Hamilton was previously known by the somewhat unflattering name of ‘Borehole’. It was also known as ‘Pit Town’. Both names refer to the local coal mine. Petitions for a post office in Borehole began in 1860.1 The first office opened on Milton Street in 1861. A new post and telegraph office opened in 1889 on the corner of Beaumont and Lindsay Streets. According to local newspapers, the low verandah and bare brick walls weren’t so easy on the eyes! But the interior, including the upstairs living quarters for the postmistress, were perfect. 2
The building was damaged by the 5.6 magnitude earthquake of 28 December 1989. The current building has been designed to be as similar as possible to the original.
The Kent Hotel first opened its doors to patrons in 1924. According to an article in The Newcastle Sun, the new hotel offered the best accommodation for guests, and public and saloon bars equal to those in the city.5 As early as the 1920s and 1930s, the Kent was a popular location for a pub feed as well as night-time antics.6
The Kent was and continues to be an important part of the Hamilton community. In 1941 the hotel had a Send-off and Welcome Home Committee for those who fought in Word War II, holding a fundraising dance event attended by over 500 people.7 Following the war, a number of Italian immigrants made Hamilton their home, and the Kent became a popular destination for these new members of the community. Many patrons worked at the nearby Islington steelworks, so the Kent was the perfect spot for after-work drinks and a game of cards.
The original front of the hotel crumbled away following the 1989 earthquake. There was pressure to demolish the building, but the owners at the time endeavoured to repair it. It was during this time that the Kent acquired a balcony, which to this day provides views over the whole of Beaumont Street Why not stop for a drink yourself and take in the sights?
Gow & Co. was a department store established by Ramsay and Frances Gow in 1898.12 The store offered a variety of men’s and women’s clothing as well as toys for children.13 By the 1910s, Gow & Co. was a household name in the Newcastle area, and a particular favourite spot for Christmas shopping.14 The shop was remodelled and expanded in the 1920s, allowing it to rival stores in the city.15
As retail markets changed, the store closed in the 1960s and was eventually demolished and replaced.
The tiny café Gelateria Arena was purchased in 1970 by the Saccaros, an Italian immigrant family. For 20 years Silvia Saccaro cooked up to 60 meals a night. Her customers were a mix of migrant workers who loved food that reminded them of home and Australian businesspeople who had fallen in love with Italian cuisine. Silvia and her husband Rigo transformed a typical Australian café to a haven for home-cooked Italian meals – and of course, gelato.
A café, Coal Espresso, is still at the site today –meaning coffee has been served continuously here for over 40 years!
The Italian Centre was established by the Scalabrini Fathers in 1966. Built through fundraising from the local Italian community, the centre became a social and spiritual hub for Italian-Australians in Hamilton and nearby. It held mass, hosted dances and other functions, and later included a restaurant. From the 1980s the centre focused on services for the ageing Italian-Australian population.
In 2002, the community was devastated when the Scalabrini Fathers announced that the Italian Centre would be closing. Efforts to save the centre failed, but essential aged care services were relocated to Broadmeadow.
The single-storey late Victorian residences on this short street are heritage items. Originally built around 1890, each residence has the same design, with an Italianate façade and an unusual Dutch gable at the front. Despite changes to some of the houses, most of the design features have been preserved.
In 1905, two 1840s Walker cannons were shipped to Newcastle from Victoria Barracks in Sydney. They were first placed near the centre of the park but were later moved for the installation of a War Memorial, and now welcome visitors at the park’s entrance.
In 1889, the land now known as Gregson Park was donated to the Hamilton Council by Mr Jesse Gregson, Superintendent of the AA Company, to be used for recreation by local workers and their families. The Styx Creek once flowed through the park but was filled in due to frequent flooding.
The Donald Fountain, pictured here, was gifted in 1908 by the family of George Donald, the first mayor of Hamilton. The memorial fountain recognises the contributions of George Donald to the social and political life of the community.
On the same day in 1908, the memorial gates were opened on James Street, commemorating Ramsay Gow, a prominent local businessman whose private dwelling, Fettercairn, still stands. According to The Newcastle Morning Herald’s report on the event, “Never before has such a large and enthusiastic gathering of visitors been seen in Gregson Park”.
The Tudor Street gates were also opened with fanfare four years later in 1912. These gates celebrated the first alderman of Hamilton Council before a crowd of 3,600 people.
