Highlands History | Mittagong's main street

Why does Mittagong have such a wide main street?

John McColgan, a well-known former local resident, passed away in July at Port Macquarie, aged 88 years.

Born at Bowral in 1930, John lived in Mittagong until 1997. He was devoted to the history of the Southern Highlands, collected stories of earlier days and published two books. He also contributed articles to this newspaper, many with a quirky Irish humour.

As a tribute to him, a selection of John’s articles will be reprinted in this column. Here is his proposed solution to the question: Why is Mittagong’s main street so wide?

Back in 1833 the old Argyle Road (which originally ran past the present Mittagong air strip and went up over the range) was diverted at Alpine to service the newly created town of Berrima, designated to become the capital of the County of Camden.

At this stage there was nothing but the road running through and during construction surveyors had noted ironstone deposits near a creek, naming the bridge they built over it Ironstone Bridge.

For some years there were few buildings in the present Main Street area. John Chalker had built the Woolpack Inn near Braemar Creek in 1832 to cater for expected traffic on the new road, and in 1835 Goulburn brewer William Bradley purchased 100 acres near Gibbergunyah Creek and subdivided it to become Nattai Village, and to construct a hotel.

The present-day Mittagong Main Street is ideal for diverting traffic to Bowral on one side, and to Berrima on the other side, via the old Hume Highway, BUT in 1835 there was no Bowral Road, as Bowral did not exist. The subdivision and sale of land by John Oxley’s two sons, leading to the development of Bowral, was some 23 years in the future (1858).

WIDE ROAD: Mittagong’s main street in 1912, looking northeast, viewed from memorial clock tower site. Photo: BDH&FHS.

WIDE ROAD: Mittagong’s main street in 1912, looking northeast, viewed from memorial clock tower site. Photo: BDH&FHS.

The beginning of the formation of Mittagong Main Street followed a series of events dating from the building of the first Iron Works furnace in 1848 by a syndicate of businessmen which also attracted population and settlement.

In 1861, Surveyor Campbell recommended that land adjoining the Iron Works be reserved for a township, and in 1865, in anticipation of a railway station, a subdivision of 245 blocks was offered for sale as the Village of New Sheffield. Bidding was reported as spirited. This area covered from Pioneer Street to Louisa Street, north of the main road to Leopold Street, and so a delineation of the north side of Main Street was established and housing construction commenced.

The south side of the Main Street remained vacant ground (except for one acre donated to the Anglican Church) and part of the original Iron Works grant of 900 acres, and remained so until the Mittagong Land Company subdivision of 1884 after the Iron Works had ceased. Even at this stage with only horse-drawn transport, there seems no reason for such a wide Main Street.

ON PARADE: Mittagong Band in 1948 at the junction of Bowral Road and Hume Highway, Mittagong.

ON PARADE: Mittagong Band in 1948 at the junction of Bowral Road and Hume Highway, Mittagong.

There are two events which may give a clue. When the Iron Works created Lake Alexandra, it became a great recreation area and in the 1890s the Municipal Council decided to install a pipe to collect the town waste water containing soap, disinfectant, wash-up, bathwater and so on, and pipe it past the lake into the gully to avoid contamination of the lake.

The second event was the building of the new Mittagong Fire Station in 1916. Records show that before it could be built, a continuously running spring on the site had to be diverted to prevent undermining the building’s foundations. To solve this problem Council had to divert the flow, so they piped it from there into the old waste-water pipe.

HEART OF TOWN: Crowd gathered in 1919 for the foundation of the memorial clock tower out front of Mittagong Fire Station. Photo: BDH&FHS.

HEART OF TOWN: Crowd gathered in 1919 for the foundation of the memorial clock tower out front of Mittagong Fire Station. Photo: BDH&FHS.

So here we come to another question to ponder. When you look at the Fire Station and the natural gradual slope of the street and consider a natural spring running under the Main Street, could it be possible the wide street is a result of many years having carts, wagons, and traffic going around a soft, boggy section of road, which continually moved its location as the ground softened elsewhere no matter how many soft spots were repaired with solid fill?

The spring is still flowing down the pipe. The evidence can be seen at Lake Alexandra where the old pipe is broken and exposed.

It can’t be as simple as that, can it? I leave the reader to ponder this aspect of history.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a 4-part series. To be continued.