During the Anglo-Boer War a British soldier, John Hepke, was wounded near Kalkheuvel, but the bullet could not be removed at the time and he was sent home to recuperate. Soon afterwards he was diagnosed with lead poisoning and the removed bullet was found to have a very high silver content.
With dreams of a fortune to be made the adventurous Hepke returned to South Africa in search of the origin of the silver. His enquiries eventually led him to the Silver Mine in the present Crocodile River Reserve and he bought the property, called it the Lonely Hand Silver Mine and started mining. His son, John Hepke Jnr, later sub-divided the large farm, selling off portions, but kept the property bordering the R511, the road to Hartbeespoort Dam.
He established the Silver Hills Gemstones shop, a very popular curio shop that burned down in the 1990s. He also built the road now known as the Gemstone Road to get to Lonely Hand. Sadly his wife, Irene, who ran the curio shop, was murdered in puzzling circumstances in the 1990s. The crime was never solved and Irene is rumoured to haunt the property!
Francis and Tanja Gomes bought the property in 2005. “It seems that the war-time John Hepke started building what we now call the Stone House,” says Tanya, “and his son completed it. Since the murder it was abandoned and the bush simply took over.
“When Mercia Komen, chair of the Crocodile River Reserve, asked if the site could be used for the ENCOUNTER weekend in September, Francis and I looked at it with new eyes and decided to restore it.”
This proved to be a monumental job. “The encroaching bush and remaining exotic garden plants had to be cleared, and the crumbling ruins investigated for structural damage.
“Francis likes a challenge and we decided to repair the main section but to leave other parts as a ruin, to keep the ancient feel of the place.
The inner walls were rebuilt with brick and plastered, adding a roof and veranda. “The house had a pitched thatched roof but we opted for a corrugated iron roof for easier maintenance and also considering the veld fires we experience in this area. We have installed wooden doors and windows in a style that befits the history of the house.” An overgrown dam, fed by rainwater that flows down the hill, was also cleared - ready for the first rains.
The final result is magnificent. Restored to its former glory by people with vision and persistence, the Stone House can breathe again in its setting of indigenous bush and views over the far valleys of the Crocodile River Reserve.