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The story of Carterton’s humble beginnings

Steve Cretney [Carterton district councillor], Vivienne Hawken [society secretary], Anne Nelson [Historical Society committee member], Pene Will [society president], Greg Lang [Carterton Mayor] in front of the new plaque for the Carterton Public Library. PHOTO/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Erin Kavanagh-Hall chats to the Carterton District Historical Society about its heritage plaques project – and the stories behind some of the town’s iconic buildings.
President Pene Will leads a walking tour of the historical sites on Holloway St.

New Zealand’s oldest library, a former jail [as rumour has it], a family-owned bakery, the town farrier’s modest dwellings, and a stable turned secretive club headquarters turned recording studio.

These are just a handful of the historic buildings making up Carterton’s new heritage trail – launched to the public last week.

Last Wednesday, the Carterton District Historical Society celebrated the completion of its heritage plaques project – with a morning tea and unveiling ceremony at Carterton Events Centre.

The project, supported by Carterton District Council [CDC], created plaques for 19 of the town’s heritage sites, buildings and monuments: each capturing a brief history of the building’s construction – mostly by local builders – and its various uses and inhabitants over the years.

Each plaque was written and designed by the Historical Society’s committee, and Greytown-based Lamb-Peters Print came on board to assist with printing and installation.

The project was a significant undertaking for the society, with committee members spending over a year researching the 19 mostly colonial-era sites: Ranging from tiny farming cottages, to old saddleries and gristmills, to stately minister’s homes and imposing meeting halls.

The sites will eventually make up a walking trail – with the society looking to create further plaques and a pamphlet with additional information.

For last Wednesday’s event, the society put together a display of paper versions of each plaque for attendees to read -– unveiled by Carterton mayor and society patron Greg Lang.

The event finished with a “walking tour” of four historical sites on Holloway Street – the Carterton Community Courthouse, Carterton Public Library, and the old Masonic and Rechabite Lodges – led by Historical Society president Pene Will.

Will said the plaques project was a way for the society to promote and preserve Carterton’s “rich heritage” for future generations – and pay tribute to the “working men and women” who built the town.

“Carterton comes from humble beginnings. It was a working men’s community – our forebearers built the roads and the bridges, cleared the bush, and worked in the sawmills,” she said.

The new plaque for the old Rechabite Lodge Hall – which has had a variety of uses over the years.

“We were founded by working people, which is reflected in these heritage sites – built with local labour, using local timber.

“Our history is part of Carterton’s identity – and it’s important to us, as a society, to make that visible to the public.

“It’s true when they say you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve come from.”

The idea for the heritage plaques was first discussed by CDC’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Advisory Group in early 2001 – which explored potential new plaques for historic sites in the Carterton district, with a view to creating a heritage trail.

The advisory group engaged with the Historical Society who, after receiving a community grant from CDC, took ownership of the project.

After some “spirited discussions”, the society’s committee narrowed down “a big list” of historically significant sites – before embarking on the year-long researching, writing and editing process.

Their research uncovered a variety of interesting tidbits: For example, the courthouse was moved from its original site to make way for the post office building and clock tower, and the Carterton library – built in 1881 – is the oldest purpose-built, still-functioning library in the country.

The southernmost building on the trail, Ridgway Cottage on High Street South, is the oldest inhabited residence in the district – and is widely believed to have housed Carterton’s first jail and, at one point, an illegal whisky distillery.

Particularly fascinating for Will was the Rechabite Lodge Hall, which has had multiple uses throughout its 134-year history: including as a livery stable, Christian Science church, ballet studio [where Will took dance classes as a child], and heating and refrigeration business.

In the 1990s, controversial media personality Paul Henry used the space to record shows for his radio station, Today FM.

Will has a personal connection to the building – as it was once the headquarters for the local Odd Fellows Lodge [a men’s social fraternity], of which both her father and grandfather were members.

The old Masonic Lodge meeting, in its original neoclassical design. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“Dad was the secretary for the Odd Fellows – and he had to make the call to close the branch down, as they didn’t have enough members.

“The Rechabite Lodge moved in shortly afterwards. I always wondered why dad didn’t just stay on with the Rechabites – turns out, they were teetotal, which he wasn’t that keen on!”

Will said the committee was able to source a great deal of information online, but some sites required some extra detective work.

For example, information on the Masonic Lodge site proved elusive – until Will tracked down the building consents.

“It was originally a much grander building. It was built in the neoclassical style, with columns out the front and arched windows.

“It was renovated in the 1960s when they added new toilets and a ramp – and they remodelled it in a style that was popular at the time.

“So, it’s not as beautiful as it once was!”

Committee members also interviewed members of the community, who were able to fill in some of the gaps.

For example, long-time Carterton man John Bridge shared his memories of working in his uncle’s bakery – one of eight which operated out of the old bakery building on High Street North – and recalled large sacks of flour being winched up to the top storey of the bakehouse

“John talked about making thousands of hot cross buns in the lead-up to Easter – the bakers there would work for 36 hours straight,” Will said.

“Also, his great-grandfather owned a bakery right across the street – one of the first in Carterton. He brought flour over the Remutaka Hill in a wheelbarrow.

“There were so many great human stories, which we’d love to record in the pamphlet. What makes history interesting is the people.”

The society acknowledged Carterton historian Joseph Gillard for his peer-review of the plaques, and the building owners for their support.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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