The Reverend JD Kestell, a well-known churchman of the time, founded this small town in 1905. Although Kestell was the son of an 1820 British settler he identified himself completely with the faith and the people of his Afrikaans mother. He became a prominent figure in Afrikaans-speaking church, educational and cultural circles and one of only three people afforded the honour of being buried at the foot of the National Women’s Monument at Bloemfontein. Both Boers and British admired him for his bravery during the Battle of Wagon Hill, when he ministered to both his own and British soldiers while under heavy fire. The town is situated in the foothills of the Rooiberge, a very scenic part of the Free State that offers spectacular views of the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains.
Adventure And Sport
Hunting: Hunting is allowed on private farms in the district.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Insect and fossil collection: This interesting privately owned collection of fossils and insects belonged to Dr Astrid Jenkielson, an entomologist and resident of the town. The collection can only be viewed by prior appointment.
San Rock Art and Archaeological Sites: There are several noteworthy archaeological sites at Lemoenhoek, as well as several San rock art sites at Rooikrans.
History And Architecture
Groenkop Battlefield: The Groenkop Battlefield Site, several km north of the town, was the site of a Christmas Day surprise attack on the British by General Christiaan de Wet. Boer and British Monuments have been erected at the battle site.
Dutch Reformed Church: The Dutch Reformed Church is a lovely sandstone building, complete with spire and pillared portico. It is the second largest sandstone church in the Free State and can seat 1 000 people. Gerhard Moerdyk, the architect of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, designed this church.
Historic Oak Tree: An oak tree planted in 1837 by the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, when he passed this way, later became known as the tree of “samekoms” (gathering) because people from the district gathered here for church services before the establishment of the town and the building of the church. The huge old oak tree still stands and can be found at the foot of a hill, near an impressive sandstone mansion.
Retief Museum: The Retief Museum, located in the Retief Book Shop, houses Retief and Voortrekker memorabilia, an interesting collection of German medicine bottles and medicines often found in Boer women’s medicine chests.
Sandstone Route: Follow the Sandstone Route to view the town’s 30 sandstone buildings.
Voortrekker Grave: The grave of the Voortrekker leader, Paul Mare, lies east of the town, just off the Bethlehem Road.