KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
A "Cutting" replaced the "Steps" linking the Rahu Road and Mackaytown with Doherty's Creek Bridge on the main highway and small houses clustered on the narrow frontage known as Irishtown. There were Nodwell, Bradfield, Vuglar, Verran, Neil, Mrs Ryan (who cultivated the hillside) and a shop owned by Tommy Atkins followed by Redfern and others. (Carmody, O'Brien, Meagher, Pipe.)
A swing bridge linked this area with sunny River Road, originally known as Crown Avenue, because many of the houses were built for Executives of the Crown Mine or Battery. Some of these houses are gone and a few new ones have been built. The following names were familiar in the early days: Hutchinson (Litherland, O'Brien, Bath), McGruer (Conolly, Presbyterian Church and Hall, Reid, Hilton (Sen. and Jnr), Napier, Hill, Delaney (Station Master, also Mourant, Cotter and others), Napier, Searle (Kenny), Walters (Corbett), Nurse Odgers, Hayward, Dare, Tierney, Wilson, Dobson, Christie. Beyond the last house was the School of Mines. The vicinity became a recreation area with tennis courts, bowling greens and a croquet green. It was so popular that another swing bridge soon spanned the river at the end of this road, for easy access from Mackaytown. (This bridge was literally a swing bridge.)
An early resident of Crown Avenue was Mr W. Searle, who opened a Footwear Shop in Karangahake in 1897. He was a very public-spirited man, taking an active part in the community; Chairman of School Committee, Secretary of Oddfellows Lodge, on Bowling Green Committee, and both he and his wife (known for her hospitality) were keen supporters of the Presbyterian Church. It was opened in 1902, when Mr Searle became Choir Master. There was a family of four: Connie (Mrs Bernard, Raglan, teacher), Dorothy (Mrs Arthur Nodwell), Phillip (Engineer) and Ernest who had a distinguished teaching career and became Professor of Geology at Auckland University (Dr of Science). For some years their grandfather, Thomas Searle, also lived with them — a remarkable old man who had the gift of "Healing Hands", his gentle massage bringing relief to many sufferers. He also cultivated a very beautiful flower garden.
Some years ago, Mrs Bernard, inspired by attending a School Jubilee, wrote about her familiar walk from her home to Karangahake School, and from this we quote:
"I often think of school days when I walked from our home in River Road, where there are still many of the old houses. We were near the railway line - to us - a modern marvel. It was opened in 1905 and the great double—decker bridge over which trains thundered into or out of the tunnel was a source of unfailing interest.
"Slightly upstream from the bridge was the imposing Crown Battery, indescribably immense and noisy to the child mind, as it toiled both day and night to crush the quartz from the Crown Mine. From the west side of the bridge we were quite near to an enormous chimney beside the building that housed a new electrical plant installed for the pumps draining the mine to 1000 ft level. We could see the end of the concrete tunnel from which the clinker from the boiler fires was emptied into the Ohinemuri River.
"Having crossed the bridge we faced the road which had to be seen to be believed! Trains brought coal from Huntly to our station, from which it was conveyed to the Talisman Battery, on the Waitawheta River, by Brenan's coal carts — those high—sided, horse—drawn waggons that lumbered along the road. A certain amount of coal was dropped on the way and ground to dust by the iron wheeled traffic. In wet weather, and that seemed to be most of the winter, the dust became a black slurry which had a fatal effect on clean pinafores and made our footwear unacceptable anywhere indoors.
"But believe it or not, we had a footpath! From the railway bridge to the town this consisted of a wooden platform along the river bank. It was built over the edge like a sort of bridge with a railing on the river side. In frosty weather this railing was covered with sparkling hoar which we scraped up with our school rulers to make our version of snowballs.
"On our left, houses clustered on the hillside, and on the bank above the road approaching the town we passed the Methodist Church, a workshop, Dr Cheesman's house, the Church of England, Guthrie's and Connelly's houses and the Catholic Church. Then we usually left the side-walk and crossed the road to the footpath on our left.
