Walking around the quaint town of Stellenbosch is in itself something of a historical experience. Dorp Street, for example, has one of the longest rows of surviving old buildings of any major town in southern Africa. However, for a quick tour through South African architectural history, you should check out the Stellenbosch Village Museum.
The museum is made up of four separate houses — acquired at various point during the 20th century — that each represent a distinct architectural period in Stellenbosch’s history. The houses have been furnished and decorated in the manner they would have been during the relevant period. Guides dressed in period costumes share snippets of Stellenbosch’s history, and even the gardens are period specific!
The first house, Schreuderhuis, which was built in 1709 by Sebastian Schreuder, a German who worked for the Dutch East India Company, is the oldest restored and documented town house in South Africa. The furnishings are quite simple and the house has unusual windows. Because glass was a rare commodity, early settlers would stretch gauze tightly over a frame and seal it with beeswax. On hot days, they would remove the frames entirely, and on stormy days, they would keep the wind and rain out by closing the shutters.
Blettermanhuis, which was built in 1789 by the last magistrate of Stellenbosch appointed by the Dutch East India Company, is a typical 18th century Cape-Dutch home, with an H-shaped ground plan and six gables. From 1879 until it was acquired by the Stellenbosch Museum in 1969, this building served as the police headquarters.
Although the third house, the Georgian Grosvenor House, was first built in 1782 by Christian Ludolph Neethling, it only reached its present appearance — thanks to a series of renovations — in 1803. Along with the Martin Melck House in Cape Town, this is one of the best-preserved examples of a two-storeyed, flat-roofed patrician town house in South Africa.
The British influence is seen mostly strongly in the furniture of the fourth house, OM Berghhuis, which is a typical Victorian mid-nineteenth century home with heavy mahogany furniture, wallpaper and family portraits.
If you are not quite ready to leave the 19th century, the museum precinct also includes the VOC Kruithuis, which houses a collection of firearms, cannons and military uniforms, and a toy museum full of miniatures, antique dolls and dinky cars.