From Forest to Farm
The quiet country village of Millthorpe today disguises a bustling history of a community that built an independent, determined character over the past 170 plus years with vigour and tenacity. The Forest as it was originally known, for its dense bush and prolific populations of possums, ducks, turkey and emu, is the place where the Guyong / Flyers Creek track crossed the Blackman’s Swamp (Orange) / Kings Plains track and which suggested the first name change to The Crossroads.
The traditional landowners are the Wiradjuri people with the first whites in the area being stockmen sent to the government Stock Station at Kings Plains near Fredericks Valley in the early 1830’s and they included Charles Booth, an ex-convict who had charge of several of the stockmen. Booth was granted 997 acres of land two miles past The Crossroads, where as Millthorpe’s first freehold settler; he built Grove Farm in 1837. Grove Farm was a substantial house of brick which still stands today on private land west of the current village. There were only a few isolated settlers until two important events occurred – first, the discovery of payable gold at Ophir in 1851 by William Tom and John Lister (who is buried in Millthorpe) and then the Robertson’s Land Act of 1861. These two events stimulated an explosion of interest in the area and the beginnings of a partnership of mutual convenience between agriculture, mining and the local community which persists today, though in a form that is quite different to the pioneering days.
The earliest signs of village life appear to have been a slab and bark schoolhouse built by members of the Church of England in 1867. Schoolmaster William Webb who was appointed as teacher in 1869 proved to be a pillar of the fledgling community and remained so for the thirty years of his tenure. Other denominations followed with Methodists (1885), Baptists (1902), Roman Catholics (1904) and the Salvation Army (1893) all represented with their own buildings. The local Farmers Union of the time was a progressive group which hosted a demonstration of a new steam threshing machine in 1880 and subsequently decided that a Flour Mill would be an astute investment for the district. Originally planned to be built at Spring Hill, the Mill site was changed to Spring Grove (now Millthorpe) by just one vote as some of the Spring Hill Union members failed to attend the decisive meeting. The Mill tender was accepted in 1884 and despite some early troubles operated in various guises until the 1960’s, providing a sound base for the prosperity of the village. Ironically, local grain was not the best for flour milling but the Mill became one of the largest in NSW, sourcing grain from around the State. In recognition of the Mill project a community meeting was called to debate a change of name from the ubiquitous ‘Spring …’ to one reflecting the importance placed on the Mill and distinguishing this community clearly from all the ‘Spring’ named communities which surrounded it. Again a close result – by just 38 votes to 31 the decision was made and the Millthorpian group prevailed, again!
The Golden Years
The ultimate jewel in Millthorpe’s crown was the coming of the railway line in 1877 and the construction of a station in 1886. Once more Millthorpe had to fight for recognition as the Commissioner for Railways initially declined the village’s representation for a station as the Spring Hill station was so close. Again the community’s determination succeeded and the station and siding became central to the success and prosperity of the village and its agricultural production. The Mill depended on the railway and the local farmers cutting chaff for a rapidly expanding Sydney. Millthorpe became one of the largest rail centres in the State shipping flour, chaff and later potatoes to Sydney and other markets.
It was during this time of prosperity and industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the physical form of the village we know today, took shape. Imposing and beautiful buildings were built to serve the commercial, agricultural and community needs of the district and of course many still stand today. Commerce included a butter factory in 1894, a later freezing works exporting rabbits, a jam factory in 1922, chaff and hay distribution from one of the largest freight handling centres in NSW and of course the banking, postal, school, church and telephone facilities needed to support a thriving commercial centre.
Industry Leaves Town
As the 20th century arrived the commercial world changed forever. Chaff was no longer needed, the grain industry moved on and the potato market also relocated to more efficient growing areas as steam driven farming and transport resources were replaced by more efficient diesel power.
So the lovely historic buildings of Millthorpe were left alone as development moved to the larger population centres and passed by the village.
Millthorpe almost died. But in doing so, it preserved a legacy of the golden years – a wonderful streetscape which proved to be a perfect fit with the late 20th and early 21st century market shift to tourism, food and wine as powerful attractions for the village.
Millthorpe Re-invents Itself
The basics were there and needed just a dash of Millthorpe vigour and determination to re-connect with the mood of the new century. Building on its unique base of preserved heritage character, the village has transformed into a vibrant community serving the visitor trade with 19th century history & beautifully preserved buildings and offering the food, wine, shopping and accommodation experiences that the visitor expects today. The village offers a unique mix of history, culture, commerce and produce to attract visitors to a very special place.