Of all the artefacts along the southern beaches, the Bathing House at the mouth of the Shark River was the most prominent landmark. Opened in 1913, it was demolished shortly before the great flood of 1968. Controversially its demolition has been conflated with the flood and has even been stated in publications that the flood was its downfall yet in fact it was demolished in 1966.
Main picture: The unusual design of the Bathing House is highlighted in this night time shot
Of all the Branch Lines in Port Elizabeth, this one appears to be the least known. Initially it was laid as part of the project to tame the supposedly deadly driftsands which would encroach and smother the site chosen for the harbour. To prevent this apocalypse, it was decided to cover this moving sea of sand with the garbage generated by the residents of Port Elizabeth. The garbage was required as fertiliser for the planting of the chosen species of grasses, bushes and trees, the sand being further stabilised by spreading tree branches and erecting wooden fences at intervals as required.
This standard-gauge railway line was constructed in late 1892 or early 1893, and the use of the coastal section of this railway for passenger traffic followed the sale, on 30 May 1893, by the Harbour Board of 20 marine villa sites between the original Happy Valley (where the Apple Express railway line now runs) and Klein Shark River.
Main picture: The platform adjacent to Customs House to embark on the journey to Humewood
The saga of how Port Elizabeth acquired an unsuitable dam on a trickle of a river as its first primary water supply in the 1860s, is explained in this blog. Sadly after a few decades the water became saline and no longer potable. Perhaps this venture was emblematic of the era where vision was limited by parsimony and where, despite the Council’s laudable motives, was doomed to failure.
For all that, the Town Council did protect the interests of its residents by not financing the project itself. So, when bankruptcy did occur, no losses were borne by the denizens of the town.
Main picture: Opening the valve at the Frames Dam in 1863
Happy Valley was a magical place for young kids and probably still is even for the jaded visual palates of today. In the daytime it is a pleasant stroll alongside the babbling brook that is the lower reaches of that misnomer, the Shark River, where it spills out under the bridge into Humewood Beach. There are lily ponds, rockeries, gigantic palms and peaceful retreats in which to sit. Every few meters there is another delightful interpretation of a fairy tale or nursery rhyme scene to consider.
Main Street: Aerial view of Happy Valley with Humewood beach on the upper right
Today the Shark River is a non-descript stream – more of a trickle really – that tinkles its way through Happy Valley. Being no more than 15kms in length with its source in the location marked Drinking Place on the maps, yet this self-same river was once the earliest water supply of Port Elizabeth. How was this miniscule river together with the Donkin Stream next to the Donkin Reserve capable of supplying the Town’s needs? Logically the water from the Baakens River should have been the preferred source being not only closer but more reliable with a perennial water flow. The other mystery to me is how this docile placid stream is able to increase by the extent that it does during flooding despite having such a minute catchment area.
Main picture: The Shark River on 1st September 1968 and recently. How could such a docile placid stream be transformed into such a violent raging torrent, sweeping all before it.