Weraroa important in Horowhenua growth

In the first of a series of articles on the history of the Weraroa commercial area, Mr F.C. Swanwick noted that it is a popular misconception that Weraroa started as a town before Levin. In fact, there were some years between their beginnings.

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Nonetheless, Weraroa had played an important part in the growth and development of the town – and therefore the Horowhenua as a whole. 

After all, Weraroa was the site of the railway station and the saleyards (eventually), had its own hotel and post office. 

This week, Mr Swanwick takes up his account at the Oxford Street groups of shops containing the Kiwi Pharmacy and the Weraroa Gift and Music Centre, partly established in 1951. Claris and Tom Stewart built the two northern shops in 1951 after buying the property from Mrs. Kelleher’s estate. 

They ran the northern most shop as a drapery until 1963 when the present manager, Garry Osborn, opened the Weraroa Gift and Music Centre. 

Clarry Maney set up the Weraroa Pharmacy in 1953, followed by Alan Donohugue in 1963.  Mr R.E. Smitheram now owns the pharmacy. 

The third shop, the Kiwi Grill, was not built until 1961. The first proprietor was Bill Judd and the current one (in 1981) is George Geill. 

The Weraroa Post Office was built as a shop for the “Weraroaites.”  They had wanted the Levin Post Office on the corner of Stuckey Street, until recently the P & T depot.  The illustrious Miss Emma Bowen was Postmistress from 1912 to 1922.  Although a community minded woman well-known for her charitable works, I can remember her as a petite, five foot high bundle of sharpness when necessary.  As children we were afraid of her, and even adults had to mind their Ps and Qs. 

Mr Curtis, a well known postman, lived at the rear for many years. 

North of the post office, an original house which still stands behind the old bakery premises now occupied by sewing contractor R.E. Forth. Leslie McMinn ran a monumental mason’s business from this house. 

I think Mr Cresswell built the bakery after closing down a bakery further north. 

Arthur Burchmore and John Buck built their panel beating shop on the adjoining vacant land in 1963.  John Buck continued on his own until 1980 when Farm Products bought the property for storage. 

Across Rena Street, where the South Pacific Restaurant now stands, was the old bakery built by Charles Williams between 1895 and 1900. He was a one-time publican of the Weraroa Hotel and an aspirant for the mayoralty in 1906. 

Joe Watson was the bakery proprietor about 1906.  A fire occurred in his time and the front had to be partly or wholly rebuilt. The actual bakehouse was a separate building at the back. 

A Mr Thorne was another proprietor and, in my memory, a Mr Bevis.  I can remember buying bread piping hot out of the oven before school.  And what bread it was!  The crust was deliciously crunchy. 

If the loaf was a double one and broken at the division there was a sort of frosty-looking end. Usually by the time I got home there would be a hole where I had been pulling pieces out to eat. 

When cooked, the loaves were slid out of the wood-fired oven on a long, oar-shaped wooden tool about 20 feet long – a few at a time. 

There was always a small shop in the building at the south end, mostly occupied by boot repairers. Harry Mew and George Jackson were two of the proprietors I remember and, I think, Ted Pratt. 

Some of the children were cheeky to the occupants.  I remember seeing one, George Jackson I think, catch a Cameron boy.  By using the butt end of a flax leaf he ensured the lad did not sit down for a while. 

After the bakery closed the building was more of less abandoned for some years, except when it was used as a residence. 

Permac Concrete used the building for a year or so. Then former fire chief Lumsden (Lummy) Trass bought the building and used it for timber storage and a joinery factory for years. 

He applied to build a licensed hotel on the site, but did not succeed as the licence went to the Oxford Hotel. 

The old building was demolished in 1963 and Lummy built the South Pacific Restaurant in 1963 with son R. Trass as manager.  Mr & Mrs Thorn are now the proprietors. 

What is now Levin Motor Engineers (proprietor Stephen Rangi) was a blacksmith and farriers, probably circa 1900-1910. Sid Jones was apparently the first proprietor, followed in the 1930s by Ernie Hudson. 

