Stormsvlei hamlet is a cluster of old buildings on the banks of the Sonderendriver. It is situated on a part of the farm Avontuur with a very long history dating back to the early 1700s. Stormsvlei developed as it was one of the stopovers on the ‘Kaapse Wagenweg’. In April 1732 Avontuur was described as being ‘above the Kompagniesdrift’. This old crossing/drift through the Sonderendriver is about 300 m upstream of the present bridge.
It was the recognised route to the Breede River Valley. When the river was in flood, travellers had to bide their time in their wagon and it became a recognised outspan. Stormsvlei became a sizable settlement and an important stopover for travellers.
There was a need for accommodation and a T-plan house was built from layered clay. This building is known as the Stormsvlei Inn and dates back to the 1700s. A large outbuilding that served as stables and wagon shed was also built.
The owner at the time was William Twentyman. He was also known as the Laird of Stormsvlei. In 1853 William applied for a licence to open a shop. He was authorised to sell gunpowder, which was a major concession. The shop became a bustling trading centre and around 1860 artisan quarters were built.
In 1869 Twentyman did an application for a hotel and liquor licence. It was granted and the bar was housed in a flat-roofed building off the stoep of the shop. William Twentyman died violently in 1871 and his wife sold the entire property to Charles van Reenen Barry. In 1883 the brothers Henry and William Heatlie bought Stormsvlei from the insolvent estate of Barry & Nephews of Swellendam. In 1885 a pont was put into operation over the Sonderendriver. It was called the Fredericka.
The pont continued in operation until about 1910, when the present Van Eeden Bridge was completed by the engineer Gordon Ralph. There was a toll-house on either side of the bridge and travellers had to pay passage. On 29 January 1890 the cornerstone of a church building was laid on a morgen of ground donated by the Heatlie brothers. When the Heatlie brothers put the property up for sale in 1897, a detailed poster mentioned the Inn, a smithy with 2 bellows, 4 vices, 1 wheel plate, 3 anvils, 3 benches, 1 bending machine and all other instruments needed in the large wagon makers and blacksmithy shop.
Frederick le Roux and James Kennedy bought the property with the smithy, wagon maker’s shop and the mill. The portable Ransomes flour mill was installed in 1904 and initially operated by a steam engine. Circa 1905 Frederick le Roux built a house, now known as the Manor House. Through the years Stormsvlei acquired a school, police station and petrol pump. In 1921 a special building was erected as the Stormsvlei post office with a staff of 2 and a telegraph installation. In this same year Stormsvlei was ‘electrified’ even before Swellendam. The small town was bought by James Thomson in 1949 and is still in the Thomson family. It is the Thomsons’s ambition to keep this unique settlement, with its well-preserved structures dating back to the late 1700, intact. They strive to keep a balance between comfort and old world tradition.
Extensive renovations have been done through the years. Most of the old buildings like the old school, post office, artisans quarters and schoolmasters house have been beautifully restored into self-catering guest cottages. The old Stormsvlei thatch-roof church is still used for weddings, funerals and baptisms. Recently the building housing the smithy, wagon maker’s business and mill, was renovated and is now also used as a venue for functions and weddings.
Stormsvlei is a unique settlement frozen in time with a rich history and a tradition of restful country hospitality.