Sawmilling would have been one of the first industries in the Foxton area. The forest of the floodplain was felled, milled and exported through the port. Some of the production was used locally both for housing and boatbuilding. During 1851-52 George Nye and Frank Abel built two 40 ton vessels for the Wellington trade. They were built at Piaka for T.U. Cook and named 'Hannah' and `Mary Jane'. By 1878 timber had become the main export through the port of Foxton. Locally the timber was used for the building of gigs and buggies etc. Rata was ideal for the wheelwrights trade and lancewood made good poles and shafts. Many of the early millers were self taught and theirs was a dangerous trade. Not only did the ever present fire danger have to be coped with but also accidents (chopped toes, broken limbs) and the affects of pay days (including the D.T.'s!). Shipbuilding continued on the riverbank. In 1896 Samuel Howan built a steam launch called "Sunbeam" which was used for weekend trips to the Beach. Bauchum built the "Planet" for Levin and Co. in 1900 and this steamer saw service towing the punts of green flax from the swamps to the mills. The production of timber was continued by R.N. Spier's timberyards in Main Street (founded in the early years of the century), which provided employment for as many as eighteen locals at times. One of the products from the yards in the 1930's was butter boxes for the export trade. In 1950 Noel and Ivan Oxnam moved their mill into the Borough and set up on the site of present day Donnelly Park in Avenue Road. After a fire destroyed the plant it was decided to move to the present site in Bergin Road. The mill began there with a staff of about ten but today this has risen to sixty. The company, now known as Foxpine, exports treated sawn timber to both the U.S.A. and Australia. Some of the slab waste from the mill is used by a subsidiary company to produce charcoal at a nearby factory.
Many tradesmen have used the products of the local sawmills to construct buildings in the town. A list of all of these is not practical in this volume but some have left their mark on the landscape and in memories. Geo. Nye was perhaps the earliest and the best known. Among the buildings that remain as a reminder of his skills are the old Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Duncan's house in Ladys Mile, both built in the 1860's and still in use. Another early builder was Theo. Easton who built the recently demolished Post Office. An early settler who worked in the timber trade was Andrew Jonson, one of the Manawatu's earliest settlers, who had a joinery workshop and undertakers business in Main Street from the early years of Foxton's history. Thomas Rimmer was another who built many of the structures erected before World War One. Tom Hunt's most notable construction in town was the rebuilt Whyte's Hotel. The building boom after World War Two saw many of the local builders with large gangs at work especially in constructing state houses. Among these were Bill Wilkinson (whose joinery factory became the Play Centre), Roy Easton, Bill Hourigan, Ernie Findlay, Hec Forbes and Lox Corley. Lox also built the Big Tex building on State Highway One, New Zealand's first drive in restaurant. At the same time W.D. Brooks was building spec houses in the town. While the modern builders have no local architectural service those in the early years of the century could call on James W. Rough who not only designed commercial premises such as those of Levin and Co. but also the stately homes of Fred Easton and Herbert Austin in Shannon Road. In recent decades much of the Foxton building has been done by builders living at the Beach such as Jack Bobbie and Cyril Thomas. Jake Slykhuis, trading as Foxton Builders, has also constructed many buildings in town.
Building constructors always have their "subbies", the electricians, plumbers and painters-paperhangers. One of the earliest plumbers was F.E. Jenks who also did painting and sign writing. He served as Mayor and is remembered by the street named after him. J. McColl, Holben and Kirk, Withers, and H.G. Potts all served the town in the early decades of this century with Potts proudly advertised that he would give a free chain with every toilet installed by him. The name of O'Leary has been associated with plumbing in the town for about 50 years and three generations have been involved, Don Hayes and Ian Cummerfield are two who have mended the drains and pipes of the town while Bryan Wells from the Beach has been another. Electricity is a product of this century and at first it was local tradesmen in other activities that solved the problems. The Palmerston North firm of Leader and Watt have provided services through their Foxton branch for the past 40 odd years. Jack Rosvall is another Beach tradesman who has provided services for Foxtonians. Once the builders, plumbers and electricians have done their work the painters-paperhangers move in. Tradesmen in this aspect of building in the last century included A. Pope, W.J. Lawrence and C. Evenson while A.E. Admore had taken over Jenk's painting activities by 1918. Edgar Cowley spent many years decorating the buildings of the town and during the state house building boom of the forties and fifties was joined by Reader and Ebbett, MacDonald, James and Sons, Dan Ellwood and later Boy Byne. Concrete products are also an integral part of construction and while most builders carry out their own laying Jock Roache and family have been producing concrete products from their site in Coley Street since the 1950's. In recent years the advent of readimix has seen two sites used for its production, Reid's Transport in Cook Street and Foxton Readimix in Bergin Road.
