Dutch Reformed Church. Jagersfontein also has the second oldest Masonic lodge in South Africa.
Old Mine and Mining Village: Although active mining has long since ceased in Jagersfontein the mine that originally heralded in the diamond rush still exists. The historical mining village in Meteor Street bears testimony to the town’s mining history. An interesting recent development is the recovery of diamonds from old mine dumps undertaken by the De Beers Mining Company.
Open Mine: The Open Mine (“Big Hole”) has a handy lookout post nearby, and the Open Mine Museum offers an overview of the town’s origin and mining history.
MOTH Museum: This Museum, known as the “Monte Sole Shell Hole”, exhibits memorabilia and other old and precious items from the Boer Wars, the First and Second World Wars and the more recent war waged on the northern borders of the former South West Africa (Namibia).
Sun Street: Sun Street, in Itumeleng, is one of the town’s oldest streets.
Water pumps: The quaint, original old water pumps, installed in 1913, yielded three gallons of water per penny and are still standing. Jagersfontein was the first town in the province to deliver fresh water to its community via a piped system.