Kelvin Grove Community Assn. Inc.

A history of early Kelvin Grove

 (Compiled by Val Burr, originally in 1991 and subject to ongoing improvement thereafter)

 “We understand that land in the vicinity of Kelvin Grove is being much sought after, several properties having changed hands during the last week at a decided advance in prices. The steady demand that is being experienced is hardly to be wondered at, considering the high and healthy situation, coupled with the easy distance from Palmerston. It is considered that when the road, which will open from Hiwinui shortly, is completed, much traffic will be drawn to Palmerston via Kelvin Grove, and further that the cutting up of suitable properties in the locality will make Kelvin Grove the most important suburb in Palmerston.” (Evening Standard 7/7/1902)  

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Pre-European Maori Occupancy

Until European settlement began in the Kelvin Grove area in the early 1870s, heavy totara forest covered the district. The only known sites of former Maori habitation include the occasional hangi site uncovered during ploughing, and the odd tool. For example, in the mid-1960s, Paul Burr found an adze (while wagging Sunday School at the hall) near what is now Anakiwa Street - and on what was formerly the Kelvin Grove School playground. In the early 1970s, his father, Leo Burr, found what appeared to be a paua shell bird spear-head embedded in the side of the Terrace around 100 metres to the east of the spillway below Kaimanawa Street. He also found a broken adze in a paddock on this property, close to Napier Road, around the same time.

However, the main discovery in the district was that of a hangi site, a number of adzes and a greenstone earring, on land that adjoins Peter Hall Drive. This land was cleared for subdivision during 2000 and any remaining traces are therefore now lost. Locals described this site for many years as a ‘Maori oven’. In the late 1980s, Palmerston North City Archivist, Ian Matheson, inspected the site. He concluded that as it was alongside an old creek bed, it was more likely to be an old eeling site. The children of the Hughes family, who found the adzes, are known to have taken some to show friends at Kelvin Grove School. It is possible therefore that the one found by Paul Burr is one of these adzes and that it had been lost while at school.  

Early European Settlement

The initial survey of the ‘Stoney Creek’ district, which now incorporates Kelvin Grove and Whakarongo, was to create farms for settlement under the Vogel Immigration and Public Works Scheme. Most of the original ‘Stoney Creek’ farms were only 20-25 acres and these farms, known as the Scandinavian Block, were allocated to single men from the immigrant ship England. This ship, which arrived at Wellington in April 1871, carried the second batch of Scandinavian immigrants destined for the Palmerston North area. The first batch had arrived aboard the Celaeno a few weeks earlier.

Very few of these men took up this bush-covered land and in the mid-1870s another batch of Vogel Scheme immigrants were allocated the abandoned properties. These people were the ones who cleared the bush and established the land beneath it, into farms. This second group of settlers included more Scandinavian immigrants as well as German and British families. As these farms were very small, some of the better-off farmers eventually bought out their neighbours and created viable farming properties. Consolidation, therefore, dates back to the 1870s.

Of all the properties in the Scandinavian Block, only the Dahlstrom property at Section 418, Lot 69, in Roberts Line (or 117 Roberts Line), effectively remains in the same family, albeit that most of it is now under housing. This is the property of the Burr family, whose grandmother, Lydia, was the adopted daughter of the Dahlstroms. Her parents had arrived in 1871 on the ship Celaeno, and her adoption came about after her mother died in childbirth in 1885. The Dahlstroms arrived in New Zealand in 1876 aboard the Shakespear.

Railways and Sawmilling

In 1871, the route of the proposed Manawatu-Wanganui Railway was surveyed through what was to become Kelvin Grove. Work soon began on a wooden tramway from Palmerston North, with the first railway station, at Bunnythorpe, opening in 1875. After the wooden tramlines were replaced with steel tracks, the railway opened to Feilding in October 1876. The line opened to Wanganui in 1878.          

In early 1879, Gillies and Henderson opened a sawmill near what is now the Kaimanawa Street-Bryce Place intersection. They used an engine, boilers and machinery made by the Wanganui Foundry. The mill, which processed an average of 25,000 super feet of timber per week, was christened ‘Kelvin Grove Sawmill’. Thus the district’s name, ‘Kelvin Grove’, was awarded to it by common usage rather than specific intention. In other words, “Up at Kelvin Grove” graduated from meaning up at the sawmill to up at the district surrounding it. Kelvin Grove Road appears to have received its name by 1887, when it appears as such in Manawatu Road Board minutes. This, of course, was solidified with the arrival of the school six years later, as the school had clearly required a specific name.