Many firms carried out a number of activities as local demands encouraged them to do those extras. For example the blacksmiths not only shod horses but were called upon to do general engineering jobs. When the Borough was formed one of the leading smiths was R.H. Barber who had his forge in Main Street. He not only did the usual tasks but was also a tinsmith and wheelwright. Barber's forge was taken over by Ross and Signal in 1918. Another forge in the early years was that of G. Robinson who advertised his business as the Foxton Veterinary Forge. Other smithies during the days of horse and cart were J. Westwood. J. Spelman and J. Symons who operated until the forties. One site upon which engineering of some form has been carried out for many years is the corner of Main and Cook. In 1898 Fred Robinson was working there and by 1925 Harold Cresswell had his blacksmith business thriving on the site. Although the building stood empty for a few years it was taken over by Broderick and Knight (later Broderick and Kaye) as an engineering works. The firm moved into new buildings in Johnston Street. The firm has since moved into larger premise across the road, and began specialising in truss construction. The Main Street site is now occupied by K.C. Motors. Foxton Engineering in Avenue Road was established by Bert Broderick and carried on by son Wayne. Basil Vertongen now owns the firm which concentrates on the production of trailers of various types.
Most clothing in the early years was made by the housewife but there were always people such as Lydia Burr willing to sew for others. Tailors such as A.R. Osborne, A.W. Bradley, A. Heaseman, and W. Baker provided services of a similar nature. In 1918 C.G. Walker advertised in the Herald that he would make socks and stockings to order at his Avenue Road home. The first "factory" in the clothing industry appears to have been that of Farrells who began in the second storey of Mattar's shop during World War Two. They later purchased a house in Russell Street in 1951. New industries found it hard to find facilities in the town in those years as Woolpacks and Textiles jealously guarded their monopoly of the labour market. When more space was needed by Farrells, Wilkinson's joinery factory was used as a cutting room. Farrells built a factory on their Russell Street site and later this was sold to Watkins who ran the factory for eleven years. Millar Apparel took over and ran the plant until it was closed in 1987. At its peak the factory employed seventy people and when it closed forty-four lost their jobs. In 1954 Ev O'Dea started up the Zemba clothing factory in Cook Street with a staff of twenty producing singlets, underpants, shorts and pyjamas for men. Later womens and childrens clothing was added to the range. In 1953 the plant became part of the Symington "Libertyland" organisation and produced swimsuits, long leg pants (for under slacks), witches britches and spencers with a staff of about thirty. Symington's began closing branches in the early seventies and the Foxton plant was one of them. Today the only clothing factory still operating is that of Wisharts, who set up a branch of their Levin operations in 1972. About 15-20 people work there producing shirts and blouses. Although the town had shoemakers in the commercial area of the town in the early days the only footwear produced today is that from John Falkner's Footwear Factory in Whyte Street set up in 1984.
Foxton is one of the few small towns in New Zealand in which a cordial making business has been able to survive the takeovers and competition of the large companies which dominate the industry. The Foxton Cordial Company has a history stretching back over sixty years but was by no means the first producer in this line. Most food suppliers had means of producing cordials for their customers. W. Hamer including them in his commercial activities and as far back as 1891 R. Murray was producing cordials from premises in Main Street. Bakers J. Walls and M. Perreau were others who had cordials in their list of products. In 1936 G. Perreau began producing from the factory in Whyte Street. The plan is now operated by his son Murray and sells most of its products under the trade mark "Foxton Fizz". For many years when beer came to Foxton by ship the boats often got bar bound and had to stay out at sea. The sun and hot weather often caused the beer to turn sour. Len Freeman, proprietor of Whytes Hotel in the early twenties, added acid to the sour beer and made it into vinegar. Later he branched out into making ginger beer and cordials. The Foxton Cordial factory had F.R. Freeman, A. Stevenson, H.J. Simmons, A.E. Scott as proprietors in the twenties and W. Walker in the thirties.
