Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 13, May 1970
By J.P. Sinnett
The face of Paeroa has changed and continues to change as the years pass. This is mainly the result of being the focal point of one of the most important farming areas in the country and, as the area has deve1oped and expanded, greater demands both in volume and variety are made on the resources and supply capacity of the town. This is not a new role in the town's history, for from 100 years ago it was the port, and from 65 years ago the railhead, serving the Waihi, Karangahake, Waitekauri, Maratoto and Komata Reefs gold mines. Steamer and rail borne goods were carried from Paeroa to their various destinations by horse teams drawing waggons generally with a capacity of about five tons. There were many firms engaged in the carriage of goods and mining equipment, for I have been told by more than one very aged gentleman that it was possible to sit at about the site of the existing Owharoa bridge and at all times during the daylight hours have a horse team in sight, either going to or returning from Waihi. The outstanding change in respect of road transport of goods is that probably a greater tonnage is brought directly to Paeroa from the ports of Auckland and Tauranga, and redistributed from here by motor trucks.
Another transport oddity based on Paeroa was the barge service to Te Aroha, carrying goods amounting to 40,000 tons per annum transhipped at Paeroa from the Auckland steamers operated by the Northern Steamship Co. At one time there were six steamers a week from Auckland to Paeroa and the passenger fare was ten shillings single, which included two meals and overnight accommodation. The best known of the steamers on the run were the 'Waimarie' and the 'Taniwha'. The service was abandoned when the Waihou River became so obstructed by the formation of sandbars that navigation became impossible. This occurred in the late 30's.
Paeroa sported a horse drawn tramway, used solely for the carriage of coal to the Waihi - Paeroa Gold Extraction Co., at Mill Road and kauri logs for the Kauri Timber Co., at the end of Junction Road. Both coal and logs were unloaded from rail trucks at a siding almost directly opposite the present Te Aroha-Thames Valley Dairy Co. factory. The logs came from a bush working in the Waitawheta Valley, and after being railed to Paeroa were taken along Railway Street down the length of Junction Road then rolled into the river, chained together in the form of a raft and towed to the Auckland mills of the Kauri Timber Co. by the steam tug 'Waiwera'. The coal was unloaded per medium of square mouth shovels into large hopper trucks, and taken along the same route as the logs to the turn off into Maori Flat Road [now Maori Road – E] and then in almost a direct line to the bank of the Ohinemuri River, where it was tipped into a hopper and carried by "Flying fox" across the river to the Extraction Works.
Paeroa had a measure of industrialisation in the early teens, and operating in the town were two joinery works and timber yards, one butter factory, a brewery, two engineering works, four blacksmiths and wheel wrights, a flaxmill, a sawmill and an aerated water factory. The total staff employed would have been about one hundred, and the worker - population ratio would not be greatly different today. It is well worth noting that the joinery factories were very highly regarded in the building trade, and locally produced joinery was shipped out to many towns in the North Island. (Their story will be told later. Ed.)
Communications some 55 years ago were not at all good, the only roads out of Paeroa that were metalled for .their whole length being those to Thames and Waihi. The Waihi road, however, had two fords, (at Tarariki Creek and Dockerty's [Doherty's – E] Creek) which flooded very quickly in wet weather and became dangerous to all traffic. There were no bridges over the Waihou River north of Mangaiti, the river having to be crossed by ferry at Paeroa, Hikutaia and Kopu. The road to Te Aroha was unmetalled from a point some fifty yards south of Mill Road to Mangaiti, the section at Waitoki being very swampy and impassable after even light rain. The roads across the Hauraki Plains were a mixture of narrow metalled strips and long stretches of mud in various stages of softness. In fact it was not until some thirty-five years ago that the roads which in the main served Paeroa were brought up to a reliable all weather standard. The condition of the roads emphasised the value of the river and rail traffic to the town, for road travel in the early days could be regarded as an adventure and in general offered no pleasure to the traveller.
Referring again to the many physical changes in Paeroa, these are in almost every instance the result of growth and development. Among them was the removal of two hillocks bordering Normanby Road. On the Eastern side of the road, between Boulton's shop and Mackay Street, was a rise of about twelve feet which had been excavated to give a footpath level which exists today. The ground sloped down toward the Domain, and at Willoughby Street was a little lower than the present level. Diagonally opposite, the other hillock rose to about the same height, and extended from about the back of the present Post Office to Fathers Hotel. The spoil gained by the removal of these hillocks was used in the building of the stopbanks around the town, and was carted by horse drawn drays.
The area between Normanby Road and Bennett Street on the East and West, Thorp Street on the North and the Catholic Church property on the South was a mixture of swamp and scrub land some fifty-five years ago. The only streets entering this area were Wood Street to about the present intersection with Russell Street and Willoughby Street to about one chain past its present intersection with Thorp Street. Bennett Street did not connect with Arney Street at this time, but followed its present alignment in an easterly direction from the top of Nahum Street, and its chief use was as a means of access to the Rifle Range.
Claremont Avenue is an example of arrested development, for though the roadway was formed more than fifty years ago it is only in the last twenty-five years that any appreciable number of dwellings have been built. The factors which seemed to have held up the use of this area have been largely eliminated, and it is now almost fully built up. The scene of another transformation is the area between Towers Street (then Rye Lane) and Hill Street. It has been developed from a scrub covered waste, where boys played their games of cowboys and Indians and all of Paeroa's gardeners went for their garden stakes. It was subdivided in the early teens, Miller Avenue and Kennedy and Andrews Streets were formed, and a large block of good housing land was opened. Before the subdivision of this block Towers Street ended at the present intersection with Andrews Street, and Hill Street ended about two chains above its intersection with Cullen Street. Also in this period Aorangi Road and Ainslie Street, together with what is known as the Railway Settlement, did not exist, the whole of the ridge along which Aorangi Road runs being occupied by a market garden operated by a group of Chinese. Taylor Avenue is another street of comparatively recent vintage, being constructed when the Railway Station was moved from opposite the Paeroa Hotel to its present site.
The area in the angle between Railway Street and Junction Road, including Lee Avenue, is one of the most recently developed for housing. Originally Clarkin's Paddocks, some fifty-five years ago this was the site of the football and the hockey fields. The Park areas provided by the original planners of Paeroa showed their admirable foresight, and with only minor alterations remain exactly as designed in the first instance, but the areas occupied by the various sports clubs have changed to a great degree. The Golf Club of the period under reference had the Ohinemuri Jockey Club's course as its home, and moved to a newly developed course at Rotokohu Road in 1939. The Tennis Club played on courts where the Croquet Club has its lawns to-day before moving to its present site on Te Aroha Road, and the Bowling Club occupied greens immediately inside the Southern gate of the Domain before moving to the present greens on Te Aroha Road, adjacent to Squash Courts and other amenities. The township, with. its present sealed streets, has maintained a steady growth over the years, even in the difficult thirties, and with regard to position and the district of which it is the centre, it is not easy to visualise a combination of circumstances which will put an end to this progress which I have witnessed personally for over 50 years. I have deliberately avoided linking events with dates or persons, for the reason that dates are apt to be confusing where events overlap in time, and with personalities it is far too easy to over stress one at the expense of another.