The Old Thomas River Historical Village sits halfway between Stutterheim and Cathcart in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, Thomas River was a self-contained village. It had its own residents, general store, post office, church, and schoolhouse. Over a century later, the Sansom family has undertaken a restoration of this village, returning it to its original splendor. The village now offers accommodations, historic buildings, a restaurant, and a wedding venue all conveniently located in one place.
The village was named after an English deserter, Thomas Bentley, who was part of Van Der Kemp’s missionary. Bentley met his end from a poisoned Bushman Arrow while crossing the river. Hence, the name Thomas River. Visiting the Old Thomas River Historical Village really feels like a journey into the past. While wandering through its old buildings and museums, you can’t help but imagine the lives of the people who shaped its history. It’s also interesting to see old items like typewriters, computers, and wagons from a long time ago. It got me thinking about the remarkable progress we’ve made in technology and transportation over the years!
The Museum of San Rock Art
At the Thomas River museum, you’ll find replicas of rock art, taxidermy mounts, and a private collection of artifacts related to the San people. The San, also known as Bushmen or Basarwa, are the indigenous people of Southern Africa, living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Their rock art, displayed in the museum, is a precious archaeological and cultural resource that sheds light on their beliefs, practices, and history.
The museum also features a reproduction of the Linton Stone, a renowned piece of San rock art. This 2-meter-long rock slab, originally found in a cave near Maclear, Western Cape, in 1918, is now displayed in the South African Museum in Cape Town. The depicted figures on the stone are integral components of our national coat of arms.
The Wagon Museum
The Wagon Museum is committed to safeguarding and displaying historical wagons and carts. You can explore a variety of wagons and conveyances, gaining a glimpse into the transportation methods and lifestyles of bygone eras. While the primary focus is on wagon displays, the museum also houses additional artifacts from that time, including the Saratoga Trunk and old horse-riding saddles. Spending an hour or two in this room alone is easy to do!
The Motor Museum
If you enjoy automotive history, then you will love the Motor Museum at Thomas River. Its diverse collection of vintage cars, baby prams, and other artifacts is pretty cool!
The Private Library
The shelves in the private library are filled with old books and interesting things from a long time ago. As you walk around, you’ll find stuff like old switchboards, typewriters, flat irons, and telephones, each telling its own story. It’s not just a look into the past; it’s a fascinating way to see how things have changed over the years.
The Thomas River Train Station
The village established the first train station in the late 1870s. The construction of a new station began in 1926, but ceased operations in 1948 when the new line opened. What’s pretty awesome is that now you can actually spend the night in the old railway station, as it has been converted into accommodation. Standing there, looking at the station, I couldn’t help but think about all the people who must have walked through its doors and the stories that are a part of this historic place.
The Stone Forts at Thomas River
Two stone forts at either side of the original station bear testament to the Frontier wars. Honestly, the fort’s earthy structure and gunholes make the idea of a battlefield here feel very real.
The Thomas River Rumble Restaurant and Dining Hall
The old dining hall, full of the vibes from the past, is a beautiful place for weddings, parties, and meetings. Its grand architecture and rich history make it an interesting place that feels like the old days but with modern comforts. Again, I tried to picture all the fun parties and events that must have happened here!
In a nutshell, at the Old Thomas River Historical Village you can step back in time to enjoy the history, culture, and a charming old-world atmosphere. Whether you’re into museums, dining, or just soaking up the historic feel, the village is a unique place to visit in the Eastern Cape.
How to get to the Thomas River Historical Village
If you are coming from East London, continue along the N6 highway. Pass through the town of Stutterheim. After approximately 25 kilometers, make a left turn when you see the sign for “Old Thomas River” road. Proceed straight on the gravel road for approximately 4 kilometers. When the road splits, stay to the left, and you will arrive at the Thomas River Historical Village.
Alternatively, click on this GOOGLE MAP DIRECTIONS LINK.