Kelvin Grove is understood to have been named after an early and very attractive Scottish song about the district of Kelvingrove in Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow was the hometown of Robert Gillies, one of the sawmill’s owners, although he had left it as a child. The district in due course became the location of Kelvingrove Park, a very well known park in that city. The Gillies family was long gone when Kelvingrove Park came into existence.

Kelvin Grove School

Stoney Creek School, now Whakarongo School, opened in 1877, but the growing population revealed a need for a school by the 1890s to accommodate children who lived too far from Stoney Creek, Bunnythorpe or Terrace End Schools. Children were confronted by a very long daily walk – and this did not encourage them to attend. As a result, Kelvin Grove School was opened in Kelvin Grove Road in 1893, next to (western side) the site occupied by the present ‘old Kelvin Grove Hall’.       

At the time the school site was chosen, the site was part of a farm held by the Public Trust. It had only recently become available to lease for farming. Thus, it was an ideal site for a future school. It was, for example, surrounded by the many privately owned farms by then established in the district. The school site was initially leased by the community from the Public Trustee - the lease being entered into on 1 March 1893 in the names of two local farmers, Walter William Wilsher and Casper Setter.

Wilsher, one of the largest landowners in the area and one of its prime movers, was to do considerable community service in the interests of Kelvin Grove over almost 50 years. Nearby Setters Line was so named after the German immigrant, Casper Setter, whose family initially lived in Roberts Line. At that time, Armstrong Street was part of Setters Line.         

Kelvin Grove School opened on 8 May 1893, with a roll of 35 children. By the second year, the roll had increased to 90. Children were drawn from present-day Roslyn and Milson, as well as from throughout Kelvin Grove and the farms beyond the Roberts Line-Railway Road intersection. The roll peaked in 1897 with 97 children. As a direct consequence, Stoney Creek School saw a dramatic fall in its roll. In 1898 a second classroom was built onto the school, then in 1898 a third classroom was added, this being transferred up from Stoney Creek School.         

Kelvin Grove Hall

Although the sawmill had closed in 1884, thus removing its corresponding ‘local industry’, the little community had a new focus in the form of its flourishing school. In 1901, a group of local residents formed the Kelvin Grove Social Hall Society. They built their new hall on a donated site in Kelvin Grove Road, next to the school. The formal opening was held on 1 October 1901. Big things were now anticipated for the area, given also that Kelvin Grove Road was about to open onto the Ashhurst-Bunnythorpe Road. Traffic past the tiny settlement would suddenly increase.   

In 1903, the Wanganui Education Board purchased a one-acre section opposite the Kelvin Grove School (now 55 Kelvin Grove Road). This was to accommodate a Head teacher’s house. The same year, Kelvin Grove Post Office opened in a small, relocatable building that was to see service mostly near the school and hall, or at the houses opposite.

During the 1920s, a small shop was attached to the post office building. For a few years, the shop-post office also accommodated a public telephone. Mr A.D. Gray, who owned most of the land opposite the hall and school (and had sold the Wellington Education Board the land for the schoolhouse), told Sid Burr around 1913 that he anticipated the surrounding area being covered in houses within ten years. As it happened, only the teacher’s house and the neighbouring ‘Gray’s Cottage’ (now 59 Kelvin Grove Road) were ever built.

Kelvin Grove Community's First Peak

The first Kelvin Grove community was at its peak during the first two decades of the twentieth century. During its heyday, many community dances and celebrations were held, these revolving around the school and the hall. A very active social scene existed in the district - as with many other rural communities at that time. Assorted entertainment and sporting activities were held there, and these were also attended by townsfolk who were brought out by horse-drawn ‘buss’. A one-acre block was set aside next to the Hall to build a Presbyterian church. However, this did not eventuate and the land is now the site of Charisma Court.           

Community gatherings included an annual sports day held at the Kelvin Grove Sports Ground on every Wellington Anniversary Day between 1904 and 1912. Various athletic, novelty and cycling races were held on the sports day, as well as competitions such as sheep’s weight guessing and tug-of-war. Horse races were also held, such as the Farmers’ Handicap Trot, open to horses that had been driven in a milk cart for at least the previous month. They also had to carry at least 11 stone. Several other classes of trotting race of up to 1½ miles were also held, presumably on the Sports Ground’s quarter-mile track.

