Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995

By C W Malcolm

River Versus Rail in Early Paeroa
River Versus Rail in Early Paeroa
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995
River Versus Rail in Early Paeroa

In the WEEKLY NEWS of 2 February 1900 I found a strange item when I was researching for my PAEROA CHRONOLOGY (see JOURNAL 20 page 7 [see Journal 20: Paeroa Chronology (Part 3) - E]). Preliminary arrangements were being made for the commencement of the PAEROA - WAIHI RAILWAY. Offices and stores were being built at Paeroa. What struck me as being strange was that "endeavours were being made to have the line built on the Paeroa side of the river," the exact route not yet having been determined.

This would have meant the line passing through parts of the township, possibly along the ESPLANADE following the side of the river, and involving some road crossings. Why would this be advocated when the main line to Te Aroha already crossed the river by an already built bridge available to carry the Waihi line?

But an even crazier notion had been officially suggested and planned at an earlier date. We are indebted to J A T Terry for his reproduction of the plan in JOURNAL 38, page 12 [see Journal 38: Railway Bridge at Paeroa - E]. I have made my own drawing of it to show how it would have affected the town.

From the first decade of the century, first as schoolboy, and later as marching bandsman, and then driver of the first fire-engine, I have maintained a fascination for the streets of Paeroa. But I did not know, until our Editor, Gary Staples, supplied me with an early street map that, before the advent of the railway, JUNCTION ROAD (4-5-6) continued to its meeting with Hughenden Street, nor that what we know as WHARF STREET was originally part of NORMANBY ROAD (1-2-3).

WHARF STREET, of course, takes it name from the fact that the wharf at its river end was the busy terminus for the ships that navigated the Ohinemuri River to the heart of the town at this point. The coming of the RAILWAY in 1895 and the site which the necessary bridge ultimately occupied raised some objections. It would be a barrier that would stop the ships from reaching the heart of the township.

Hence the "proposed deviation" of the railway by a bridge upstream of the existing wharf. A "deviation" it certainly was! One wonders where the railway station would have been sited. At "S"? In my accompanying plan the "proposed" line would cross the Esplanade, require a level crossing of Queen Street, pass over busy Wharf Street, traverse a section of Belmont Road, clip Hall Street, bisect William Street, and join the planned and ultimate route somewhere north of the town towards Thames.

It was a battle between river and rail. And the railway won. The bridge was built in its present situation. Plans to give it a "central swinging span" for the passage of ships were abandoned, a wharf just downstream of the bridge was short-lived, and for some time Paeroa's "port" was at the junction of the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers, making JUNCTION ROAD a busy highway into the town. But even this was "bisected" by the railway, its townward end ultimately becoming MARSHALL STREET.

And when the shipping had dropped further down stream to the PUKE WHARF, the horse-drawn passenger coaches no longer had a direct route from BELMONT ROAD into PUKE ROAD for the railway had also cut that straight line of roadway necessitating a deviation and a level crossing.

Finally, it should be realised that the "proposed plan" for the railway line deviation was prepared in early 1887 possibly before some of the streets were formed. Of this I am not certain. Nevertheless, as a means of avoiding obstruction to the shipping on the river, it does appear an inconvenient and hazardous route for a railway through a township and no doubt it is fortunate it was not adopted.