Great Brak River is considered by many to be unique in South Africa.
The village was started in 1859 by Charles Searle, the first toll house keeper, and since then its destiny has been closely linked to that of the Searle family and their business enterprises.
Several generations of the Searles, one of South Africa’s pioneer families, have been engaged in shoe-manufacturing. Not only did their commercial ability bring a flourishing industry to the Great Brak River Valley – this was also complemented by a sense of social responsibility.
Probably the greatest achievement of the well-known Searle family was the establishment of a prosperous, stable community in the village of Great Brak River – the “factory in a garden”.
The first known reference to the Great Brak River was made in 1730 when its banks were reached by the pioneering trek farmers. In 1745 the river became the eastern boundary of the Cape Colony in an area known as “De Verre Afgeleegene Districten”.
As the Cape Colony expanded northwards and eastwards during the nineteenth century, Great Brak River became a well-used outspan en route to George and further east. In 1850 a causeway was built over the Great Brak River. This consisted of 13 stone piers with 12 openings of 20 feet (6.1 m each) and was spanned with timber. This crossing became a toll bridge in 1852.
The village of Great Brak River was started in 1859 when Charles Searle brought his family to the then virtually unknown rural settlement alongside the flood prone river. He was appointed to operate and collect the toll which provided not only for his wellbeing, but also for the cost of maintaining the crossing.
Travellers often needed their shoes (veldskoens) repaired. Charles Searle saw an opportunity and established a small shoe factory which eventually became a dynamic industry, allowing the village to grow extensively.
Great Brak River Museum
Today at 13 Amy Searle Street, you can find the full story in pictures and text of the Great Brak River village during its “Heydays” from 1859 to 1920. There are also various books for sale that will tell you more about the history of Great Brak River and other villages in the area. Read More
WALKS CONDUCTED BY THE MUSEUM
- Visit the last remaining operable 1920’s hydropower station in South Africa. Tours by appointment only, from one person to big groups. Conducted from the museum on Thursdays at 10h00; no fee, but donations to the museum are very welcome. Duration: 1 to 1½ hours.
- A Historic Village Walk can be arranged for groups, contact the museum. By appointment only. Click here for details of the 2016 Walking Fest Historic Village Walk.
- A tour to the wreck at Glentana can be arranged for groups, contact the museum. By appointment only. Duration: 3 hours during low tide.
Contact the Great Brak Tourism Office at De Dekke, S34 03.257 E22 13.533 (044 620 2550 – office hours) for detailed information.
GRAND HOUSES AND INTERESTING BUILDINGS
Take a walk through our historic village and view the many buildings constructed before 1930 and at the turn of the century. Before 1920 all building were made of sun baked bricks. Most historic buildings have display plaques – photograph this with a smart phone to access details of the building, including the interior.
Contact the Great Brak Tourism Office at De Dekke, S34 03.257 E22 13.533 (044 620 2550 – office hours) for more details.
Grand Houses and Interesting Buildings
The HISTORIC VILLAGE ROUTE map is available at our museum. Take a walk through Great Brak River and view the many buildings constructed before 1930 and at the turn of the century. Read More
SOUTHERN CAPE REGIONAL FOOTWEAR CLUSTER
Learn more about the highly successful shoe-manufacturing business originally introduced by the Searle family and see how shoes are made.
This training centre can be visited by appointment only, contact 044 620 2121 for more information. Tours last about 20 minutes and are free, but visitors can only be accommodated while people are in actual training – the centre is closed for certain periods.
Number 26 A on the Village Map. Contact the Great Brak Tourism Office at De Dekke,
S34 03.257 E22 13.533 (044 620 2550 – office hours) for more details.