Koelfontein Estate is not unlike other farms in the Boland valley of the Warm Bokkeveld. It shares the same climate and fertile soil that established the Ceres region as one of the most important deciduous fruit growing regions in South Africa.
The original Koelfontein was the smallest of the first seven farms granted to the pioneers who settled in the Ceres valley in the early part of the nineteenth century, around 1823. Daniël Jacobus Conradie bought this 2,500 hectare farm in 1832 from the widow of the first owner. Very little is known about the first Conradie to own Koelfontein farm, but we do know that he was only 23 years old, newly married and with one child, when he made the bold step to purchase and farm this sizeable piece of land. He was born in 1809 to Pieter Jacobus and his mother, Maria Aletta Retief, was a cousin of the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief.
Daniël Jacobus Conradie left an indelible mark on Koelfontein in many ways. He built the first permanent dwelling on the property, which is still standing today, and was more than likely built in the first few years on Koelfontein, but no later than 1840. This modest dwelling is where Grootjie Danie, as he is known to the family, and his wife Maria Margaretha Susanna, raised fourteen children. This building was eventually converted into a wine cellar and blacksmith’s forge after his death in 1888, when wine grapes and brandy distilling had become a more established part of the farm. Today this building is still known as Die Kelder, and is used as a living museum and wine tasting venue. He was also responsible for the building of the renowned brandy still and the water mill, both of which can still be found on Koelfontein today. Incidentally, the brandy still is the only remaining licensed stookketel in the Ceres district dating back to this era, which permits the Conradies to distil a quota of 63 gallons of witblits annually. This remains a family tradition on Koelfontein.
As is the case with many other family farms, the original land that made up Koelfontein was carved up and allotted to various offspring. Daniël Jacobus’s son by the same name is the first owner of Koelfontein born on the farm, but there is no record as to why he, the third son, took over the farm from his father. His wife, Hester Elizabeth Conradie (Ouma Hessie), divided the original farm into portions that were given to five of her sons. This family matriarch let her sons draw lots for the apportioned parts of the farm. In fact, she had them re-draw several times until they had each chosen the “correct” lots. The five divisions of the original farm were called Doornbosch, Excelsior, Welkom, Zaailand and Koelfontein respectively. And so it was that Francois Daniël Conradie (Generation Three) inherited the portion of the farm with the original farmstead and thus got to keep the name “Koelfontein” for his farm.
Thereafter Koelfontein was carved up even further, but fortunately since the mid-1900s it has been slowly pieced back together by Zulch Conradie (Generation Four) and Francois Conradie (Generation Five) and so today almost all of the original 1832 Koelfontein land is back in the hands of two sixth-generation Conradies in roughly equal parts. The remainder of the original “Koelfontein” (along with Welkom, Withart, Veelgewaagd, Nuwehoop and Die Kloof) is under the stewardship of Handri (Johannes Hendrikus) while his second cousin, Daniël (Daniël Jacobus IV) is farming on neighbouring Doornbosch and Excelsior.
While orchards were planted in the early days of Koelfontein, fruit farming was not always the central focus of this inaccessible region. Wheat and livestock farming were the main commercial farming staples. Paved roads and a rail system opened the region up in the 1900s and, along with the advancements in irrigation technology and refrigerated transport, the Warm and Koue Bokkeveld were perfectly positioned to become some of the prime fruit growing areas in the country, if not the world. None of this advancement would have been possible without an adequate water supply. The farm was named after and developed around the spring that is found near to the main farmstead, which has always provided the farm with drinking water. However, major agricultural expansion necessitated far more water for irrigation than the spring provided.
In 1899 Francois Daniël I engineered a weir in the Waboomsriver which runs along a deep gorge from the Witzenberg on the western border of the farm and to which the farm had legitimate water rights, and constructed a contoured water canal that is over 5km long to transport the water over two ridges to reach the farmstead. Dams were built on the farm to accommodate this new water supply. The project was only completed by 1910, a laborious undertaking given the rugged mountain terrain the canal follows. Many family members, “bywoners” and farm workers were involved in building the weir and canal, which continues to supply irrigation water to the farm today. Their modest tools were picks and shovels and occasionally some dynamite “sourced” by a cousin who worked on the gold mines of the Witwatersrand.
Over the years each generation has made significant improvements to the farming operation on Koelfontein, collectively contributing to the success and longevity of the farm. This is the legacy that Handri and Noelani Conradie have been entrusted for their tenure.