Although much of the primary industry in the area now takes place outside the Borough it is an integral part of the town. The original Borough contained much agricultural land and the first land sales included sections classified as rural. The original Borough covered 6160 acres, reduced to 1290 in 1906 and again to 740 in 1940. An agricultural census of the Borough in 1889 showed there were 260 cows, 61 acres of forest and 31 acres of orchards. At that time the newspapers were expressing concern about tuberculosis. Many of the small farms carried out milk deliveries. School children found jobs doing these rounds with the milk being taken around in cans by horse and cart and the milked dipped out into householders jugs or billies. Many names are associated with the service including Burr, Rand, Nye, Brown, Robinson, Honore, Sorby, Withers, Podmore, Hofmann, Cull and Pond. In 1948 regulations made it necessary to obtain town milk from the Palmerston North plant. There was much disquiet in the town, not just from the farmers producing the local milk, but also from the consumers. Among their several complaints was that the milk from Palmerston North was often sour by the time it was delivered. Despite large, spirited public meetings to try and resist the new system progress rolled steadily on.
Early visitors to Te Awahou described it as sandhills interspersed with swamps - an unlikely place for farming and indeed most of the early settlers, with the exception of Captain Francis Robinson, settled further upstream. As well as his Herrington Estate, Robinson also leased large areas of coastal land from the Maori owners, in parts now know as "Robinson's Lakes". Robinson received a Crown Grant of land in this area in 1873. Boats coming up river often unloaded goods for the Robinsons at Herrington's jetty. In the 1880's most households had a cow, pig and fowls. The thrifty housewife made butter and sold the surplus, plus extra eggs to the stores. It is interesting to note that one shilling per pound was received for such butter in the winter months but only sixpence in summer, due perhaps to the lack of refrigeration. The pigs were fed on household scraps, one way they could be disposed of cleanly. As early as 1878 an Agricultural Association was formed but does not seem to have flourished.
When the Moutoa area was settled dairy farming began in earnest. The earliest creamery near Foxton was on the Shannon Road not far from the cemetery and then another was built on Hickford Road (then No. 6 Line) near Ridge Road. Farmers brought their milk by dray to the creamery where the milk was separated, the cream being taken to the butter factory in Shannon and the skimmed milk taken back to the farms to be fed to the pigs. This system continued up to 1917 when the home separator became common and the milk was separated on the farm. The townspeople were part of the farming system in several ways. One of these was as agricultural contractors. The Coley brothers (George and Harry) did this sort of work with a fine team of Clydesdale and a wide assortment of implements. An invoice in the hands of the Hughes family dated April 12th, 1879, shows that George Coley charged George Hughes 2 pounds to plough four and a half acres. In more recent times Ralph Barnett has provided similar services but with tractors as the motive power. Sale of the farm products was often made to the Longburn Freezing Company which held its first general meeting in 1889 when its plant had facilities to freeze 750 sheep daily and to store 15,000 carcasses. In 1909 it was suggested that a freezing works be built between the Beach and Foxton. Advantages for such a move included the chance for ships to shelter in the lee of Kapiti Island! Stock did move out through the port and also by train. Often cattle beasts would break away and cause havoc as they raced through Main Street. There were saleyards erected in Russell Street (opposite Victoria Park) by Abraham and Williams in 1919 but they were closed in the mid twenties.
In 1930 Mr D. Christie suggested that individual gardeners might unite to provide produce for the Wellington market. He noted the increasing number of Chinese who were operating market gardens in the area. The easily worked soil and mild climate proved to be ideal for the production of vegetables. The first of the Chinese market gardeners appears to have been Chung Wah who was in business in the town early this century. The Chinese brought their own culture with them and in the early years naturally kept themselves somewhat apart. In 1908 the Herald reported that a raid to check for opium at the Chinese gardens in Avenue Road had been made. Many others have joined Chung Wah in the local area including the Youngs, Young Toos, Wahs and Soos. Europeans have also produced vegetables and/or flowers for the markets particularly Royce Evans, Fred Hayes, Terry Smith, Alan Kluit, and Arie Jongenell who took over the gardens established by John Madderon. In 1952 the numbers of producers was such that a Commercial Growers Association was formed. Royce Evans decided to do his own marketing in Wellington during the fifties and set up an Open Market. At this Royce and other producers were able to sell directly, and consequently cheaper, to the housewives. There have many small, commercial orchards in the district with George Nyes in Newth Road probably the most noteworthy. He had several glasshouse with many varieties of grapes from which he made wine. He also sold walnuts and for many years the trees were all that remained of his activities. Mr Thompson of Baker Street grew beautiful apples and was known locally as "Apple Thompson". Mr Bullard's orchard in Avenue Road was a favourite with the school children - at the 1954 School Reunion Dinner Mr Bullard invited all those who had ever raided the orchard to stand up - half of the men present stood!! Others to have orchards were Bakers, Grays, Ingrams, Hughes and Spiers and in more recent years Soos and van Tyl. The kiwifruit expansion has also reached the town with a number of orchards beginning to yield.
