Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 34, September 1990
The first school in the area was at Mackaytown. In 1875 Mr John Ritchie opened a private school in Paeroa and later commenced a part time school in Mackaytown. The Mackaytown School, opened on 15 August 1876, in a shed loaned by Mr Adam Porter, was initially attended by 24 children. However with the decline in mining results, many people moved away and when it became necessary for Mr Ritchie to give all his attention to Paeroa pupils, Mackaytown, Owharoa and Waitekauri were linked as Part-time schools, Mr Sullivan spending a week at each in turn. He was appointed Headmaster of the Paeroa School in 1885 when Mr Ritchie was transferred to Rawene.
The Mackaytown building was burned down in 1886 and the community petitioned for a new school to be built at Karangahake, by then more populated. No immediate action was taken and the children once more attended in a borrowed building at Mackaytown. For a period the teacher was Dr Hauesler, a geologist of Bohemian origin, and the author of a work entitled "The Microscopic Structure of Ohinemuri Gold". In 1888, Mr Ritchie, now a widower, returned to Paeroa and again took charge of the Paeroa and Mackaytown Schools.
A public meeting was held by the residents of Karangahake and Mackaytown in March 1887 and a resolution was passed that they would make representations for the establishment of a school. The committee elected was Messrs Hogg, Hyde, Davidson, Walsh and Brown. The Board's Inspector advised in December 1888 that the school at Mackaytown was in disrepair and would be unsuitable to use during the winter months. At this time there were 36 children of school age in the district. A site at Karangahake was secured for a new school and the residents pledged themselves to contribute twenty five pounds ($50) to assist the Education Board to erect a building.
Tenders for the building of a school were invited and on 21 October 1889 Mr Albert J Moore's tender for two hundred and eleven pounds ($422) was accepted. The date that the school opened is unknown. The Hamilton Education Board considers that in view of the commencement date of the building (October/November 1889) it would not have been before the end of 1889. The probable opening date would have been the beginning of the school year, 1890. The school at Mackaytown closed concurrent with the opening of the new school at Karangahake. Mr Ritchie taught at the new school until he retired in 1891.
In 1892 Miss Patterson became the first full-time Head Teacher with the assistance of a Pupil Teacher, David Dunlop. A school residence was built that year and Miss Patterson married Mr Guthrie, a local builder. To everyone's grief, she died later when her son, Harry was born. He was cared for by the Fisk family of Karangahake and some years ago he gave to the Paeroa Historical Society, a beautifully illustrated Illuminated Address, which had been presented to his mother on the occasion of her marriage.
The school was enlarged in 1895 and in 1898 and there was major reconstruction in 1907 when the building virtually achieved its present form. Following the building reconstruction major site works were carried out in 1908 and a further classroom was added in 1912.
From 1894 to 1896, Mr A Oldham was Headmaster, followed in 1897 by Mr Augustus Scott who became the Headmaster with a series of assistants, the longest serving being Miss Gertie Palmer and Mr Bob Corbett. Mr Scott remained for 15 years, during which time Karangahake reached its peak in gold production and population. The roll was over 300 when a side school was opened at Mackaytown in 1902. This was a boon to the younger pupils of that area who were able to attend the little school until they were about eight years of age. They were usually in the charge of only one lady teacher, who coped with about 40 pupils.
In 1912 there were 45 pupils in Standard 7 room at Paeroa District High School and about a third of them were from Karangahake. But 1912 was the year of the Waihi Miner's Strike, which had repercussions locally. Then in 1914 the output from the mines began to decline. It became all too evident that a rapid recession was inevitable, and this was reflected in the school roll. The roll decreased while Mr Hamilton and Mr Lewins were Headmasters during the War Years and the Mackaytown School was closed in 1917. The building was eventually sold in 1932 for removal and was used as a house at the foot of Turner's Hill. During October 1923 the Waikino School was burned down and two of the Karangahake schoolrooms were moved there.
The roll continued to decline and in 1942 the school became, once more, sole charge, under Mr Briggs. The school roll reached its lowest in 1942 with 19 pupils. In the early 1950's a large slip started to slide onto the main road below the school, eventually destroying the road above, which gave access to the school. In 1954 a new road to the school was formed.
In 1956 the school residence was improved when the laundry and toilet was rebuilt, but on 1 March 1957 the residence was completely destroyed by fire. The new Headmaster, Mr Nash, was due to arrive and his belongings had arrived before him and were in the house. Luckily, due to the prompt action of the pupils, all of his property was hastily removed from the building, and saved. For a few months following the fire, the fate of the school, with a roll of only 29 pupils, lay somewhat in the balance but following letters, deputations and resolutions from the local Committee, the Education Board decided to continue the school and build a new schoolhouse. A site was acquired at Mackaytown from Mr J Rackham, and a house built there at a cost of three thousand three hundred and ninety pounds ($6780). This was occupied on 1 March 1958.
In 1958 the slip, mentioned earlier, had again moved following heavy rain, and had worked its way back, right to the school boundary. About this time considerable work was done on the school grounds, including new fencing, earthworks and grassing. In 1960 the tiered floor was lowered and ceilings fitted in both classrooms, a considerable benefit in winter.
The school roll since 1950 has shown considerable fluctuation. When Mr Nash arrived in March 1957 it was 29, but was to rise to 47 by 1959. When Mr Nash left in 1964, the roll was 23, mainly as a result of 14 pupils leaving for College in one year. These fluctuations have made planning difficult and, at least twice, resulted in the possibility of school closure.
The new toilet blocks were built in 1964, the next big project being the installation, in 1973, of a swimming pool on the site of the old school residence. This was a Para pool, 30ft x 16ft. Various improvements to the facilities continued but the questionof whether or notthe school was to continue arose again in the later 1970's. The outcome was again satisfactory, with a grant of $92,000 being approved in 1980 to remodel the school building. This was followed by an additional grant of $12,153 to fully complete the work. During the period of reconstruction the children and teachers moved to the Waikino School. Since then heaters and underground power have been installed (1985) and the school exterior repainted in 1988.
[See also: Karangahake School Centennial in this Journal]