EARLY DAYS AT THE KUROW
The Western Hotel
Christian Hille’s 1871 Western Hotel still stands quietly beside State Highway 83 at the Kurow Creek, as it and its wooden predecessor did when the wagons rolled this way to the Lindis, the Arrow and the Shotover goldfields. It was one of the early accommodation houses that were built on the inland roads, generally at intervals of about twelve miles, the distance a bullock-drawn vehicle could expect to travel in a day.
Christian was born in Hanover, Germany in 1821. In 1855 he travelled to Sydney, Australia where W.H. Valpy of Maerewhenua Station engaged him as a shepherd and brought him to the Waitaki in November, 1855.
After Maerewhenua Station was sold in 1857, Christian went to work for W.H. Dansey of Otekaieke Station, whose boundary was the Kurow Creek. The Kurow Station on the other side had just been stocked, requiring the services of boundary keepers, of whom Hille was one. He lived in a stone hut by the creek and kept the boundary from the Waitaki River to the foothills, while another man kept it from there to the skyline. Hille thus acquired a good knowledge of the area, of the permanence of water, and in particular of the fertile nature of the land eventually selected for the house.
Dansey obtained the freehold of 11 ½ acres and erected the accommodation house and probably the smithy (now in ruins). Hille, having in February 1861 married Bernadina Schluter of Boundary Creek, leased the buildings and 2 ½ acres for fifty pounds per annum, apparently 25% of valuation. He later bought all 11 ½ acres.
The house was described by Rev. E Simeon Elwell in his book “The Boy Colonists” at pg. 226. It “consisted of three rooms on the ground floor – a kitchen and bar, a general sitting room and a small side room. The storey above these three consisted of two bedrooms, one for Christian and his wife, the other for all travellers. The house was built of weatherboards.”
Early in the morning of 28th December 1870, fire broke out and destroyed the centre portion of the hotel. The Oamaru newspaper reported that the paper of the servant’s bedroom had ignited, the servant having fallen asleep, leaving her candle burning.
Significantly, a February advertisement called for tenders “for BUILDING A STONE HOUSE at the Kurow.” Hille was not in residence at the time, having temporarily transferred his license to his brother-in-law, Henry Schluter, whilst apparently engaged in another enterprise, possibly his punt ferry or his wholesale and retail store.
The new house was not a luxury home, but a considerable improvement on the first. There were five bedrooms on the upper floor, and others were contrived as the Hille family of five sons and five daughters grew. The ground floor contained a kitchen with a small room at each end, a large dining and general room and a bar room. Outside, forty metres away were the meat store and general food store which was replenished half-yearly when the wagons came up for the grain and the wool. Nearby from about 1900, a barn contained chaff cutter, seed cleaner and fodder store. A 4 metre diameter water wheel was installed to drive the machinery. These building are still in use. The stables with attached woolshed and woodshed have been removed.
An orchard and an extensive garden were cultivated. House cows were kept. Ample and permanent water was brought by race from the Kurow. Trees and flower gardens were planted.
A laundry and dairy added in the 1920’s and bathroom and toilet in the 1930’s were built of Oamaru stone. The latter replaced a conservatory that had stood there for many years and finally had been wrecked by a severe hailstorm.
Flooring was of 25mm Baltic Pine on bearers supported on stone, but some have been replaced. Roof is of corrugated iron on sturdy red pine rafters and purlins.
Incorporated in the new house are relics of the fire in the form of a single large stone which had obviously been burned and a 75mm x 50mm wooden stud in the South dormer completely burned through and supported by being nailed to an unburned piece of similar size. This is in a position in the present house, equivalent to the site in the old house where the fire was said to have started and there is no other charred wood in the vicinity.
By 1979, there was at least one other accommodation house, Mason’s and it was time to recognise that the action was not now going on at the Kurow Creek, but at the new township. In 1882 the license of the Western Hotel (also known as the Kurow Hotel) was transferred to a new Kurow Hotel in the township.
For more than a century now, the former hotel has been a farmhouse, long known as “Westmere” and now a private home and Bed and Breakfast Accommodation house called “The Western House”. Over the years, rooms have been added and minor alterations made (five exterior doors bricked up) but the house has retained its character and looks very much as it did in the beginning. It is structurally sound and should easily last another hundred years. Until 1973 it has remained in the hands of the Hille descendants, though at times occupied by others.
Written by L.W. McBeath – 8th March 1992