Bees are a vital part of the fruit industry and Foxton has had many hives, particularly over the last fifty years. After experience with handling bees at Raikes's farm at Oroua Downs E. (Ted) Field purchased a piece of land in Norbiton Road in 1932 and started keeping on his own account. By the end of the season he had 200 hives and this grew to 600 by 1939. Ted Field became president of the New Zealand Beekeepers Association for a number of years and served as Mayor of the Borough. After Field's apiary was closed for some time Keith and William Rodie established their own apiary there. Two thousand hives make up their business and beside honey they produce beeswax and hire out their hives for pollination, particularly to kiwifruit producers. The Sunny Vale apiary in Shannon Road was established by Norman Keane in 1969 after learning the trade while working for Ted Field. Today he has expanded to 1000 hives but honey production per hive has fallen off as the increasing demand for pollination services for kiwifruit and berries has attracted business. Live bee exports to Canada and the production of queen bees are other sidelines.
Poultry farming has grown from the backyard "chooks" into a major industry. In 1931 F.C. Raikes was elected as president of the newly founded Manawatu Egg Producers Association which had 19 members. One of these was possibly Matt Walker who in 1908 established the Ardwick Poultry Farm on ten acres in Norbiton Road. During the 1930's it was purchased by Captain Middleton who named it Sandy Lodge after a golf club in England but due to the depression it fell into a state of neglect. In 1943 it was purchased by Captain E.J. Hankin who bought the property sight unseen. His plan was to supply chickens for American soldiers stationed in New Zealand but the war ended and he had to educate New Zealanders to eat chicken meat. He set up the first chicken processing concern established for the national market. In order to succeed in this two thirds of the shareholding was later sold to Levin and Co. In 1961 Mr J. Mathieson bought Hankin's share and in 1964 full ownership. The whole business was reorganised and made fully automatic. The business is now owned by General Foods and the Sandy Lodge name is known nationally. There have been several others who have set up poultry units and the largest has been that of John Turk whose establishment is in Purcell Street has grown considerably from when he purchased it from Jim Williams.
In Purcell Street the Bonded Felt plant is now in ruins after a disastrous fire. This factory was all that remained in action of the flax industry for the owners had set up an old stripping plant to provide fibre for their felt. When the stripping mill in Johnston Street was closed down it was not long before it was back in use but this time it was producing potato chips for the restaurant trade. The Manawatu Potato Processors plant distributes its products including "Foxton Fries" throughout the southern part of the North Island. For some years in the seventies and eighties Altar Industries (proprietors Phil and Liz Tarrant) brought modern high technology to Foxton when they produced electronic equipment.
Although mining, part from some digging of metal from a pit to the south of the town, has not been part of Foxton's history the third type of primary industry, fishing, has. Many people made money selling their catches either on a regular basis or when there was a run of whitebait etc. Ocean fishing required crossing the bar, a manoeuvre often wrought with danger. Locals who have done this type of fishing have included Ian Cummerfield, Brian Williams, Kevin Morris, Kevin Halldone and Jim Williams. Williams built his first trawler, the "Regent", on his property in Purcell Street during the 1970s and moored at a special berth he constructed on the riverbank at the beach. With the Thorby brothers Vic and Fred as regular crew the `Regent' and her sister ship the `Coral V' fished out of the Beach for 4-5 years. There have been many who have spent the night hauling for flounders on the river and then landing their catch, in bundles tied up with flax, at the wharf. Among these men were Keri McGregor, Pine Stretch, Percy Honour, Percy Kelly and Dick and Bob Taylor. Most of these were also around when the whitebait were running along with others such as Tiny Lumby, Jack Prew, and Tickle Coley.