Unfortunately, in 1910 the Minister of Internal Affairs stepped in and banned horse races from being held at the event. By this time, takings at the Sports Days were declining. As a result, in 1912, the grounds were sold and the money was put towards reducing the large overdraft now on the Hall. The site went on to become the Atlantic-Mobil fuel depot. It has since been occupied by Brittons Housemovers and latterly by Haulage Parts.          

World War One saw the creation of the Kelvin Grove Red Cross Guild. Local women members of the Guild bought materials and made them into a variety of articles to send to the troops overseas. To raise funds, they held euchre evenings, bazaars and dances. The Evening Standard of 7 July 1916 commented when describing one such event, that “Kelvin Grove has a war record, of which it may rightly be proud, namely, that every (unmarried) man of Military age has answered the country’s call.”

The Hall Society, which had become the ‘leadership’ of the community, combined with the ‘Ladies Guild’ to form the ‘Welcome Home Committee’. Together they held functions to raise funds for these and other war charities. Possibly a changed appreciation of the organisational ability of the ‘local ladies’, combined with a little behind the scenes pressure, saw the decision by the Hall Committee men to allow women to join the committee in March 1921.

The Decline of the First Community

A major turning point in the community was the burning down of the Kelvin Grove Hall 21 December 1921, and the realisation that there was not enough insurance money to replace it. The school then became host to local social events. It was until 1935 that the new hall was built on the same site. However, times, easy transport to alternative entertainment in Palmerston North, and shrinking school rolls, severely restricted the patronage the new hall received. The new hall had been more modest in its amenities than its predecessor. The committee had intended to make additions, such as a stage, at a later date. Only ten months later, the ‘famous’ 1936 Gale took advantages of some of the resulting structural weaknesses and blew in the back wall, thereby collapsing the roof. The damage was quickly repaired.          

Between about 1910 and 1916, Kelvin Grove School had three teachers educating its 90 pupils. The gradual arrival of motorcars, though, enabled a greater choice of schools for potential pupils. Also, the increased mechanisation of farms reduced the need for farm labourers and their families, while the consolidation of many of the small farms in the area also occurred. These changes all contributed to a decline in the school roll, a situation repeated throughout the country. By 1927, the roll had decreased to 66.    

The opening of Milson School in 1929, stripped Kelvin Grove School of many of its pupils and resulted in it being reduced to a sole-charge school. Finally, in 1938, the decision was made to close it. Pupils were to be bused to Terrace End School. Unfortunately (or otherwise), the bus broke down over the summer holidays and as a result Kelvin Grove School had a temporary reprieve. It opened for the first two weeks of the 1939 school year. A small number of children transferred to Whakarongo School at this point also.          

There were no specific local industries in Kelvin Grove, other than dairy farming. The local farmers supplied the Whakarongo Dairy Factory and later the Glaxo factory at Bunnythorpe. Hume Pipes arrived in 1925, while the petrol depots also arrived during the 1920s - Texaco, now Caltex, arriving in 1929. These businesses made use of the railway, but had a limited effect on the people. About the only significant gain to the area at the time was the opening in 1927 of Kelvin Grove Cemetery in James Line. With the city’s old cemetery on one side and its new one on the other, Kelvin Grove’s living occupants awarded their home district the title “The Dead Centre of Palmerston North.” Somewhat macabre of course, but a good-humoured response.           

With the school gone, the focal point of the district was also gone. Thus, it was probably no coincidence that the Kelvin Grove Women’s Institute was formed six months after the school closed. No doubt it filled a social void. Three other local Women’s Institutes existed, Bunnythorpe having been formed in 1930 while Milson and Whakarongo both date from 1932.       

Kelvin Grove Women's Institute

Twenty days after the new Kelvin Grove Women’s Institute’s Inaugural Meeting, World War Two broke out. Immediately the Institute mobilised from passive leisure and mutual support, to doing the same type of activities that the women of the Kelvin Grove Red Cross Guild had done a generation earlier. The Hall Committee and the Women’s Institute combined to form the Kelvin Grove Presentation Committee. Their aim was to raise funds to purchase gifts for local soldiers. The Women’s Institute also took over the empty school buildings, which they used to do their work for the war effort.

