When Paekākāriki School opened in April 1886, it was one of the first on the Kāpiti Coast. At the time it opened, the village included a Railway Station, several railway workers’ cottages, a Post Office, a hotel, a Police Station and several shops. The railway line was to open later that year.
The small schoolroom was then situated on what is currently (in 2020) State Highway 1, east of the main trunk line. It was built on land donated to the Education Department by one of the Smith family, early European settlers and farmers.
The first teacher was Miss Dorothea Hamilton, described as elderly by one local person recalling early school days. She initially stayed with the Tilleys, one of the earliest settler families, and rode to school on a white horse (remembered by an early resident, Robert Sydney Kent). Miss Hamilton was paid £90 a year and remained in the job for about four years.
The number of children at the school fluctuated, initially, depending on the number of railway staff in the settlement. When the school first opened, there were seven children and virtually no equipment – Miss Hamilton recorded a lack of desks, seats and other furniture, and few books and slates. These poor conditions remained for two years, despite increases in school children attending. The year after the school opened there were 25 children and 31 the following year.
In 1888, the village got a new school with better amenities for teachers and children. This new school was a single room with one teacher.
The new school also included a school house, which was built the same year. Miss Hamilton would have been the new house’s first resident teacher and no longer needed to live with the Tilley family. It has been reported that swagmen sometimes used the front porch of the school for overnight accommodation.
In New Zealand generally, school houses have been provided to help schools to recruit teachers in areas where it was difficult to find housing. As residential accommodation and transport improved, the need for such houses decreased. After the new school was built in Wellington Road, with its own school house a little further along the road, the old school house was given a wider community role. For a time it was used as a squash court by local school children. Finally, it was transferred into private ownership, its current status.
The Paekākāriki school and school house
The school house
The original Paekākāriki school house is still in good condition and is now in private ownership. It, is recognised as an important heritage building for the area: it is listed on the Historic Heritage Register of the Kāpiti Coast District Council’s current District Plan.
By 1893, 45 children attended the school, still in one room but now with two teachers.
In 1915, a new room was added. Later additions came 10 years later; in 1925 a new classroom and a teachers’ room were added. The school grounds were extended in 1930.
By the start of World War II, the school included three classrooms and the original school house. One resident, Geoffrey Roberts, remembered being at the school during this time. He remembers the danger for children crossing the railway tracks to get to school, given engine shunting and the passing through of the Auckland express. He also remembers children being unable to use a previous shortcut to school (around about where Perkins Way is today) during the early 1940s because of live ammunition found nearby.
A new school was built on the present 4.25 acre site in Wellington Road in the 1940s, with a school house located a little further down the road (opposite the current Scout Hut). That house still stands but is no longer a school house.
1908. Paekākāriki School group including pupils and the headmaster Mr Cooper (standing on left). The two taller boys, just right of the window, are Bernie Lynch, and his twin Harold. Photographer unidentified. (National Library 1/2-080308-F)