Andries Hendrik Potgieter, the Bible-toting Voortrekker, founded the town in 1838. Potgieter was impressed by the lush vegetation along the stream but had to relocate the town to firmer ground 11 km downstream a few years later when it was discovered that the original site was in fact a marsh. Potchefstroom was to become the capital for the South African Republic of which Marthinus Wessel Pretorius was the first president in 1857. Potchefstroom remained a place of political and cultural importance even after Pretoria succeeded it as state capital in 1860. In 1881, the first shot of the Transvaal War of Independence was fired here and during the South African gold rush, it earned worldwide fame as the gateway to a new El Dorado.
The town has a colourful past which is meticulously recorded in four buildings that together constitute the Potchefstroom Museum. There are numerous historic buildings such as the Potchefstroom’s landdrost (magistrate) built between 1850 and 1885, and furnished in opulent Victorian style, as well as the Old Fort, the Reformed Church and the St Mary’s Anglican Church with its magnificent stained glass windows.
The 373 ha Boskop Dam, situated on the Mooi River about 20 km northeast of Potchefstroom, is the heart of a 3 000 ha nature reserve. The dam and its surroundings harbour a rich bird population and wildlife which includes black wildebeest, eland, springbok, red hartebeest, zebra and blesbok. The Dome Bergland Nature Park - the site of a meteorite impact some 2 000 million years ago – is a fascinating geographic phenomenon.
The Art Gallery and the Anthropological Museum which contains a comprehensive collection of Tswana artifacts, are both situated on the University’s campus.