Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 55, September 2011
Mr D. W. Robson, when he passed away on April 17, 1960, was the oldest living resident of Paeroa, having been born here in 1877, the son of Mr and Mrs J. McG. Robson, the first general store owners in the town, which was on the corner of Normanby Road and Victoria Street (opposite today's Paeroa Service Station).
In 1950 Mr D. W. Robson owned a farm on Thames Road, (more recently by the late Mr and Mrs Reg Hughes) and he also had a seaside residence at Whangamata. In his later years he spent many happy times by the sea.
In 1950 Mr Robson recalled his early memories of Paeroa from the time he began to take note of its citizens. At that time Paeroa's population was between 50 and 100 residents. Karangahake had not been thought of and it was much later when that locality grew rapidly to become the home of some two to three thousand people.
Mr Robson recalled when Messrs Cassrells and Bennett were the proprietors of the Criterion Hotel and leased from the Maori owners the land which now forms the southern portion of the town of Paeroa. From the Royal Mail hotel (now RSA and Citizens Club) towards Waihi and between the domain and Primrose Hill right to the Ohinemuri River - this was an unroaded area leased by those publicans.
Later, in 1892, the Government was induced to purchase the freehold of the land from the Maori owners and Messrs Cassrells and Bennett retained their leasehold interest.
Before Normanby Road could be made and business premises built a hill 50 feet high had to be cut away, the spoil from which was used to form a stopbank on the Ohinemuri River. The hill extended from where the Paeroa Hardware Company's premises (Paeroa Home Hardware) now is to the site of Mr R. Todd's chemist shop (Paeroa Pharmacy). Prior to the forming of Normanby Road the main street was Cassrells Street, continuing through Princes Street and to Junction Road which connected the township with the wharf at the junction of the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers, about one mile from the town.
After the purchase by the Government of the freehold of the land comprised in the Cassrell and Bennett lease the town was then laid out by the Government in that area.
The other end of the township commenced from the Royal Mail Hotel corner and extended in the direction of the Hauraki Plains was purchased from the Maori owners by a Mr Fraser upon his retirement from his position as Magistrate in the Coromandel district. Paeroa was then a township under the jurisdiction of the Thames County Council. In planning the subdivision of his lands Mr Fraser, in order to cut the area into as many sections as possible, was very economical when making provision for streets and that was the reason for the wide Normanby Road continuing through a much narrower Belmont Road. That part of the town which was owned by Mr Fraser came to be known as Fraser Township.
Passengers arriving by boat at the Junction Wharf could save much time by walking, or later taking a bus from the wharf which was one mile from the town instead of travelling close to 10 miles by the river, which zigzagged its way between the Junction Wharf and the township.
Mr Robson recalled seeing heavy machinery being unloaded at the town wharf near the Criterion Hotel when the horse wagons would be taken down almost to the water level and the load pulled up the bank with teams of many horses. On one occasion he saw 26 horses pulling a very heavy load. No reins were used to guide the animals the leaders of the team being almost human in their understanding and obedience to the orders of the drivers.
The dangers of driving teams through the Karangahake Gorge in the darkness, was referred to by Mr Robson. He recalled the reasons for the naming of Griffith's Bend and Kennedy's Bend. At the former, Mr Griffiths one dark night, whilst driving his five-horse team, went over the bank into the Ohinemuri River and all the horses were drowned. At Kennedy's bend the same sort of misfortune befell Mr Kennedy.
One method the drivers used in those days to keep their bearings in the darkness was to keep their long whips out touching the in side bank and when ever they could not touch the bank they pulled the horses towards it.