The Wellington Museum is a fountain of information about the history of Wellington and well worth a visit.
The train station is built on land donated to the Town Council in 1863, as part of the British Government’s first railway line to the North. A condition of the donation was that every passenger train using the line would have to stop in Wellington. It was the terminus at which the early locomotives turned, allowing fresh produce from the interior to be brought into Wellington by wagon to meet buyers from Cape Town who had traveled by train.
Originally known as Limiet Vallei (border or frontier valley), the area became known as Val du Charron or Wagenmakersvallei (Valley of the Wagon Maker) towards the end of the 17th century when the French Huguenots settled here. After the eventual establishment of the town in 1840, the name was changed to Wellington in honor of the renowned soldier and conqueror of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo.
Human occupation dates back to Stone Age groups like the Khoikhoi and the San, to the settlement of Free Burghers and Huguenot refugees. The first title deeds were signed by Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1699. Pioneers, such as Andrew Geddes Bain, build the first road to the interior across the Limiet Mountains and Andrew Murray revolutionizes education for girls by the establishment of the Huguenot Seminary.
In the 1840s Andrew Geddes Bain was working on Michell’s Pass, when he began to contemplate a pass through Wellington’s mountains. At the time there was only a bridle path through the mountains. He asked Johannes Retief to act as his guide through the mountains. Other members of the group were the sons of Daniel Malan and Septimus du Toit. Horses were provided by Field Cornet Rousseau. They followed a cattle track, then left their horses at the neck (now Bainskloof village or Eerste Tol), and then walked eastwards down into the kloof.
Bainskloof Pass was opened in September 1853 and is still in use today – with a few minor improvements like getting a tarred surface in 1934. It became a national monument in 1980. There are wonderful walks and mountain streams to enjoy.
Many of The old farms remain Olyvenhout, Kromme Rivier, Versailles, Groenfontein, Vrugbaar, Onverwagt, and Doolhof, as recorded in Title Deeds dating back to 1700. The Bosmans still own the eight-generation family farms, Groenfontein and Lelienfontein, still owned by the Bosman family, is the home of Bosman Family Vineyards wines.
The second-oldest co-operative wine cellar in the country, Bovlei Cellar, was founded in 1907 and Sedgwick’s Distillery established in 1886.
The South African Dried Fruit industry was founded here in 1890, and still has its headquarters in the town. The South African Dried Fruit Board (co-operative) was started in 1908 by a group of prune farmers for the selling of their dried fruits.
The house Breytenbach grew up in is today a cultural centre, The Breytenbach Centre, that opened in 2007 after extensive restoration work. The house was built roughly 150 years ago and was first a hotel, Commercial Hotel before it was sold in the late 1890s as a student boarding house. It was later used as a hospital and today serves as a vibrant cultural centre for the town, hosting exhibitions, plays and musical concerts.
Wellingtonners generally have a lively interest in the arts. Amateur theatre, music productions, and art exhibitions are held regularly. Until recently, Wellington had the only piano factory in the Southern Hemisphere. Quite astonishing, as the founder, Mr. Dietman, a German immigrant, was a mere piano tuner. Another successful enterprise established by a foreigner in the last century is the Western Tanning Company. Mr. J.H.Coaten, a Yorkshireman, began the leather Tannery in 1871. The tannery is the second oldest in the country and still situated on the same spot. It is now a popular wedding venue, boasting a coffee shop.