The wealth of Potchefstroom’s history, being the oldest town north of the Vaal River, is reflected in its street names. The most unusual origin of a Potchefstroom street name might be Grietjie Street in Dassierand, which was named after a canon. Zeederberg Street, also in Dassierand, was named after the coach service that frequented Potchefstroom in the 19th century.
Many streets are named after national figures, birds, composers and trees, amongst others. Street names discussed here will be only ones of which the origin has a bearing on the history of the town itself. On some street names no information is available and this list will be no means cover all the relevant street names.
This is the first article in a series on the street names, dealing with street names starting with “A”.
In 2006 the names of some of the main streets in Potchefstroom were changed and the city lost some names honouring people who played a significant role in the history of the city. More on these in a later article.
In 1974 and 1975 a columnist of the Potchefstroom Herald, Senex, published a series on the street names of Potchefstroom. This provided a wealth of information for this series, but many newer street names do not appear in Senex’s lists. Some of these will be added here.
A list of prominent residents of Potchefstroom who have never been honoured by a street name will also be compiled.
Streets starting with an “A”
Albertus Street (New Baillie Park) According to the surveyor, the late Mr Chris Elsenbroek, the developer of the new part of Baillie Park (south of the N12) wanted to name a street in this area after him, which he did not want. He and the developer then decided to each name a street after their sons. Frederik Street was named after the son of Elsenbroek and Albertus Street was named after the son of the developer.
First and only female mayor
Aletta Street (Dassierand) was named after the first female mayor of Potchefstroom, Mrs Aletta JE Nel, who served in 1930/31, 1936-1938 and 1948/49. Mrs Nel was also the chairperson of the Works Committee responsible for the building of the Water Works of Potchefstroom. It was officially opened in 1926. Mrs Nel, as mayor, officiated at the opening of new buildings for the South School (now ML Fick Primary School), in April 1937. As mayor she also turned the first sod for the building of the new clubhouse of the Country Club in February 1938. In 1963 she was the first recipient of the Freedom of Potchefstroom. This was during the 125th anniversary of Potchefstroom. The former residence of Mrs Nel stood in Sol Plaatjie Street. It was demolished at the end of the 1970s to make way for the new Library and Museum Building. She passed away on 5 October 1974 at the age of 88.
Founder of the Agricultural College
Alex Holm Street (Dassierand) was named after the Scotsman who was the first manager of the Potchefstroom Experimental Farm (later Agricultural College) in Potchefstroom when it opened in 1902. After he had passed away, the owner of the Potchefstroom Herald himself, Mr CV Bate, wrote his obituary in the newspaper. He names Mr Holm as a person having a prominent association with Potchefstroom as the first manager of the Government Experimental Farm.
He arrived here in 1903, being one of the ‘Milner importations’ – one of the many who left an impress for good on the development of South Africa. The site of what is now the College of Agriculture was then bare veld, the only buildings being a few raw-brick structures in which the first offices were located.
Alexander Holm was a young Scotchman of dominating and virile personality; he knew what he wanted and set himself to achieve it. It was his brain that planned the layout of the entire estate of some 700 or 800 morgen, the situation of the fine administrative centre, residences and hostel; he was the purchaser of the fine imported pedigree cattle, the progeny of which in subsequent years attracted Cabinet Ministers and other buyers from all over the Union to the annual stock sales at which very high prices were realised.
I can still picture his sturdy gaitered figure tramping or riding over the barren Commonage, pointing with his riding-crop to this or that feature which his mind envisaged as forming part of his scheme for the future agricultural training centre.
From 1903 onwards he built well and truly and the College and its environs as today existing are a monument to his creative genius.
In 1909 “the Farm” became the School of Agriculture, and in that year Alexander Holm was transferred to Pretoria as Under-Secretary for Agriculture, giving greater scope for his abilities and knowledge, particularly in livestock.
In 1917 he was appointed chairman of the Wheat Commission and in 1919 he became the Director of Agriculture in Kenya, a post which he held till 1933, when he retired owing to ill-health.
