History and Heritage

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Initial settlements in the Stratford District were small Maori villages in the forested hills as places of refuge in times of war, and for seasonal activities.

While New Plymouth and other coastal regions of Taranaki were settled by Europeans in the 1840s, the densely-forested inland Taranaki areas remained relatively isolated until the land wars of the 1860s. Following those wars the land of Stratford District was both compulsorily purchased and freely sold.

The site for Stratford town on the north bank of the Patea River was cleared in 1877 and was originally named Stratford-on-Patea. It was named after Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, and the streets were named after Shakespearean characters. By 1906 the population of Stratford numbered almost 6,000.

Other towns throughout the District sprung up as the bush was cleared and new farming districts developed. Schools, hotels, stores and other community facilities were established but Stratford township remained the hub of the area. From early on in the twentieth century there was rapid development of the dairy industry, with most communities with their own factory.

Roads through the district were still relatively basic which meant travelling any distance was difficult. As roads improved throughout the 20th century, communities in the District gradually began to lose their facilities. It was cheaper and easier to travel to larger towns for services than to maintain those services in smaller settlements.

The Forgotten World Highway (State Highway 43) links the towns of Stratford and Taumarunui and later became New Zealand's first heritage trail. It passes through the village of Whangamomona which was first settled in 1895, with no road or rail access. Today the village has approximately 25 full-time residents, a hotel, a handful of historic buildings and the odd goat.