"Passing Collinson's store, Herring's grocery, and Mr Fallon the tailor, the air would be filled with the sweet smell of fresh bread from the bakery behind Keating's shop, where cakes graced the window. After Meeking's fruit shop there was a chemist (De Montalk and others), a two—storey drapery, first owned by Mr Minette and then by Miss Bullian; on the corner was the large Hall where many entertainments took place.
"Across an intersection was Montgomerie's Hotel (note foundations) then, perhaps not in this order, a fish shop (Mrs Burke), jewellery shop, sweets shop and a mercery (Cordes). Then came my father's footwear shop with its small fitting room and workshop where my grandfather helped to do repairs - as did an apprentice Fred McGregor; Harold Rusden, and Bill Crosbie - a lifetime friend.
"Near our shop was a stationery (Mrs Conway, later Mrs Poland), and finally a drapery (Auld, Noonan, James). It had a sort of mezzanine floor showroom, and Mrs James was a clever milliner in the days when hats were elaborate. A steep path on the left of the Oddfellow's Hall, led to the school, and on the right of the Hall, a traffic road (now gone) began its winding ascent to the region of Butler's Track.
"Small dwellings known as "The Honeymoon Cottages", were on the river side of the main road near Mrs White's house, with camellia trees, beside the Post Office (Mrs Airey). On the corner of the intersection that led to the traffic bridges, the mines and Tramway Hotel, was a building that bore the sign "The Dustpan, G. Walters, Ironmonger, Stationer". It was established in 1897 and later taken over by the Conway family. Behind it was a house occupied by Mr Ellis, the Proprietor of the Goldfields Advocate, printed on a manual machine. This was later moved across the road to a one-time restaurant that rejoiced in the name of "City Buffet". Later still Mrs Houghton, a music teacher, lived there.
"Back on the main street was a firebell tower and Band Rotunda (now in Paeroa). Our "lower road" went through what is now a picnic area. One of the butcher's shops remained there for many years (Ott, Wells, Vuglar). Beside it was the Miner's Union Hall and a Billiard Saloon. Two large Boarding houses were in this block which was linked with the "high road" by steps. There was also a barber (Jackson), a stationer (Nat White, Dave Leach, Thorburn, Liddell), grocer (Shand), fish shop (Brown), tobacconist, a boot repairers (O'Shanessy), tinsmith (Charlie Taylor), Brenan's stables and finally Joe Hemus, violin teacher."
The school stood dominant, high on the hill above the town, where, on Sundays, the churches played a big part in the early life of Karangahake. In 1898, the first to be built was the Roman Catholic Church, reached by a flight of steps from the main street. It was in the care of the popular Dean Hackett of Paeroa, a genial Priest in great demand as a public speaker.
The Protestants, at that time, worshipped in the Hall at the foot of school hill, and an undenominational Sunday School was conducted by the two Miss Napiers and helpers. It was well attended, and a very important event of the year was the Children's Anniversary Concert arranged by Mr Searle and held in the big hall. Later in the year 1898 the Methodist Church was erected near the entrance to the town and in 1902 the Presbyterian Church and Sunday School were built on River Road. It was used by the Church of England people until 1905, when their own church (with Rev. Cowie as Vicar) was built not far from the Methodist Church. In later years Mrs Ritchie was the unfailing supporter of religious life in Karangahake.
Montgomery's Hotel (formerly Ryan's.) was built in 1884 when it had only one storey built on rising ground. The foundations, which still remain, were excavated to provide a lower storey when the main street was lowered. Mr Montgomery became the proprietor in 1897 and had another Hotel at Waikino.
The first Karangahake Post Office was opened in a general store with Mr A. Hogg as Post Master, followed by his daughter on 14-9-1886. The salary was $20 yearly with telephone and money order facilities added. For a time Mr A. Shepherd (Tramway Hotel) was Post Master. Mrs Airey was in charge of a Departmental Office with operation and residential quarters from1902 till 1922 when the building was moved to Hikutaia and the business transferred to Mrs Ainsley (below school). Nelle Fitzgerald was Post Master at her home above River Road from 1924-30 and her sister Nora from 1930—33.
Constance Searle Bernard