Long before the town was formally established, the site was a much frequented outspan on the transport route between Lydenburg and Natal. Because the area is well watered and dotted with freshwater lakelets it soon attracted settlers.
Today the town is an educational, commercial and industrial center for a district where comprehensive mixed farming is practiced.
The Nooitgedacht research station of the department of Agriculture, 4km from the town, conducts research into crop production and animal husbandry.
There is large-scale afforestation (pine, water and blue gum) in the eastern parts of the district. Several large mines extract coal and the district is the countrys main source of anthracite and torbanite.