History & Renovation

The history of the building

The Loyal Hamilton Lodge, Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity, was opened in Cook Street, on November 26, 1874. The building was known as the Oddfellows Hall for many years. It was built by Mr E J Pearson of mainly Kauri to the order of the Oddfellows.

Edward John Pearson had been a Militiaman in the Fourth Waikato Regiment, and was a carpenter by trade. Rheumatism made it difficult for him to carry on as a carpenter. During the depression of the 1870's Pearson took his family to the Thames Goldfields but returned two years later to Hamilton and filed for bankruptcy. At this time he started experimenting with soap, eventually patenting his own carbolic sand soap using the deposits of very fine pumice sand, prevalent only on the banks of the Waikato river, mixed with caustic soda and Calverts carbolic acid.

The building was probably the first factory in Hamilton. It was established by Mr Pearson, who set up a sand soap manufactory in the hall, which he then purchased in 1886. The soap proved to be very popular and was used in industry farms and homes. In 1889 he sent his son to Sydney with three tonnes of sandsoap to sell there. The market was excellent and in 1892, a branch factory was opened in Sydney with 15 tonnes of Waikato sand being shipped over for its production. Edward Pearson died in 1896 but his sand soap business was continued by his sons.

Sydney square, "the cradle of Hamilton", now named Steele Park, was first used by the Maoris for hangi's. Then the reserve was the venue of all kinds of sports gatherings, athletics, cycling, picnics, markets, military and band parades. The area was ringed with huge pine trees and had a broad macrocarpa hedge on two sides. After 1904, the pines were replaced with the stately trees that now adorn it.

The history books of the early 1900's prove to be vague about the building's use during the next 50 years. However, we have reason to believe it was at one time a Salvation Army Hall, and at some stage a picture theatre, as old plans mention an old projection room. There are stories of it also being used as a dance hall, people from afar would come to town on their horse and cart, change behind the hedges and dance the night away.

In the 1950's, it was used by Berlei (now Bendon) for a corset making factory. This was proven by the many sewing needles and corset clasps we found in the original floor during the renovation.

Then Fow's flooring used it as a storage facility, through to 1967 when the building was purchased by the Buffalo Society.

The Buffalos made many alterations to the interior of the building putting up a suspended ceiling and lining the wall with Gib board and veneer. They also added two toilet blocks to the front of the building, all of which we have removed, taking the building back to its original façade and interior lining.

The building is a fantastic testament to Hamilton's rich and colourful history, and sitting on the perimeter of Steele Park is a great spot to stop and reflect on the 130 years of heritage that it has been a part of.

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