An interesting social undercurrent developed during this time, between the mainly male Hall Committee and the Women’s Institute in the old school buildings. Presumably these organised women were not to be trifled with, or at least so the men thought.          

The War ended in 1945, and the community as such continued to decline. The Kelvin Grove Post Office was replaced by Rural Delivery in 1946. This meant that there was no longer a daily meeting point for community information and messages to be easily passed throughout the district.

Roslyn Suburb

The new suburb of Roslyn was on the ascent just down the road though. The largely State Housing subdivision of Roslyn developed in stages from the late 1930s, with the first four shops in the Rossmont Shopping Centre being built in 1952. Possibly the people who lived in the Roslyn School area, and whose children attended Kelvin Grove School in its time, would have identified themselves with Kelvin Grove rather than Terrace End. Yet when the time came to chose a name for the new suburb, the name of the little rural community over the railway lines, but by now inside the city boundary, was overlooked.           

Roslyn, the name selected for the new suburb, derives from Mr C.M. Ross, owner of the former department store of that name, a building that is now the Palmerston North City Library. His Featherston Street property became known as the ‘Ross Block’ when the subdivision began. Moheke Avenue and the first section of Rangiora Avenue were on the Ross Block, and it was on these streets that the first State Houses were built in the lower Roslyn area. Ross Intermediate School, opened in 1957, is also named after C.M. Ross.          

Roslyn Kindergarten opened in Rangiora Avenue in about 1952 (in the Rangiora Hall ?) Later it moved to its present Andrew Avenue site. It may have been one of the earliest institutions to use the name Roslyn. When the Roslyn’s former post office opened in 1955, the name ‘Roslyn’ was unacceptable as there was already a Roslyn Post Office in Dunedin. As a result, the name Rossmont was chosen, both for the post office and the new shopping centre at the northern end of Vogel Street.            

There was apparently some discussion about reopening Kelvin Grove School to accommodate the Roslyn children, but the railway crossing was seen as an obstacle. As a result, Roslyn School was opened on its present site in 1953. At about the same time the old Kelvin Grove School was sold to the Manawatu Car Club. By this time, the centre of activity in the area was at Roslyn. Accordingly, the Kelvin Grove C.W.I., having moved from the old school, now transferred its meetings from the Kelvin Grove Hall to a venue more convenient to its main source of membership. The Kelvin Grove Hall drifted onwards to a seemingly inevitable closure.           

Kelvin Grove Subdivision

Finally, in the mid-1960s as the ‘rot’ seemed irreversible, came the first stages of the new Kelvin Grove subdivision. In the opinion of the uninformed, this was just another ‘greenfields’ subdivision. The old school buildings were dismantled and removed by the car club, the schoolhouse having been moved to Foxton Beach some years earlier. The little post office building was long gone. All that remained of ‘Downtown Kelvin Grove’, and in fact still remains of the old community buildings, was the old hall and Gray’s Cottage across the road.    

Kelvin Grove Hall - with its corrugated iron veneer - was described by its unappreciative new neighbours as a “hayshed,” as an “eyesore,” and a source of socially unacceptable noise. Its committee had been forced for financial reasons to rent it to bands as a place to practice, in order to make ends meet until it could ultimately benefit the new community. Finally, in c1982, the old hall was sold to the Buffalo Lodge. The money raised by the settlers since 1901, was therefore invested in anticipation of some future project which could be described as being “for the benefit of the Kelvin Grove community”. This funding was put towards extending the Kelvin Grove Community Centre (which arrived in1980) in the late 1980s, this building being the third Kelvin Grove Public Hall.

Over the years the name Kelvin Grove has appeared in association with many activities. As well as Kelvin Grove Sawmill, School, Hall, Post Office, Sports Ground, and their related committees, there have also been the Kelvin Grove Athletics Club, Basketball Club, Tennis Club, Country Women’s Institute, Home Guard (who practiced trench-digging behind the Hall in W.W.II), the Open Brethren Sunday School, the Kelvin Springbok Club, and a dramatic group with the innocent but now rather uncomfortable title (and initials) of Kelvin Koon Klub. The present Kelvin Grove Residents Association Inc. is the successor body to the Kelvin Grove Social Hall Society, which was formed in 1901. Thus in 2001 this organisation celebrates its centenary. The Kelvin Grove Country Women’s Institute, which recently returned to Kelvin Grove, celebrated its sixtieth birthday in 1999.  

Last Updated: 1 January 2007