Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967
By KATY STEWART (nee ROBSON)
My father, James McGimpsey Robson was one of the earliest settlers in Paeroa, having arrived there from Thames in l874, with the intention of establishing a business as a storekeeper. This he did in temporary premises, for already Prospectors were camped in the area awaiting the opening of the Goldfield, and the only other trader was Mr. Asher Cassrels, who had come previously. As soon as the township was surveyed and sections put up for auction he acquired several and commenced building.
The Thames Star dated; 18-8-76 reported - "At Paeroa, Mr. Robson has put up a very neat store at the corner of Victoria Street and Normanby Road, and will shortly open a wholesale and retail grocery business. He is fencing in three allotments and has brought up a number of shrubs to plant in the garden". He always made a garden a special feature of his various homes, and I have heard that some of these shrubs had been brought from his farm in Market Road, Auckland.
When he and his wife settled in Paeroa they already had three children, Emily, Sam and Mary, and over the years eight more were born. Bill, Norman, George, Katy, Elsie, Olive, Allan and Ida. A second storey was added to the shop for we needed extra accommodation. I remember too that we had the first piano in Paeroa and were known as a musical family, Emily being an accomplished organist.
In 1895 my father leased his business to Mr. A. E. Price as he had bought a farm on Thames Road. For some years we lived in a house on some leased land adjacent to it. This then belonged to Mr. Walter Wight, and is now the property of Mr. Colin Wood. Mr. J. N. Heap followed Mr. Price at our store, after which my brothers resumed its management. The second storey was removed and taken to the farm as a Sharemilker's cottage, and we transferred to the place that holds the happiest memories for me. This we called the "Bridge House", the first on the left over the Criterion Bridge, Te Aroha Road.
We never owned this home but had a long lease of it from Mr. Morahu, a prominent Maori. Just behind ours was a very fine big house which I notice was recently burned down. It was occupied by the Hon. W.G. Nicholls and his family. The tall brick chimneys that remain remind me that we were very proud of our four fireplaces.
A verandah was a feature of the houses of that era and ours was always gay with creepers and roses. As we had 3/4 of an acre of land many lovely shrubs were planted, some of which were transferred from our farm. It all seemed very spacious then, but of course plumbing arrangements left much to be desired. At the end of the Hall there was a bathroom with only cold water, and as was usual in those times the wash-house and toilet were detached.
Although our Mother lived a very busy life caring for her large family she was ever ready to help others and her "Homoeopathic Box" was famous. On the opposite side of the road lived another woman who gave great service to early settlers. She was Mrs. Turner who shepherded many babies into thisworld.
My sister Emily married Percy Vuglar and they both figured prominently in the life of Paeroa, living on Te Aroha Road for some years. Percy was a son of John Vuglar who had come to New Zealand with the British Army and was a very early settler here. He established a Butchery Business into which three of his sons followed him, (Percy, Ernie, and Bill, later of Karangahake.) Jim was a Teacher and there were four daughters, Celia, Ruth, Winifred and Ivy (Mrs. Alex McGregor).
I was married from the Bridge House in 1917 so we have just celebrated our Golden Wedding. My husband, James Stewart, is a Grandson of George Vesey Stewart the founder of the Katikati settlement and we now live at Whangamata where our children and Grandchildren love to come. During the 1st World War, while my brothers Bill and Allan served with the forces, my husband managed the Paeroa business. This was closed down in 1930 when Bill married and devoted all his time to the Thames Road Farm. Like our father, he was a keen Sportsman and an exhibitor of horses at Shows for 40 years. He retired to Whangamata some years before his death in 1960, having maintained his bright outlook and sharp intellect to the end.
For a time the Store was used as a miniature Golf Links by Joe German but the general "depression" caused the venture to be short-lived. Subsequently it was an Auction Mart under the management of a Mr. Stewart but for some years later it was empty and became almost derelict owing to the efforts of vandals. However in 1945 Mr. W. Dean saw the possibilities of renovation, the structural timbers being sound kauri. He soon disposed of faulty lining boards and broken windows, and opened the premises as a furniture factory and shop, while making use of the living quarters at the rear. It is good to know that one of Paeroa's oldest business houses still serves such a useful and constructive purpose.
My brother Allan joined the Public Works Department in 1908, and although he spent much of his adult life in various responsible positions out of Paeroa, he retained an active interest in the family estate and shortly after his death in 1965, an impressive service was conducted by the Rev. L.M. Rogers of Paeroa at the Pukerimu Lawn Cemetery to dedicate the Memorial Gates donated by his wife. My sister Ida (Mrs. Gerrand, Auckland) and I are now the only remaining members of our family.
After our Mother died in 1921 the Bridge House was sold to Dr. Little who added a Surgery and practised there for some years. He was followed by Dr. Clark and then Dr. Bartrum bought the home and practice in 1949 after serving with the Armed Forces. I understand that Dr. Hayes is there now, so for forty-five years, skilled and devoted men have diagnosed and prescribed for the ills of their many patients in one of Paeroa's oldest surviving homes.