When Woodmill Lane opened in December 1990 it was envisioned as the first complex in Knysna to stimulate growth and development aimed to offer a retail and social centre for the town’s people, as well as a preferred shopping destination for tourists and vacationers coming to the Garden Route.
Woodmill Lane was built on the site of Knysna’s 1919 Sawmill & Timber Factory after it was closed in 1984 and stood derelict for years. This changed when Christopher Harison Edwards (son of Aorea Thesen), a consulting engineer, had the foresight to create a shopping complex, known today as Woodmill Lane.
Woodmill Lane now stands in memory of the old town sawmill – the yellowwood roof beams and trusses remain intact, as well as the outer shell of the old buildings with many architectural features still visible.
More than 75 shop spaces are housed in Woodmill Lane – from a Pick n Pay to unique boutiques, family-friendly restaurants, galleries, art & craft shops and service providers.
With its open-air promenades, a classical piazza with a gazebo, niche shops and art installations, Woodmill Lane has a unique ambiance unrivalled in the area. The centre has a relaxed, safe atmosphere retaining the feel of its Victorian past ensuring a pleasant shopping experience.
The Woodmill Lane team takes special care in creating a memorable atmosphere for our patrons, often hosting local musicians over weekends and holidays, making any experience with us extra special. We take extra effort to cater for children and our older shoppers, offering something for the entire family.
The broad walkways are not only dotted with artefacts from the sawmill, but also have art installations, lush greenery, seasonal flowers and trees – connecting the centre with the natural beauty of the area. We foster our relationship with the people of Knysna, taking pride in the special events we host year-round to create an authentic sense of community.
Just as Knysna takes pride in its natural bounty, Woodmill Lane is environmentally-minded by subscribing to Green principles. The open-air style of Woodmill Lane ensures plenty of fresh air and sunlight while simultaneously minimising the need for air-conditioners and artificial lighting (we only use energy-saving bulbs).
In further efforts to keep our carbon footprint as small as possible, Woodmill Lane not only has many trees, shrubbery and flowers throughout, but has added self-sufficient vertical gardens to certain external walls. We also use eco-friendly materials wherever possible – from our wood treatment products to the paints on the walls.
We also have dedicated conservation initiatives. All our refuse is sorted and reusable items (paper, glass, plastic, metal etc.) are retained for recycling. There are also numerous roof tanks to collect rain water, which in turn is used by the car wash and in our gardens.
These are just some of the small ways we help to ensure that Knysna remains a place where nature continues to prosper.
Standing in memory of the Geo-Parkes mill-site which was such an integral part of Knysna’s past, the prominent features of the original structures still form part of Woodmill Lane. It is a monument of Knysna’s heritage and innovative spirit, which is worth preserving. It is this vital impact of its rich past that has earned the centre the common reference as “The True Heart of Knysna”.
The sawmill was closed in 1984 and the site stood derelict for many years until Christopher Harison Edwards (son of Aorea Thesen) had the foresight of converting it to create a shopping complex. A few years later he added another heritage building to the complex – the old Standard Bank building on Main Street.
The buildings are registered as heritage sites and are still owned and operated by the Edwards family.
Read more about Woodmill Lane’s heritage in this article [LINK].
A unique set of installation art pieces is showcased around Woodmill Lane – an array of Kinetic Artwork by renowned artist Mark O’Donovan – the largest collection of his work in South Africa.
These amazing sculptures are dotted around the shopping centre, contributing to our unique ambience and creating a dynamic backdrop when visiting Woodmill Lane. Children and adults alike are thrilled by it, often mesmerised by the perpetual motion and cacophony of the white-noise of flowing water and metallic sounds.
The mechanics of the artwork are cleverly synchronized, creating effortless harmony and a pleasant buzz. In part these mechanical art pieces are a reminder of the time when Woodmill Lane was bustling with the industrial workings of a sawmill.
Other installations by O’Donovan can be viewed on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town, outside the National Art Gallery and at the Mannenberg Memorial, to name but a few.
Apart from the historical sawmill architecture aesthetically incorporated into Woodmill Lane, the centre also features an array of the original sawmill machinery. These magnificent industrial-revolution engineering wonders are now brightly painted and on display throughout the centre – steam turbines, cogs and gears, compressors, blunted cutting-blades, industrial instruments and indicator dials.
These once constantly productive metallic beasts now stand in silent testimony to the economic boom the industrialisation of the timber industry brought to Knysna, changing the town and the lives of its people. Those times are long over, but you can still experience a glimpse of it at Woodmill Lane.
The biggest piece of history, however, surely is the smoke stack that rises from the centre, an important landmark in Knysna. This chimney is still maintained with a hooter (originally from the Thesen Island Timber Factory) bellowing at noon every day that can be heard as far as Brenton-on-Sea on a clear day.