In 1861, the citizens of Borehole began raising money for a Mechanics Institute to be built.19 Mechanics' Institutes were important centres in early NSW towns that aimed at providing an education to working class people. Designed by prolific Newcastle architect F B Menkens, a new building was constructed in 1888 next to the original timber institute. The opening was a grand occasion, with the Premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes, delivering the opening address.20
In 1891, the original timber institute was demolished to extend the new hall into an even more grand-looking structure. The Newcastle Morning Herald called it “the finest structure of the kind in the colony”.21 The building’s verandahs were later closed in, but have in part been restored.
For many years the institute was an important meeting space, as well as a place of learning due to its library. It was also an entertainment venue, hosting concerts to raise money. The building is now an apartment complex.
Around 400 people were said to attend the laying of the foundation stone for a Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1861.24 The town’s population was only recorded as 857 at this time, suggesting that many of the founders of Hamilton were Wesleyan Methodists.25
The Wesleyans valued education. The first picture shows many people attending the laying of the foundations for a new Sunday School hall in 1901. By 1909 over 400 students were enrolled with the church.26
As the congregation grew, a bigger and better church was needed. The site of the first Wesleyan Methodist Church was sold to the Bank of NSW and the funds were used to build a larger church on the corner of Denison and Beaumont Streets in 1928. The bank building that now stands on the site opened its doors in 1929.27 Some 90 years on, it is still home to a bank (now the Greater Bank).
The building suffered substantial damage in the 1989 earthquake and has undergone restorations. Redevelopments of the site in 2001 unveiled the foundations of the Wesleyan Church preserved inside. Enter the building to take a closer look at this amazing archaeological find!
The present Uniting Church building first opened in 1928 to accommodate a growing Wesleyan congregation. The new church, which could seat 650 people, was described as “the finest piece of architecture in Hamilton”.33
In 1977 the church was one of many Methodist Congregational and Presbyterian churches that came together under the Basis of Union to form the Uniting Church of Australia.
The church suffered damage during the 1989 earthquake and was almost demolished – but Reverend John Mason, who was minister at the time, intervened – declaring that they would destroy it “over my dead body!” You can read more about Reverend Mason’s story here: http://hiddenhamilton.blogspot.com/2013/06/blow-it-up-over-my-dead-body.html
The Miners Exchange was built by ex-miner John Williams in 1880.34 The hotel was a popular spot for miners, being only a short distance from the mines. It also attracted sportsmen; Williams himself was president of the local football and cricket clubs.35 Handball competitions became a popular spectacle here, as Williams had equipped the hotel with a court.36 The venue also contained a band room, and the tradition of live music at The Exchange continues to this day
In 1919, owner Frank Dexter painted over the word “Miners” on the hotel signboard, dubbing it simply “The Exchange Hotel” as it is known today.
This corner was once the site of an independent grocery store opened by George Donald, the man who would go on to be first mayor of Hamilton. The site became known as Donald’s Corner and over the years grew to include a hardware store and chemist. After Donald’s death, the business was continued by his descendants. Unfortunately, the building was severely damaged by the 1989 earthquake and has since been demolished.
In 1882, a committee was formed by the Presbyterians of Hamilton to establish their own church building.43 The funds were raised in a number of ways, including bazaars, where people donated interesting items to be sold or raffled.44
The foundation stone was laid in January of 1887 and the church, known as Scots Kirk, was opened in December that same year.45 The building is modelled after Dunfermline Abbey in Scotland, the town where Hamilton’s first mayor George Donald was born. Donald had been an instrumental figure in establishing the church in Hamilton.46
Scots Kirk is an important Hamilton building with magnificent stained-glass windows, designed by Polish born Sydney designer John Radecki. It was damaged by the 1989 earthquake but has undergone restoration.
This building was Hamilton’s second fire station. It was opened in March 1901 after the first station proved to be inadequate. Pictures from the opening show many people attending the event. The building later underwent renovations, with a second storey added in 1906.
Following damage from the 1989 earthquake, the station was bought by the Lindsay family, who played an integral role in restoring the building and ensuring its survival.
If you look closely at the building today you may spot a small statue of a man’s head sitting above the entrance. Victor Lindsay spent many months restoring this sculpture and trying to determine the subject’s identity. With the help of local woman Jean Mears, it was later revealed that the statue depicts Mears’ grandfather, Sam Donn, who was mayor of Hamilton in 1901 when the station opened. Donn can be seen under the statue in pictures from the station’s opening.
Lying within the Hamilton Residential Precinct Heritage Conservation Area, Lawson Street contains examples of late Victorian terraces and cottages as well as Federation cottages and bungalows.
From the 1880s onwards, as mining moved to the Hunter Valley, the Newcastle coal field began to be repurposed for urban/residential development. The Lawson Street precinct is a prime example of this increasing urban settlement.
