The History of Saw-milling in Waimate

The first steam saw-mill in Waimate was that of James Bruce in 1867 near Garlands Bridge, in the very heart of the bush. The next was that of Alpheus Hayes. By the end of 1877, there were five saw-mills, but Bruce's and Hayes' were the most important.
Extensive Fires swept the bush in 1865 and 1866, but the most devastating of all was the fire of 1878. On 12th November 1878, a strong nor'wester blew up and fanned into flames the great sawdust heaps that were always quietly smoldering. The flames spread over the surrounding bush, and soon fires were burning in several places. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the five saw-mills and about 70 cottages had been destroyed. Fortunately no lives were lost. By night the bush was burning over several miles. The fire continued burning for 8 days. When the fire was finally put out, the bush had disappeared except for two areas known as Bush Point and Kelceys Bush.

Historic Buildings

There are many historic buildings dating back to the late 1800's. Some of these include, The Cuddy, Waimate Museum (Old Court House), Blue Stone House, Arcadia Theatre Kings Central Buildings, Waimate Information Centre (Old Post Office), Te Waimate Station woolshed and Te Kiteroa. An historic walk brochure is available at the Waimate Information Centre.

Waimate Museum

Architect P.F.M.Burrows.
Built in 1879.
Originally the Waimate Court House, it was built in a neo-classical style. For a hundred years it served as the towns court house. In 1979 court proceedings in Waimate ceased. The Waimate Historical Society in 1981 converted the building into the town's historical museum. During the conversion various features, including the magistrates bench, were retained. The Waimate Museum is one of the finest small town public buildings in the country.

The Cuddy Cottage

The Cuddy is the oldest of the buildings on Te Waimate. It was built for Michael Studholme in 1854, using the timber of a single totora tree for the walls and thatch for the roof and was lined with wattle and daub. The chimney made of adobe (sun-dried bricks) replaced the original which was made of rammed clay in the 1870's, but otherwise The Cuddy is almost unaltered. One of the most charming buildings in the whole country, and amongst the tiny number of buildings in New Zealand with thatched roofs, The Cuddy has, over the years, been kept in good repair by the Studholme family. Viewing by appointment only. Phone (03) 689-7199

Statues - Monuments - Memorials

Numerous statues, monuments and memorials commemorate services and events by man and beast, for example: Meeting place of Huruhuru and Michael Studholme, Margaret Cruickshank (first practicing woman doctor in New Zealand and one of only four statues in New Zealand of women), place of the first Grand National Steeplechase, war memorials, Maori cemetery, Norman Kirk Memorial Swimming Pool, Clydesdale monuments and many more.

Arcadia Theatre - Waimate's Unique Arcade

This classic brick building stands linking Grigson Street and High Street Waimate.  The category II registered historic place was constructed in 1906 by Mr William Quinn, following the conclusion of the Christchurch Exhibition where he had brought a great deal of dismantled equipment.  This was all transported to Waimate by rail and the 296,970 bricks made at Quinn's Makikihi brickworks were taken to Waimate by traction engine.

Initially it comprised an arcade with an attractive symmetrical brick frontage, which had a large glass dome-like arch and a matching glass canopied verandah.  Inside the arcade on each side were 12 small shops with four internal staircases.

As a viable business venture the arcade only lasted a decade and in 1916 was remodeled into 'The Arcadia Theatre and Billiard Room'.  The theatre had a dress circle with 175 seats and stalls with 550 seats.  Before Waimate was served with hydro power, a big gas engine drove the generator at Arcadia.  After 10.30pm the gas lit streets often blacked out, so unless the lamplighter re-lit them, theatre go-ers would go home in the dark!.

Disaster struck in 1955 when fire broke out and destroyed the theatre.  The billiard rooms remained and it was here that Tommy Yesberg learned his sport and won the National titles in 1960, 1964 and 1975.  He represented New Zealand in the World Championships held in Auckland in 1975.

Waimate Branch Railway

Records show NZ Railways ran the first train from Studholme to Waimate on 19 March 1877.  The train of three cars and a van had at its head A13 one of a class of only fourteen considered by many to be a 'mere mite, veritable toy locomotive'.  It was conceded this engine did surprisingly good work on branch lines, it was only when the line was approaching closure that the classic Ab itself approaching extinction was used on the 12 miles 58 chain (engineer's measure) from Studholme Junction to Waihao Downs.

The Studholme to Waimate line closed to passengers in February 1931 with the last train running on 1 April 1966.  The Waimate station was situated just behind where the swimming pool now stands.  A group of farsighted people with an eye on the fertile Downlands of Waihao Valley could see the benefits rail transport would be to the area, so formed a company to meet the need.

In 1878 the Waimate Railway Company issued a Prospectus with a proposition to extend the line through the Waimate Gorge to Pudding Hill.

Work did not begin until 1882 on the first stage which was to be the Waimate to Waihao Downs.  The four planned Stations were sited at the head of the Gorge (Arno) McLean's Siding (at the eastern end of McLean's Road) the Waihao Forks, and the Terminal near the Waihao Homestead.

A rail bridge was constructed parallel with the road bridge and was opened for business in December 1882.

This short branch line held more than its fair share of gradients and tight curves with the climb up the Forks Bank close to 80 feet, imposing a limit of 180 tons, but from McLean's onward the reliable Fa engine could handle 360 tons.  The wagons would be moved in two stages before reconnected for the trip to Waimate.  The make up of the trains rarely changed and always at the head steamed a glittering Fa 10, 41 or 251.

As well as passengers it carried stock and freight such as wool, grain and coal.  Schools would arrange combined Rail Excursions for a picnic at Caroline Bay.  Although work on extending the line to Waihaorunga and beyond did commence in 1914 the war brought it to a halt and it was never completed.

While the Waimate Railway Company built this Waimate to Waihao Downs Branch Line and managed it in the early years, in 1885 the NZ railways took over its management.  The line ceased to carry passengers in February 1931 and closed completely December 1953.

The Berry Fruit Industry

In the early 1880's a new industry started in the Waimate district.  The land near the town was especially suited to growing strawberries.

The first to start was Mr E. Childs who planted 1/2 acre in 1883.  The strawberry grown at that time was 'La Marguerite' and in the height of the season (Nov-Feb) several tons were delivered daily to the station, employing 40 to 50 boys picking and making 700 pounds in one year.

In the summer of 1898 it was estimated 150 - 200 people were employed in the industry and an average of 5 railway van loads of produce was picked and left town daily.

In 1896 a commencement was made growing raspberries, what followed was a flourishing business.  Countless punnets and buckets of raspberries and strawberries were taken throughout the day in the guardsvan from Waimate to Studholme for trans-shipment.  the fruit laden train could be smelt for quite some distance away!  Quick dispatch was needed to get the berries to market and the express train was used.

Fruit was sold to jam factories in Dunedin, Christchurch and Roxburgh.  A jam factory was also situated near the Waimate Silo and was successful for 2-3 years but went broke in a bad year.

The raspberry growing industry peaked around the 1940's. However it then suffered a severe setback about 1966 due to bud weevil and largely fell away.  It has continued on today but on a much smaller scale.

The weather has affected the crops many times over the years with severe hail storms, rain and gales destroying luscious berries ready or almost ready to be picked.

Today the berry fruit industry is still important to the economy of Waimate, with the predominant fruit being the strawberry.

Waimate has made for itself a name for its fine strawberries and celebrates every December with the now famous Waimate Strawberry Fare, a family day of free entertainment, stalls and of course strawberries!

Footnote 2007

Project Waimate has successfully purchased the Arcadia with the intent to restore this magnificent old building to its former glory.