Martinborough - a Brief History


Martinborough was named after John Martin (1822-92), an Irish immigrant who purchased the large Wairarapa sheep station "Huangarua" in 1879. John subdivided the station into 593 sections to create a town just north of the existing settlement of Waihenga (now Weld and Grey Streets and Ferry Road) where there was a post office, school, church and hotels and a ferry over the Ruamahanga River, bridged in 1873. The street names Venice, Panama, Suez and New York, etc, and the central square and streets laid out in a Union Jack pattern, were inspired from a world tour of Martin's. In the 1880s depression the town grew only slowly as a service centre for the large lower Wairarapa sheep stations. By the turn of the century, the town included two churches, a library, police station, stores, two smithies and halls. The Featherston County Council built offices and a depot here in 1904.

A Town Board formed in 1905 embarked on developing services and amenities for the town of nearly eight hundred. The series of projects, despite a heavy debt by the time the town became a borough in 1928, developed the town ahead of other centres like Featherston. Many of Martinborough's facilities date from earlier this century, and by 1908 the town had its own racecourse, now the golf course. A branch railway line from Featherston was planned in 1914 but this ambition was never realised.

Martinborough has hosted the popular annual fairs organised by the South Wairarapa Rotary Club since 1977, each February and March. The burgeoning wine industry brings in weekend and holiday visitors from Wellington. Renovation and expansion of the town's commercial centre, growth of homestays, restaurants and planned subdivisions, indicate Martinborough's new lease of life. The town also hosts the annual "Toast Martinborough" wine and food festival an event patronised by up to 9,000 people!