When the local institution attained the dignity of a College after 30 years existence, Mr Holm sent an interesting and reminiscent letter which was read at the function. In 1924 Mr Holm was the Commissioner for Kenya at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, when the CBE was conferred upon him.
While in Potchefstroom, Mr Holm was associated with many local activities, including the Caledonian Society of which he was one of the early chieftains. A good organiser, a strict disciplinarian, an incisive speaker, a man of wide farming attainments, he left his mark for good on African soil.
Boer War hero
Arie Jonas Street (Central)
This street was named after a hero of the Anglo-Boer War. Arend Willem Cornelius Jonas was buried on 19 December 1949. The Herald posted his obituary on 9 January 1950.
The headline reads: “Death of noted Boer War Scout –said to have penetrated British lines at will.
The death has occurred in Potchefstroom of a man who enjoyed very high local reputation as a Boer Scout for his exploits during the South African War of 1899-1902. He was Arend Jonas, familiarly known as “Arry” who died at the age of 93 years.
During the war Mr Jonas was a member of the Potchefstroom Commando and was domiciled in Potchefstroom. It was said of him that he could penetrate the British lines at will and on scores of occasions he actually did so, not only to visit his own home but also to take messages to the wives and families of Potchefstroom men who were with him on command.
He narrowly escaped death one night when he was shot at while swimming the Mooi River near his home in Maree Street after having entered the town and escaped only by swimming under water.
Mr Jonas, who never married, retained his faculties almost until his death and used to put in a hard days’ work in his garden that would have been the limit of many younger men.
According to the records of Anglo-Boer War Museum Jonas was captured as a prisoner of war on 24 March 1901 at Ventersdorp.
GN van den Bergh, Die Anglo-Boereoorlog in die Potchefstroom-omgewing, Christiaan de Wet Annale 11, (Bloemfontein, 2013), p 87.
Auret Street (Central) was named after a Voortrekker pioneer named Auret who was 70 years old in 1885.
Beer brewer and naturalist
Ayres Street (Central) was named after Thomas Ayres (1828-1913). He was an adventurer, big game hunter, hawker, well-known brewer and a world famous ornithologist.
The Ayres family, parents and six children, came from the county of Hereford in the United Kingdom to South Africa in 1850. They settled in Natal. Thomas was 22 years old at the time. Reports of the discovery of gold in Australia lured him there, but eventually he had to earn his passage back and ended up in Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth), where his ship perished.
An attempt at farming near Pinetown was also unsuccessful, probably because his interest in wild life was stronger than his commitment to agriculture. After he lost his wife he travelled to the Transvaal, where he was in 1862 and in 1865 he came to Potchefstroom to visit his brother.
At the time torrential rain flooded the Mooi River and prevented the wagon in which he travelled to cross. They had to camp on the banks for three months before being able to cross the river! They eventually crossed at a drift near the Potchefstroom Dam.
Here he started a business with his brother, which was mostly peddling. This was also ill-fated, according to hearsay, due to his inability to say no to people who asked for credit and favours. In this time he also hunted buffalo, blue wildebeest and elephant in the area of the Crocodile River. In the 1870s the goldfields of Lydenburg attracted him, but also without success.
One business that was successful was the brewery he founded at Lydenburg and later moved to Potchefstroom. It was the first brewery north of the Vaal River and widely known. Business was prosperous and when a thunderbolt hit the building in 1872 and it burned down, he promptly had it rebuilt.
His brewery was west of the Berlin Missionary Church, which is on the corner of Sol Plaatjie and Du Plooy Streets
Apparently the Captain Lucas who sung Ayres’s laurels, was a good friend of him, who advertised the mounted birds, insects, etc. which Ayres collected in England.
A short-sighted government later deprived the public of this wonder beer when legislation made it impossible for Ayres to continue to brew.
Out of Ayres’s second marriage, a son, Francois Duchesne (nicknamed Manny) was born. He never married and cared for his father into his old age.
