Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 31, September 1987
By C W Malcolm
Paeroa's citizen of today should know that at one time the river which skirts the town was a broad, deep, clear and beautiful stream; it had attractive sandy beaches for picnic parties; it provided for a rowing club that housed their skiff in Paeroa's first Fire Station in Wharf Street; it was navigable for passenger steamers from Thames and Auckland right into the town before the railway bridge was built. (1895)
The river offered so pleasant a prospect that, as the Thames Advertiser of 16 January 1875 tells us: "The main road which is laid through the small swamp beyond the Paeroa Hotel which faces the river, is to be a chain and a half wide, and there is to be an esplanade where trees may be planted." (Journal 2 page 12) [see Journal 2: Thames Advertiser and Miners' News 1875 - E]
There is enchantment about the word "esplanade" - it conjures up pictures of a tree-lined promenade beside a stretch of sparkling water where the populace may stroll on a summer day observing the activity on the river. And this was the intention of the far-sighted surveyors in the original planning of the township. The river lent itself to providing the town with a unique and beautiful environmental feature. The concept is too historical to be forgotten.
Go down Paeroa's Queen Street towards the river; you will find it a dead-end; but once if you turned left at its river end, you would have been in a short street which served three houses that looked across it to the river; their postal address was "The Esplanade." Now it, and its continuation to Francis Street is buried beneath the stop-bank. The Esplanade, as it was first planned, was to have included Casrells [Cassrels – E] Street - Paeroa's first Main Street (see Journal 28 page 6) [see Journal 28 : Paeroa's First Main Street - E] - and extended along the river bank to somewhere in the vicinity of the present railway bridge, along the line of today's stop-bank.
In the Diamond Jubilee publication of the Ohinemuri County compiled by its then County Clerk, Mr Alf Jenkinson, I find on page 79 "when Mrs A J Thorp came as a young teacher to Paeroa in 1882....the front doors of the business community opened upon a sort of beach road or esplanade between them and the Ohinemuri River. The town wharf was a short distance below the site of the present (Criterion) bridge." This was the wharf at the end of Arney Street and the "business community" was situated along Casrells Street.
A diagram on page 6 of Journal 28, supported by an article by the late Courtenay Kenny (Journal 24 page 37) [see Journal 24: Streets of Paeroa in 1887 - E] places the first-named Paeroa Hotel on the corner of Arney Street and Princes Street. Mr Kenny, a very reliable authority, states that this hotel was run by Mrs Nicks, the widow of John Nicks and that she later married a Mr Moore who had been a mining partner of her late husband.
However, an Editorial Note on page 11 of Journal 2 states: "Austin's Wharf was at the end of Wharf Street adjacent to Austin' s Hotel. This was later known as the Paeroa Hotel when managed by Mr and Mrs Nicks. Mrs Nicks later married Mr Moore." Austin's Wharf succeeded the wharf at Arney Street but the writer wonders if there is some confusion about the two "Paeroa Hotels", one in Arney Street, the other in Wharf Street, both run by Mr and Mrs Nicks. It is hoped that someone may clarify this piece of history.
Journal 7, page 44 [see Journal 7: Paeroa Hotels in Early Days - E], in an article "Paeroa Hotels in the Early Days" by W H Moore states: "The original hotels of the 1870s all stood in Casrells Street except the Paeroa Hotel which was in Wharf Street, " Courtenay Kenny's article (Journal 24) [see Journal 24: Streets of Paeroa in 1887 - E] puts the early Paeroa Hotel at the corner of Arney and Princes Streets. The late Mrs Silcock whose early life was spent in Wharf Street writes (Journal No 3) [see Journal 3: Water Transport in the Thames Valley - E] "Wharf Street derived its name from the wharf at the end of it. It was known as Austin's Wharf as was also a nearby hotel." This, of course, would be Austin's Hotel but she makes no mention of its name being changed to Paeroa Hotel.
Returning to our consideration of the Esplanade, I quote from Journal No 10, Claude Kennedy's article "Old Paeroa Business Area" which states that his recollections begin about 1895 when "Princes Street had then taken the place of the Esplanade as the main street and Wharf Street continued to be the central depot for the arrival and departure of the shipping."
The far sighted vision of the early surveyors of the Paeroa township faded but as today's generation surveys the stop-bank from the Criterion to the railway bridge they might well give them full credit for their dream that was never to become a reality.
The river became a sludge channel, its bed shallowed, its shipping no longer made picturesque the streets of the town, and it was to be many years before Paeroa established a Beautifying Society to enhance the environment. And the Esplanade lies buried beneath the broad wall of earth that protects the town when the rain on the hills shamefully denuded of their beautiful bush, floods the inadequate channel of old Ohinemuri.