Sammy Marks (1844 – 1920)
Samuel Marks arrived in South Africa in 1869 with a case of silver knives as his most valuable possession. A Lithuanian immigrant, Marks began his career as a peddler working in the rural Cape. However, through gaining the trust and friendship of South African diplomats, businessmen and President Kruger, Marks established himself as one of South Africa’s foremost industrial entrepreneurs. He had a finger in almost every pie, from mining to railroads and even canning and glass making.
Marks and his young wife, Bertha, moved to Zwartkoppies Hall in 1885. This is where they built a sprawling 40 room Victorian mansion for their family. Residing here until 1909, the Marks family eventually used the home only as a weekend retreat. The last of the Marks children lived in the house until 1978. The house had by then become derelict and aged. In an effort to maintain its former glory, the National Cultural History and Open-Air Museum offered to purchase 40 hectares of Zwartkoppies Hill. With the help of Johannesburg businessman, Mendel Kaplan and his family foundation, the Sammy Marks Museum officially opened in 1986.
Rose Gardens, Billiard Rooms And A Library
The Sammy Marks Museum stands as an icon of times gone by. The stone wall entrance is unassuming and does not prepare visitors for the splendor awaiting. However, as you travel along the gravel drive, the picture becomes clearer. Firstly the rose gardens and romantic arches, which lead to a forest-like escarpment, catch the eye. Then the Marks’ Victorian home comes into view – a wraparound porch decorated with typical Victorian awnings, red roof and crisp white walls and what seems like a thousand shuttered windows. You immediately get the feeling that this place is special and something worth treasuring for its opulence and style.
It is not often that you see a historical building so well kept in either Pretoria or Johannesburg. While our cities are framed by buildings of the same age, their usual state is one of disrepair and disregard. For the proud historians and old souls among your tour party, the Sammy Marks Museum is a beacon of hope that old things may still be appreciated.
It is best to book a tour of this museum, because of its magnitude and the complicated history of its first inhabitants. Your tour guide is likely to give a brief, but detailed, explanation of Sammy Marks’ legacy, including his contributions to both parties of the South African war. Marks’ difficult position, as neither Englishman nor Boer, is highlighted alongside his expert entrepreneurial instincts. Once you have a sense of the man who built the house, the real tour begins.
With over 40 different rooms, the Sammy Marks Museum feels like a wonderland. You may not be able to visit all the rooms during your tour, but be sure to pop into the piano room, the billiards room, the Marks’ bedroom and the library. Here, you will find a treasure trove of Victorian and Edwardian trinkets, furniture and books. If you are lucky enough to have a musician as part of your group, they may be invited to give the old piano a tickle with the Marks’ music books featuring Christmas carols and popular songs of the period.
The tour doesn’t end at the house. You can choose from a range of outdoor activities as well. A game of croquet in the gardens, bird walks, a treasure hunt or a puppet show for the kids. Families are also welcome to book a Victorian style picnic in the rose garden. It doesn’t get any more antiquated than this, so make sure to pay the Sammy Marks Museum a visit on your next trip to Pretoria East.
For More Information
Visit their website for more information, or follow them on social media:
Facebook – facebook.com/DITSONGMuseumsSA
Twitter – twitter.com/DitsongMuseumSA
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Details: Bronkhorstspruit Rd, Savannah Country Estate, Pretoria, 0184 | +27 012 755 9542 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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