Look what Frank Johnson started

22:59, Mar 27 2014
Johnsonville Rd 2014
Now: Johnsonville Rd, 2014. There's a petrol station, plenty of industry and a bigger shopping centre . . . and lots of trees and bushes.
Johnsonville Rd
Then: Johnsonville Rd, 1959, during the construction of the Johnsonville bypass. Fraser Ave is on the left and the Johnsonville township is in the centre, heading north.

Johnsonville has some of the oldest history in Wellington.

The suburb was originally just a Maori walking track used to get between the settlements in Porirua and Wellington.

Dense native forest grew all over the valley floor and hillside.

In 1841 a group of settlers, including Frank Johnson, moved to the area.

Johnson, after whom the suburb and Johnsonville Rd is named, bought a 100-acre section believed to have been bordered by what are now Johnsonville, Broderick, Ironside, and Old Coach roads.

He built a house and a mill by the Johnsonville stream and stripped the hills of the native forest, with the timber used to build parts of Wellington.


Johnson returned to England in 1858.

After the hills were bared, a farming community developed, and supplied produce for Wellington.

Johnsonville Rd runs from Newlands through the main shopping precinct to Middleton Rd.

In the 1800s the community eventually grew enough to warrant the construction of churches, a school, library and train station, and the formation of a borough council.

The Johnsonville Methodist Church built a church in Johnsonville Rd in 1847. The rebuilt church buildings were torn down in 1973 and the site is now occupied by shops.

The Methodist Cemetery remains are up Norman Lane, off Johnsonville Rd.

At the end of Johnsonville Rd an Anglican church was built, also in 1847. It was called Hawtrey Church. Today it is St John Anglican Church.

Johnsonville is also the location of one of the oldest state primary schools in New Zealand.

Johnsonville School was established in 1867 in Johnsonville Rd.

A single classroom served the needs of the community until 1885.

By then it had 180 students, so a four-classroom building was set up on the corner of Frankmoore Ave and Dr Taylor Tce - the site of the current school's playground.

Two more classrooms were added in 1910 and a third in 1920.

They were built where today's classrooms still stand. The other four 1885 rooms were moved across the land in 1921.

In the 1940s the Home and School Association fundraised money for a school hall. A surplus air force building was bought from Woodbourne, shipped across the Cook Strait and set up in the school grounds.

The pressure on the school roll gradually eased with the opening of schools in other suburbs, but with the post-war baby boom the roll hit 900 in 1967. So another four classrooms were built.

When Raroa Intermediate opened in 1971, children in years 7 and 8 transferred there.

Johnsonville became an independent borough in 1908 and only gave up its independence in 1954, when it joined Wellington City.

The first library was set up in Johnsonville Rd in 1890, but did not last. The second opened in 1941, with shelves full of reject books from Wellington Library.

After Johnsonville merged with Wellington the library was closed and a mobile service introduced.

Finally a full branch was established in 1965. In the first year of operation 100,000 items were issued.

The Johnsonville Club, now in Norman Lane, opened in Johnsonville Rd in 1950.

In the early 20th century, the Temperance movement and the Licensing Act of 1881 made it impossible to open new pubs and the existing ones faced new restrictions - closing time was changed to 6pm and women were not allowed to hold licences.

The men of Johnsonville finally decided in 1950 to set up their own place. Alcohol was bought individually by each member and stored in lockers for later consumption.

That meant they could drink on their own premises after work and at weekends. The establishment was called the Johnsonville Men's Club, located in an old loft in Barlow's Timberyard in Railway Tce, now Bill Cutting Place.

When the club outgrew its premises it moved to 28 Johnsonville Rd, the site of the present day Post Shop.

The club continued to grow, and when Wellington City Council refused to let it expand its premises, it moved just off Johnsonville Rd to Norman Lane.

Johnsonville Rd is now the hub of the northern suburbs and is home to a shopping mall, supermarkets, a Work and Income office, local businesses, and many fast-food outlets.

It is also about to get a much- needed $11-million roading update, which will expand the State Highway 1 off-ramp, and upgrade the intersections and bus stops.

The Wellingtonian