Millwood House, Queen Street, Knysna

Explore Knysna’s History through its open plaques

Stroll past almost any old building in Knysna, and you’ll probably come across a small, circular, orange or brown sign board – usually illustrated with a black-and-white image of the building as it would have been – that tells the story behind the facade.

Congratulations – you’ve just discovered one of about seventy Open Plaques that decorate the town.

Open Plaques – “The museum of the street” – is an international, community-based project that “catalogues, curates, and promotes commemorative plaques and historical markers installed on buildings and landmarks throughout the world.”

In Knysna, these plaques are researched and verified by local historians (including Ms. Margaret Parkes), and have been erected by the Knysna Historical Society, which has also curated the majority of them on

Knysna's rich history

Main Street Historic Walk

If you’re looking for a quick, fascinating introduction to the history of Knysna through its people and their buildings, there’s a short (less than 1 km) route that you can explore in an hour or two: the Main Street Historic Walk.

The route includes about twenty of the most easily recognised buildings in the older part of town.

It begins at the old Imperial Hotel, across the road from Pledge Square, and about 100 metres west of – i.e., on the Cape Town-side of – the tourism information building (which itself was previously the Knysna Post Office).

From here you’ll walk in an easterly direction (toward Plettenberg Bay) along Main Road until you come to the junction with Queen Street – a crossing the old-timers call ‘Temptation, Condemnation, Damnation, and Salvation,’ thanks to the institutions that decorate its four corners:

Along the way, you’ll pass the War Memorial, which was built with funds raised by public subscription at the suggestion of World War veteran Harald Thesen, and which was “unveiled on 17 December 1922 by The Reverend Captain Alfred Duthie, M.C., Chaplain to the Forces in Flanders and France during The Great War.” (Both men came from local families).

At the Knysna Library, – whose west wing was built in 1893 – you’ll learn that, “the east wing was added in 1936 using matching stone, most of which had been quarried in 1893 and stored for the purpose.”

Knysna Museum

At Temptation Corner (the Royal Hotel), you’ll turn right onto Queen Street and walk a hundred metres or so down a gentle hill to the Knysna Museum’s Millwood House. Erected in the Knysna Forests during the time of the short-lived Millwood Gold Rush in the 1880s, and later disassembled and transported to the village of Knysna, this yellowwood building now houses the town’s local history collection.

Also on the Millwood House site, you’ll want to visit Parkes Shop to see the museum’s Heritage of Timber collection, and also the Pitt Street House, to learn about archaeology, geology, and gold mining in the Knysna area.

Finally, take a stroll back up to Damnation Corner to visit the Old Gaol (it’s pronounced ‘jail’), which is also a branch of the Knysna Museum.

Here you can:

  • Take a trip back in time through the town’s maritime history (because Knysna was once a thriving little port);
  • Learn about the local ichthyologists JLB Smith and Margaret Mary Smith, and about their roles in the dramatic discovery of the coelacanth – the ‘living fossil’ that author Samantha Weinberg called ‘A Fish Caught in Time’; and
  • Explore the gentle art of fishing at the Knysna Angling Museum

And that is a quick introduction to Knysna’s history! If you are curious and want to learn some more, please visit the Millwood Museum in Queen Street.

Top Tip: Don’t want to venture out on your own? Why not book the Main Street Guided Historical walk with one of our qualified guides? For more information, or to book, email