Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 23, June 1979
By HERBERT TOWERS
WILLIAM JOHN TOWERS born at Thames, 26th May 1868, was the eldest of a family of 13 children. As school education usually finished in Standard 6 in those days and assisting with the family keep was a necessity for the eldest of such a large family, Mr. Towers started his working life at a very early age. One of his first employers was Hetherington's Ltd., Thames, but this job he lost through being involved in an unauthorised boxing contest in the firm's back yard. His youthful sporting activities seemed to be boxing, gymnastics and rugby football. He was the controller for gym and boxing classes held in Thames at that time. In rugby football he was a prominent player for Goldfields in the days when the Goldfields team was as strong as any in the province. He was also Superintendent of the St. George's Anglican Sunday School at Thames.
In 1898 he married Louisa May Stevens of Thames at St. George's, Thames. About this time he had started a house decorating business in Paeroa, in partnership with Mr. Jack Edwards. His home was built in Rye Lane being then the last house on the left up from Station Road. The area to the north and east was then uncleared, being covered with tea-tree which provided fuel for the home and a recreation ground for the children. Some of the families living in Rye Lane at that time were the McCarthy's, Manning's, Sinnott's and in the street off Rye Lane to the right Silcock's, Andrew's, Forrest's, Walmsleys. Later when this undeveloped area was cleared and roaded, the extension to Rye Lane was named Towers Street, but a few years ago the whole street was named Towers Street, the name Rye Lane being discarded. The home remained in the possession of the family until about 1947 when it was sold to Mr. Joseph Brenan, son of Mr. Phil Brenan - Paeroa's second Mayor.
The name Towers - Painter of Paeroa, soon became well and favourably known throughout the Thames Valley. The main centres of his business were Paeroa and Te Aroha, but many were the houses from Thames, through the Plains to Matamata, Walton and Morrinsville that were painted by W.J.T. During the busy mining days he did much work for the mining companies, the hotels, the schools etc., and also painted the Bath House at Rotorua when it was originally built. During 1900 to 1915 when the district was rapidly expanding, his total staff sometimes totalled 60 approximately. His Paeroa headquarters - known as the "the paint shop" was situated in William Street. This street was named after him. The Te Aroha headquarters were situated in a shed at the rear of Mackie's a building firm.
His working day for many years started with the departure of the 6.40 a.m. train for Te Aroha. Transport from here to jobs in the surrounding districts was by horse and trap (and often on foot). He arrived back in Paeroa by train at 7.10 p.m. usually to spend another hour at his paint shop preparing for next days jobs in or around Paeroa. Some will remember his Paeroa horse and cart - the latter well preserved by variegated paint blotches. Even with the approach of motor-transport, he still claimed that his horse and cart served his purpose more satisfactorily as it was more suitable and reliable in all weathers on poor roads in the backblocks, across farms, and in unroaded areas. During his working life he earned a well-merited reputation for reliability, honesty and high-grade workmanship.
His main recreation in his middle age was bowls and as a member of the Paeroa Club for many years he enjoyed Saturday afternoons on the Paeroa green or in inter-club competition throughout the Valley. His main annual occasion was the Te Aroha New Year tournament in the days when special trains from Thames and Waihi took families to Te Aroha for New Year's Day picnics.
As a member of the Paeroa Masonic Lodge, he achieved the office of Master. For many years he was a committee member of the Ohinemuri Jockey Club and some may remember the near disaster on St. Patrick's Day about 1910 when he was kicked just above the temple by a rearing race horse, to remain unconscious for several days and then completely recover - to the amazement of all. He always gave generous support to local activities of all sorts, and when Paeroa chose to become a borough apart from the Ohinemuri County Council, he was chosen as its first Mayor - a position he occupied for two terms. The task of conducting the borough council through its initial years was made more burdensome by the fact that it included the First World War years with soldier welfare work, Queen Carnivals and other fund raising activities. He died in 1942 after an illness of five or six years following a collision with a cyclist one evening in the dust, suffering severe concussion from which he never really recovered.
Mrs. Towers was born at Thames in 1876, the daughter of John Lee Stevens an early settler who had a general store at Hikutaia and at Waihi. She attended Kaueranga [Kauaeranga – E] School and at the age of 15 became a probationary teacher to find that controlling and teaching boys older and much larger than herself, a rather frightening task. She taught at Waitekauri, Wairongomai [Waiorongomai – E] and Te Aroha.
Upon marriage she settled in Paeroa to rear her family of five boys and two girls, and later became Paeroa's first Mayoress. She was a tireless worker in all the Borough's social and welfare activities. A good tennis player in her younger days, she later gained much enjoyment as a foundation member of the Paeroa Croquet Club and of the Paeroa Bridge Club. She competently filled her position as Mayoress during the strenuous war and influenza epidemic periods giving nursing service during the latter over a widespread and needy area. She died in 1944 at the age of 68 years - (the day after the death of another old identity, Mr. Joseph Brenan).
The family of Mr. & Mrs. Towers consisted of: Herbert, Ivan, twins, Verne and Gwen, Dorothy, Jeffrey and Rex. Herbert left Paeroa 1913 to attend the Auckland Grammar School and has been on the staff of the Mt. Albert Grammar School since 1922. Ivan joined the Bank of New Zealand in which he served at Matamata, Feilding [Fielding? – E], Christchurch, and Auckland, but died in 1953. Verne joined the N.Z. Dairy Co. in Paeroa and later transferred to Hamilton. Gwen, after teaching for some years in the Waikato and Hauraki Plains, married Mr. Alec Mc Clean [McLean ? – E] of Waitakaruru. Jeff went on to a farm at Te Aroha West about 1924. Dorothy entered the teaching profession and later married Dudley Nisbet - an old Waihi boy and also a school teacher. She has lived in Tanghai (near Te Koporu), Featherstone, Te Puke, and Swanson. Rex joined his father's business in Paeroa, went to the Second World War and upon his return re-commenced the same business, but later transferred to Hamilton and then to Te Kuiti.