Old photos tell tales

Traffic stops for the Rotorua Express on Victoria St.

It’s a cracker of a pic. Taken about mid-day on April 5, 1957, traffic on Hamilton’s Victoria St stops while the Rotorua Express chugs past. Standing in front of the locomotive a solitary figure can be seen – the crossing keeper, whose office was the weatherboard hut on the extreme left of the photograph.

Hamilton City Libraries’ Perry Rice says the crossing keeper’s job was extremely important.

“He had to make sure all the traffic stopped in good time to provide a safe margin, and also had to ensure the whole train had crossed completely before he walked off with his sign. Many people don’t realise that until the railway was lowered, Hamilton’s main street was cut off every time a train went through.”

The photograph is one of about 14,500 kept on level three of the Garden Place Library, gathered over the years from hundreds of people and businesses.

In a regular feature for Number 8 Network, heritage librarian Perry will present a historic photograph from the collection.

“Often, what is ‘known’ or written about a photograph can sometimes be a bit dubious. People have forgotten or never knew because it was one of granddad’s. Part of our job is to research and explain the photographs, because often there’s more going on than what can be seen.”

One of the earliest pictures is from 1870. “We do have a very old one of maypole dancing in Steele Park. There’s photographs of the Waikato Winter Show, held in the Horse Bazaar on Ward St. And a great one from about 1910 showing the town hall; this was bought by the Empire Picture Company, and showed the first movies.”

Photographs record the city’s bridges being built, and also the first people to cross them.

Father Darby and Mr Fraser were the first across Hamilton’s Traffic Bridge in 1910.

“Father Darby and the bridge contractor Mr Fraser crossed the Hamilton Traffic bridge in a horse and buggy, on September 9 1910. And someone took a photograph of it.”

There are some great rural shots, as well. “We have one showing a fencing demonstration, a chap had invented a contraption to carry rolls of wire. There’s one of him carrying another fairly substantial male on this thing to prove its effectiveness, it’s fairly impressive.”

Perry, who is from Dunedin originally, has just completed a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in humanities, which includes the history of architecture.

“I spent my childhood cycling around the streets of Dunedin, looking at all the old buildings, with columns and pilasters. Lovely, but a bit dark and cold to work in.”

While Hamilton is not replete with buildings of this style, it still has a few, such as the Public Trust building and the Bank, among others.

“We have an enormous range of photographs, it’ll be great to share these with the wider community.”


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2 thoughts on “Old photos tell tales

  • June 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I remember the train crossing Victoria St! It was a regular feature of trips up town when I was a child. Thanks for the reminder. I look forward to more photo-inspired memories.

  • June 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Like Pippa, I also remember the trains in the main street in my childhood – along with the multi-track crossing in Frankton at the end of the main street, also cared for by the crossing keeper in his hut. And there was the cheery business of meeting people at the Frankton station as well (it was right there in Frankton in those days). Let’s get the trains back – they were fun!


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