In the course of his observations of wild life, Ayres collected and mounted many species of birds and insects, some of which he sent to the South Kensington Museum (currently the Victoria & Albert Museum) in London. Some went to collectors, such as one of the members of the famous family of financiers, the Rothchilds, and TH Gurney of the British Museum.
His articles were published in the authoritative ornithological publication Ibis and his scientific work was acknowledged when he was conferred with a Fellowship of the Geographical Society and the British Ornithological Society.
He also sold mounted birds. Any idea that Ayres was a nature lover who was only concerned with nature conservation is thwarted by a poem found in a scrap book he made:
All sports of the field was delightful . .
But none can with shooting compare.
He may just have been a child of his time.
His contacts ranged far and wide. He corresponded with prominent scientists, prospected for gold in the Northern Transvaal and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) with the German mineralogist Carl Mauch, went on hunting trips with a man such as Frederick Courtenay Selous. After his death a letter from Selous was found between his papers, who addressed him as “My dear old Baas” and the town to which this letter is addressed is “Mooi Rivier Dorp”.
Of the five species of bird he discovered, two carry his name in their scientific names. The five species are the Orange Ground Thrush, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Wing-Snapping cisticola (Cisticola ayresiii) and the White-Winged fluff tail (Sarothrura ayresii). The latter was observed near the Mooi River.
Ayres lived in a thatched roof cottage in Sol Plaatjies Avenue, which was locally known as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. The address appeared to have been 40 Sol Plaatjie Avenue, where the gardens between the Library and the Goetz-Fleischack Museum is today. At his house men of the town met for many evenings to listen to his interesting talks and to receive the simple hospitality of this friendly, quiet man.
Eventually he was so poor that a call was made in the press for financial support. The money that was donated was too late to contribute to his comfort since he passed away on 31 July 1913 in the age of 85 years.
Source: WJ de V Prinsloo, Potchefstroom 150 (Potchefstroom, 1988), p 11, 12.
Auto Avenue (Central) is in the vicinity of where the first garage in Potchefstroom was. It was owned by Mr George Chapart.
George Chapart was born in France in 1877.
He came to South Africa in 1902 from Madagascar. Due to training he received at the De Dion Bouton factory in France and his knowledge of motorcars, he decided to import cars. In five years he sold about 30 cars in Natal. He ventured on many motorcycle and motorcar trips, mostly to promote the cars he sold.
In 1907 he bought a Ford Model N and undertook an extensive tour to the interior of the country to introduce this car. He demonstrated this light, cheap and trustworthy car to farmers and at agricultural shows. This tour resulted in many orders for the car.
He decided to open a garage in Potchefstroom in 1910 where he sold many types of cars, but mostly Fords, who coped well on the rough roads. In his memoirs “A Romance of Motor Pioneering in South Africa”, which was published before 1960, he wrote that 1910 “saw the arrival of Maxwell, Paige, Auckland, Overland, Flanders, Studebaker, Detroiter, Brush (with a wooden chassis) and Regal cars as well as many other makes. It is curious to think that most of these cars, which at the time were considered as perfect, have now disappeared from the market.”
He also wrote that he started the first taxi cab service in South Africa in Potchefstroom with three used cars, “which was a huge success”.
He sold the a Ford Model T to a local businessman, Mr F van Swieten, who with his wife and two daughters in this open car, became the first person to cross the Drakensberg by motorcar when he drove from Potchefstroom to Harrismith via the Oliviershoek Pass to Ladysmith and Durban in April 1912. He sent letters to Chapart reporting on his progress, who forwarded them to the Herald where it was published. (My story on this event appeared in Drakensberg edition of Weg! and Go! magazines in 2014.)
In May 1912 the Herald reported that Mr Chapart created an “easy record” when he supplied nine motorcars to convey a rugby team from Potchefstroom to Klerksdorp. He lived at Groenpunt, an area of the Bult between the Wasgoedspruit, Steve Biko, Rissik and Molen Streets and was locally known as “Spaas”. He later moved to Krugersdorp where he operated a garage at least until 1965.