Information provided by Hans Bornman from his unpublished book, Lowveld Tour Guide:
Town, 19 km north-east of Nelspruit and 37 km south-west of Numbi Gate, entrance to the Kruger National Park, at 25 19S 31 01E.
After the Anglo-Boer War, Lord Alfred Milner (1852-1925), High Commissioner for South Africa, instituted an investigation into the possibility of finding a suitable area to establish a settlement which would have fertile soil, sufficient water and a healthy climate. The White River valley fulfilled all these requirements and experts proclaimed that the area was suitable for the growing of citrus and general farming.
An amount of £60 000 was approved for the scheme, which became known as the ‘Milner Settlement’. A canal was laid on, 25 km long, from the White River and on both banks of the river 100 acre farms were surveyed. A town, named White River, was established on the farm White River, consisting of a police station, school, and a home for the manager of the scheme. A connecting road was made to Nelspruit and a bridge, constructed of stone, built over the Nels River, then linking up with the Nelspruit-Sabie road, north-west of Nelspruit.
A pamphlet was printed advertising the farms. Most of the prospective farmers came from the British Isles and they were provided with wood and iron buildings, wagons, oxen, ploughs and the necessary agricultural equipment. As it would be some time before the farmers would be able to support themselves, the government paid them each a weekly amount of £8.6.8.
Apart from the Police station and school buildings in the town, there was a business concern named MacDonald, and a hotel next door which belonged to Cooke. Later a few houses were built.
The settlers planted tobacco, maize and vegetables and on Saturdays a market was held. In the vicinity there were stock farmers who came to market as well as those who did not grow anything to sell at the market but were there to collect their weekly allowance. After the market Cooke’s hotel was visited and then they went home to their farms to wait for the next Saturday!
After a few years of this easygoing existence, the government was of the opinion that the time had come for them to stand on their own feet and at the end of May 1907 the allowances were withdrawn. The Farmer’s Association held a meeting on 8 June 1907 to discuss the allowance problem. The settlers discussed the conditions, as set out in the pamphlet which had drawn the immigrant settlers to the Lowveld, point by point. The promised roads to their farms had not been made, the soil was not fertile, frost destroyed winter crops annually, goats and sheep did not do well at White River. They requested the government to re-survey the farms so that larger portions could be allocated for the purpose of cattle farming. They also complained about the road to Nelspruit which was in a bad condition and that it took a full day to get there instead of the 3½ hours as mentioned in the pamphlet. They were also dissatisfied with the valuation of the farms because the canal was useless as there was not enough water to drink, let alone irrigate.
In the expectation that there would be a re-evaluation of the farms most of the settlers stayed until November 1908 and started doing research scientifically with different crops. However, this was just a flash in the pan and nothing came of it. By 1909 when the settlers had to renew their contracts, most of them had left.
During 1909 Henry Thomas Glynn (1856-1928), founder of Sabie, and a few friends decided to buy the Milner Settlement. They formed a syndicate and named it White River Estates.
The town, which had initially been administered by White River Estates, was replaced by a Health Committee on 29 October 1932. The Health Committee in turn was replaced by a Village Council on 17 August 1937 and gained municipal status in 1974.
The strategically placed industrial area of Rocky Drift was established in 1977 and incorporated into the municipal area.
The name White River was derived from the river which flows through the valley. The river rises on the eastern side of the Drakensberg range on the farm Kruisfontein, flows south through the valley and joins the Crocodile River near Karino. The area around the source is composed of kaolin, a clean, fine, white clay which results from the decomposition of veldspar conglomerates. In the past, this area was a tree-less grassland. In the winter the kaolin becomes powdery and during the rainy season was washed down into streams, causing the water to become milky, hence the name ‘White River’. Forestry activities in the upper reaches of the White River now prevents the kaolin from reaching the river, also since the Klipkopje and Longmere Dams were built, so the milky appearance is only very occasionally visible.