Hāwera has always seemed to have had, during the early history of the town, some association with fire.
The name ‘Te Hāwera’, which means ‘the burnt place’, came about many years ago following an incident between two feuding Māori tribes in the area. One tribe surprised another in the dead of night and burned the village to the ground ensuring that there were no survivors and so the area became known as ‘the burnt place’.
With the arrival of the European settlers the name came into use simply as Hawera and the district continued to live up to its name. In 1884 a hotel was razed, July 5 1888 saw another large fire when five business premises were destroyed and in 1912 a particularly disastrous fire razed a large portion of the main street area. This event had the effect of causing insurance companies to demand an improved fire fighting capacity as an alternative to increased premiums. At the time it was deemed not possible to increase the water pressure from the gravity supplied system from the Kāpuni Stream and the outcome after many conferences was a decision to build a water tower.
When Arthur William Gillies took office as Mayor of Hāwera in 1912 following the disastourous fire of the Central hotel and McGruer and Bone’s store in High Street, he had already examined the possible sites of the proposed water tower and only one satisfied him. It was owned by the Post and Telegraph Department who was reluctant to sell.
After two visits to Wellington to see the Postmaster General, Mr Rhodes, and the Member of Parliament for Pātea, Mr Pearce, he was able to negotiate the exchange of a Borough reserve in Waihi Road for three town sections on the corner of Albion and High Streets.
On the 2nd of October 1912 Mr Gillies was able to announce that the building of a water tower was to go ahead on the chosen site and almost immediately the borough Engineer Mr JC Cameron with the assistance of the Borough Council staff set about putting the concrete groundwork in place.
Mr Cameron designed the structure which was completed in January 1914. However, later in the same month, a sudden earthquake caused the tower to list 2 feet 6 inches toward the south.
Apparently this caused considerable apprehension among the townsfolk at the time and legend has it that the ‘fault’ was corrected secretly in the dead of night by undermining and re-setting the foundations. However a more logical explanation can be found in the engineer’s reports where “the lower side of the tower was anchored with a large block of reinforced concrete and as the tanks were slowly filled with water the fault was slowly reduced to about 3 inches. Where the tower was undermined to move it back into position, heavily reinforced concrete was introduced and the men employed were kept working all night and all the next day to get satisfactory stability established in case of rough weather“. This suggests that work probably continued on a definite or indeed essential policy rather than the more romantic theory of a clandestine operation. However, after this work was completed, the structure was declared completely safe by examining experts and indeed time has proved them correct.
Today Hāwera enjoys a first class high pressure water supply leaving the Tower to stand proudly over the town with its tanks now removed.
On March 27 2000, large chunks of concrete fell off the tower endangering the public’s safety and it was declared unsafe and closed indefinitely. In 2001 the public was consulted on whether or not they wanted the Tower to be restored or demolished. They decided to restore it and keep the historic landmark. During 2002 site investigation work was carried out on the tower.
The renovation work was completed in September 2004 and work included the removal and replacement of unsound/spalled concrete and associated reinforcing steel, installation of cementious coating and application of Migrating Corrosion Inhibitor (MCI) which will delay the corrosion of the reinforcing steel, installation of windows and doors and the upgrading of the internal staircase hand rails and existing neon lighting and the exterior feature lighting was also redesigned.
The major restoration work was completed in 2004 at a cost of $1.1 million. The major funder for the project was the South Taranaki District Council and substantial grants were received from TSB Community Trust, New Zealand Lotteries Board, Telecom and Vodafone.