Due to the Baakens River Valley, Port Elizabeth is effectively cleaved into two. Instead of having to take a circuitous route around via South End or use a track from Gubb’s Location, during 1896 it was decided at a Town Council meeting that the Divisional Council’s proposed plan to build a road through Target Kloof from Port Elizabeth to Walmer be approved.
This blog covers the history of the various tracks and roads linking these two towns.
Main picture: The original proper road across the Baakens River was merely called New Road. Also note the footbridge on the left of the road. It was probably used by pedestrian traffic when the river was in spate and water flowed over the road. The hill in the background is where Wellington Park is situated today. Wellington Park is a small Municipal open space on the edge of the Baakens Valley at the corner of Main Road and 5th Avenue. It used to consist of two sports fields that were voluntarily maintained by the nearby Clarendon Primary School.
Original “roads” to Walmer
For its first 10kms, the Baakens River forms an effective boundary between what was to become Walmer and Port Elizabeth, with the Port Elizabeth side of the valley rising in almost vertiguous ramparts suitable as impenetrable walls for any Middle Ages castle. That does not mean that there was not a need to cross the river. In pre-Settler days the area south of the Baakens River was offered by Lord Charles Somerset to Dr. van der Kemp as a site for his mission station, but he was rebuffed, preferring Bethelsdorp, near the salt pans.
Having been spurned once, his second suitor would not be so coy. In January 1815 Lord Charles Somerset granted “Welbedacht” to Mynheer Antony M. Muller. In doing so, the seeds of a future Walmer were planted, albeit that those seeds took years to take hold in Walmer’s sandy soil. In spite of this, there was still a need for Muller and his tenants residing on the plots leased from him to attend to business in Port Elizabeth. As the surrounding kloofs were too rugged, they initially used the trail through Papebise Fontein, the future South End.
As areas around Mill Park were developed, this circuitous route would never suffice in the long term . A more direct route was required. On page 87 of his book “Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days” Redgrave describes the new direct route as follows: “The old main road from the Bay to Walmer……passed through Gubb’s Location [which was located in the future Mill Park] down to some old tracks where the new Valley Road has since been constructed. It then skirted the Baaken’s River and emerged on the flats above the residence of the late Mr. Burchell”.
Using the map of 1884 of this area, I have drawn in blue the probable route of this “road/track” between Walmer and Port Elizabeth.
New Road to Walmer
The continued growth of Walmer led to its status being reviewed. In view of its expansion, it was now classified as a village and, as such, a Village Management Board was appointed in 1881. Presumably one of the pert-inent issues that were raised at their Board meetings was the lack of a proper road across the Baakens River to Port Elizabeth. Without question, the lack of an adequate road connecting the two towns in order to facilitate trade and the movement of people, was an impediment to growth.
Target Kloof in 1906
As all areas outside the municipal boundaries fell under the jurisdiction of the Divisional Council, it fell onto their shoulders to provide the necessary road infrastructure. Presumably the Walmer Management Board [WMB] would have approached the Port Elizabeth Divisional Council to construct this road. In turn, the Divisional Council would have sought some method of recouping the cost of the project. Normally these roads, at least in the early days, were funded by setting up tolls. This solution was not pursued in this case, as no mention is ever made of this possibility.
No doubt numerous options being considered and proposals made. But there was really only one solution. As a consequence, at a Town Council meeting held on the 22nd April 1896, the Divisional Council tabled a plan to build a road through the Kloof. The approval of this plan at this meeting made provision for a road 60 feet wide, fenced and maintained by the Divisional Council.
Officially the road through Target Kloof is only 1.33kms long which implies that it must have ended once it crossed the Baakens River and connected with River Road. In November 1896, the original road through the Mill property and Gubb’s Location was closed and the New Road to Walmer, as it was uninspiringly referred to at that time, was opened. Whether in fact the road was officially called the New Road is highly unlikely but all the photographs of this road during its early years refer to it by this name.
Upgraded Road Through the Kloof
This new road was a vast improvement on the original informal road, but it was not ideal. Apart from being too narrow, it also followed the exact contours of the kloof as it wound its way down to the river below. As traffic volumes soared, the twisty winding curvy road was hazardous and hence regarded as unsuitable. Sometime during the 1950s, a major upgrade was performed removing all of these dangerous sections. Whilst driving down Target Kloof to the Baakens, various sections of the old road are still visible as they hug the sides of the kloof.
How was the name “Target Kloof” derived
There is always some reason or story behind the naming of geograhical places, sometimes obscure and other times self evident such as the ubiquitous Rietfontein. Similarly it was so with the name “Target Kloof”. As a young child I concocted a story that it related to speeding drivers demolishing the lamp posts. Only subsequently did I read in the Gazeteer by Margaret Harridene that it related to the fact that there was a shooting range close to Gubb’s Location.
The Forgotten Stairway linking Mill Park with Target Kloof below
Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)
Photos: Two recent photos by Jonker Fourie, other photos unknown