Schwerkolt Cottage & Museum Complex
Built in 1884, Schwerkolt Cottage is an original pioneer’s stone cottage surrounded by 2.25 hectares of bushland. The cottage has been restored to its original condition and furnished in the style of the period. Visitors can evoke the past by exploring the delightful cottage and its barn, wine cellar, smokehouse and orchard machinery shed.
The complex also features a museum containing a large local history collection of household artefacts, photographs, toys and costumes. There are also barbeque facilities, a playground and walking paths.
Located in Deep Creek Road, Mitcham, the Schwerkolt Cottage and Museum Complex is open on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays (except Christmas Day and Good Friday) from 2pm-5pm.
Entry is free. Guided group tours on weekdays are available by appointment.
Address: Deep Creek Road, Mitcham (Melway ref: 49D7)
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Phone: 9262 6333
Group tour bookings: 9262 6590
Opening hours: Saturday, Sunday and public holidays (except Christmas Day and Good Friday) from 2pm-5pm. Admission is free. Guided group tours on weekdays are available by appointment.
The Schwerkolt Story
August and Paulina Schwerkolt migrated to Victoria from Germany as newlyweds in 1849 and lived for a time in Northcote. In 1861, seeking more land to provide for a growing family, they purchased 63 acres in Mitcham.
The Schwerkolt Family
Paulina and August Schwerkolt had eight sons and one daughter, although only fi ve sons survived infancy.
In 1884, Paulina died, leaving behind a grown family. The following year August, now 62, married Wilhelmina Oppel, a German widow with three daughters. Together,
August and Wilhelmina had three children: twins Johan (John) and Bertha in 1885 and later a daughter, Mary, in 1887. Tragically, Bertha died at two weeks of age. The industrious August carried out charcoal burning on his property and transformed the cleared land into a farm with fruit trees, vines, dairying, poultry, beehives, wine-making and a stone quarry, all generating income for the family.
August built the stone cottage from materials mostly on site. The stones came from a nearby quarry while the rafters and verandah posts were cut from young trees on the property. The doors and window frames were adzed from logs and slabs that were later replaced by sawn timber fittings.
The cottage has a kitchen/living room and two bedrooms, surrounded by a verandah. The fireplace was made from stone, clay and mud and used for cooking, heating and boiling water. There are no interior doors and the original earthen floor has been replaced with tiles. The general plan and appearance of the cottage is similar to houses built by German settlers in the Barossa Valley, South Australia.
An outside well was lined with stone and fitted with a hand pump. Water supply was from a well located north of the cottage that was later fitted with pipes and taps.
August died in 1887 with an estate valued at £956. His will specified that his widow and children be left the stone cottage, the 5.5 acres surrounding it, a property in Northcote, half his cow herd, beehives, quarried stone and all the contents of the wine cellar. August left 82.5 acres of land to his eldest son Louis on the condition that he paid Wilhelmina 10 shillings a week for life.
Wilhelmina continued to live in the stone cottage with her children John and Mary and her mother Dorothea Kruse. In 1900, after the death of her mother, Wilhelmina left Melbourne with her children to join her brother John Kruse in the United States. Louis Schwerkolt and his wife Cissie continued to manage the property. When Louis died in 1935 the sole responsibility for the property passed to Cissie who remained living in the timber cottage. Cissie died in 1946. The stone cottage was rented for many years and gradually fell into disrepair.
By the early 1960s the stone cottage was threatened with a demolition order issued by the Housing Commission. Due to a lack of appropriate toilet and washing facilities, the premises were declared unfit for habitation. The roof of August’s wine cellar had collapsed, and various additions made to the cottage over the years had become dilapidated as a result of neglect.
In 1963, following considerable community interest, the former City of Nunawading obtained a stay of proceedings while negotiations took place with August and Wilhelmina’s daughter Mary Schwerkolt Jackschowsky to purchase the now 5.5 acre property.
Once purchased, the Council – with a working party of local residents – restored the building to its original condition. The cottage was officially opened by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe, on 17 November 1965 and stands as a reminder of the pioneers in the district.
Historical Museum and Surrounds
After the cottage was restored, work then began on restoring the various outbuildings that once stood on site as well as a new museum to house the local historical society.
Built in 1977 and extended in 2011, the museum holds the Whitehorse Historical Society’s collection of documents, photographs and artefacts that record the development of the area from early settlement to the present day.
After watching a visual display depicting local history, visitors can view the extensive collection including a range of domestic, agricultural and industrial artefacts, some of which date back to the 1800s.
Antique costumes, jewellery, lace and needlework provide a valuable insight into the changing fashion and use of leisure time, while methods of washing, mending and pressing clothes reveal how arduous domestic life could be.
The collection includes a wide range of locally-made clay and tile products manufactured by the many brick and tile works that were established in the area in the early 1900s. These can be seen inside the museum and in the outdoor display area.
The Cottage Garden
The garden was established by the Schwerkolt Cottage Committee of Management after the restoration of the building. Scented plants surrounding the cottage include lemon verbena, lilac and jasmine as well as herbs such as wormwood, thyme, lavender and mint. These grow together happily with an old bay tree and a wisteria, almost as old as the cottage itself.
The Orchard Shed
Constructed in 2007, this display includes farming implements specific to the orcharding industry that flourished from the 1800s to the 1950s.
This is the original site of the Schwerkolt wine cellar. The tunnel into the hill was located, re-roofed and contains donated artefacts related to wine production.
The smithy is a timber slab reconstruction. Blacksmiths were tradesmen who shoed horses and made and repaired all kinds of farm and domestic implements. Most farms had a small smith, in which the farmer could attend to simple repair jobs.
Built in 1975, the stone smokehouse has been constructed from an early photograph of one that was originally used by the Schwerkolt family on the property to cure meats.
The barn came from Olinda and was re-erected on the site in 1969. It is made by sliding slabs of timber between cleats on smoothed logs at the top and bottom. The use of handmade nails and door hinges made from horse shoes can be seen. Tools, implements and a horse and buggy are displayed inside the barn.
Perfect For a Picnic
Adjoining beautiful Yarran Dheran bushland park, the peaceful garden surrounding Schwerkolt Cottage and Museum Complex is an ideal place for visitors to relax and unwind.
With barbeque facilities, picnic tables, a playground and toilets on site, the garden is a great place for picnickers. In summer, stretch out on a rug and enjoy the sound of bellbirds and the rustle of trees in the breeze.
Those wanting some exercise can enjoy the walking track that runs through the gardens while cyclists with weary legs from the Eastlink Trail can rest awhile.
Schwerkolt Cottage and Museum Complex provides an education program aimed at primary school children in Grades 1-2 and Grades 3-4.
The programs introduce students to local history with a ‘Then and Now’ theme. Students tour the cottage and outbuildings and engage in old-fashioned games and interactive activities. Minimum group size is 20 and maximum is 120.
The exterior of the cottage, outbuildings and the garden also serve as a picturesque backdrop for wedding photography. Restrictions apply, please phone Council's Heritage Program Officer for further information.
Annual Open Day as Part of Heritage Week Celebrations
Bring friends and family, a BYO picnic and head to Schwerkolt Cottage for an afternoon of fun and laughter. Enjoy old-fashioned games and activities for all ages. The open day is held in September each year. See photos below from the 2014 event.