The houses pictured belonged to a Mrs Kane and were built in 1900.52
Now home to a brightly painted pharmacy, the corner of Beaumont and Lindsay Streets once housed Hamilton’s first hardware store. Hamilton Hardware opened for business in 1930. Bought by Reilly Deitz in 1932, it was run by Deitz and his son Doug for over 40 years.
Doug Deitz was an important member of the Hamilton community. In addition to the services provided by his business, he was a member of the local Rotary Club for many years and became president of the club in 1957. According to his daughter Sandra, he was a man who was always willing to help people.
The business was eventually purchased by long-time employee Noel Herbert, who reinstated its original 1930 name, “Hamilton Hardware”. While the hardware store no longer exists, the building and its history live on.53
The first freemasons in Hamilton established the Star of the East Lodge in 1886. Initially, meetings were held at the Northern Star Hotel, but later were held in the Mechanics’ Institute. This was until this Masonic Hall was built in 1907 by members of the Star of the East Lodge. Designed by F B Menkens, the new hall was said to be an imposing structure capable of seating 500 people.55 A second storey was added in 1918.
As membership decreased, the building was sold in 1981 and has since been used for commercial purposes.
The hall was another building gravely impacted by the 1989 earthquake but has since been restored.
The Northern Star Café has operated since the 1940s. This photo from 1956 shows the owner, Con Rolfe, crossing the road in the apron he always wore.
Offering a typical menu for Australian cafés at the time, the Northern Star was popular amongst those working at industrial sites in Newcastle, and later with students. When Lorenzo and Ada Bizzarri purchased the business in 1974, interest in their homestyle Italian meals grew. Italian food continues to be the signature of this Hamilton café.
The Northern Star Hotel is the oldest hotel in Hamilton that retains its original name and location. First opened by Richard Nickolls in 1877,60 the hotel was a brick two-storey with eight bedrooms, a large balcony, a bar, a cellar and a detached brick kitchen. It also included three horse stables and a four-room weatherboard cottage.
The Northern Star was an important venue, hosting meetings and events for all kinds of sporting clubs and unions. It was also renowned for its food and accommodation. As a review in The Catholic Press from 1919 states: “Everyone in and out of Hamilton knows this hotel, for it has acquired fame, being so well kept.”61
Outside the hotel, on the wall facing James Street, you will find a memorial plaque in honour of Tom Maguire. Maguire was a leading boxing trainer and often hosted fights at the Northern Star to entertain patrons. One of Maguire’s most famous trainees was Dave Sands, a Dunghutti man who grew up in Burnt Bridge, Kempsey, and at age 15 came to Newcastle to train with Maguire. Sands quickly earned many victories and was named Australian middleweight and light heavyweight champion in 1946.62 Tragically, Sands died in a truck accident in 1952. He has been described as one of the greatest boxers never to have won a world title.
The hotel was completely redesigned in 1969 for a more modern look. In 1989 it was purchased by the Ramplin family, who still own and run it today. The Northern Star became well known in the 1990s as an Irish pub, with many members of the local Irish community enjoying a pint of Guinness there. In 2000, the hotel was used by the Irish Olympic team for meals and soft drinks in their preparation for the Sydney Olympics. If you step inside the pub today, you’ll find their signed team shirts proudly displayed in the restaurant area.63
Hamilton Municipal Council was incorporated in 1871 with the first council meetings held in a cottage on James Street. 67 The first Council Chambers was built in 1880.68 A second building in 1892 was soon replaced by a third in 1919 as Hamilton and the needs of the council grew. The distinctive W R Alexander clock tower was added in 1929.
On 31 March 1938 an independent Hamilton Council met for the last time. Hamilton was one of 11 small local councils that merged to form the City of Newcastle in Council in 1938.69 On 31 March 1938 an independent Hamilton Council met for the last time. Hamilton was one of 11 small local councils that merged to form the City of Newcastle in Council in 1938.69
Damaged in the 1989 earthquake, the clock tower was reinstated usin g clock faces and mechanisms from the original structure. The building was substantially rebuilt, and the James Street plaza created at this time.
On 11 December 2021 the Hamilton Business Improvement Association organised a fun-filled day of activities in Beaumont Street and James Street Plaza to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Hamilton’s incorporation as a municipality.
Heritage Now would like to thank Ruth Cotton for sharing her wealth of knowledge about Hamilton and providing advice on creating a heritage walk. You can check out Ruth’s blog here: http://hiddenhamilton.blogspot.com.au/
Special thanks to Kerrie Shaw from Newcastle Library for assisting in research and locating photos, particularly of the Newcastle earthquake. Also, to Hunter Living Histories Group for their ongoing support and permissions to use images from the Living Histories archive.
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