We would watch engrossed from the doorway as horseshoes were hammered into shape while the iron was red hot. Sparks flew like sparklers on Guy Fawkes Day.  When the hot shoe was placed on the horse’s hoof an acrid smoke arose. The forge glowed fiercely when the hand bellows were turned, the iron was heated red hot and then struck by the lusty blacksmith with up to a seven pound hammer. 

Sam Smith and Keith Mangin succeeded Ernie Hudson in 1942, starting Smith’s Steel. Sam Smith moved to Hokio Beach Road in 1945, and Keith Mangin left the business in 1962. 

Lance Osborne’s Levin Carrying Company was in the building from 1962-1966 before moving to Cambridge Street. He also used the adjoining shed as an office. 

Next were two shops which were probably built in the middle to late 1890s. George Cooper had a billiard saloon, barber’s saloon and tobacconist shop in the south shop, probably circa 1916-1928. 

Around the 1920s there was a haberdashery; selling cottons, pins, needles, tapes, ribbons and other small drapery items in this north shop.  Later Mr. Kingsbeer had a musical instrument and records shop here.  Mrs Free also ran a fruit shop. 

Most of these Weraroa shops had living quarters behind them.


In 1971 the Cosmopolitan Club bought the property, demolished the two shops and built their new club rooms. 

Next was a house said to be the publican’s house, probably built in 1895.  Later Bill Creighton Snr had a plumber’s workshop behind the house; succeeded by his son Bill Jnr. 

This house was demolished in 1980 and the extensions to the Cosmopolitan Club, including a restaurant, built. 

On the southwest corner of Ward and Oxford Street, the present day site of the Weraroa Dairy, the Weraroa Hotel was built in 1895 for Fred Roe. 

The wooden hotel was destroyed by fire, circa 1910-1912, and the licence transferred the then legal half mile to the new Grand Hotel. 

The Weraroa Dairy was built for Mr. Phillips in 1948, but he was proprietor for only a short time. Amongst the many proprietors has been Mrs Thompson;  Mr Swinn, June and Alan Gillette (from 1970). Gwen Fairley (from 1974) Sharon and Lindsay Holt took over the dairy in 1980. 

Where the Church of Christ is now a grocery run by Marco Fossello existed in 1898. 

On the north corner Charley Williams built a grocers shop in 1896, but his period as proprietor is not known. Harold Hudson was there for some years after opening a wheelwright’s business in 1922. 

Frank McMinn had a book and stationery shop here, probably in the 1930s. It then reverted to a grocer’s shop, remaining as such from then on. 

Proprietors included Mr Stupples, then Mr Davidson, Ken Bell from 1947, Len Irons from 1961, Mr McMillan from 1971 and the late Gordon Muir trading as G.E.M.Discount. Finally Mark Gardiner traded from 1977, until the building was gutted by fire in 1978. The ruins were demolished and the site is now bare. 

Of the neighbouring shop, I can only remember a Mrs Verry with a mixed sweet, fruit and grocer’s shop. Later Mr Rapley had a grocery. 

The original part of Weraroa Auto Services (the petrol pump area) was bare until the late 1920s or early 30s when Don Weaver built a service station. He used part of the building on the north side for office space and living quarters. 

Later he operated a garage behind, and Mrs Weaver ran a service station in front. 

Then Ponty Fitzgerald ran the business as a whole until 1952, when Alex Jenkins and Roger Parker operated it. Treadwell Services operated the business at some stage, and also treaded tyres. 

Apparently then, the premises became Weraroa Service Station, operated by Colin Lawrie from 1968 and Alan Dinsmore from 1979. 

Where the car wash is was a building occupied by Ted Allman as a dairy engineer, at least from 1916.  A cycle shop operating in the 1920s and 1930s probably existed then too. 

I bought my first bike from Mr. Allman in 1930. It was a silver-plated Chaterlea racing bike which cost three pounds ($6) or a fortnight’s wages in those days. 

Jack Bolderson and Leo Critchley used the building as a panel beating workshop from 1953.  Prior to that, Malcolm Snoad occupied a small shop in the south corner repairing footwear.  Steve Musso used the building as a motor repair garage from 1956, for an unknown period. In 1974 it was demolished. 

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Weraroa important in Horowhenua growth

Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:28/04/1982
Publisher:The Chronicle

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