A stroll along Jackson Street is a venture into history. Many of its buildings have stood for well over 100 years, and offer a unique glimpse into the life and times of early New Zealand.

In 1840

Petone became the first European settlement in New Zealand. Despite early setbacks such as flooding and earthquakes – resulting in many settlers relocating to the other side of the harbour to establish Wellington – the people of Petone soon built a thriving community of houses, shops and industries.

Early industries that sprouted up after the railway line reached Petone in 1874 were labour-intensive. The Gear Meatworks (where Pak‘nSave is now), the Railway Workshops near the railway station and the Wellington Woollen Mills on the Hutt Road drew large numbers of workers to Petone, where housing was cheap. The town needed a business and shopping hub, and it was soon formed when merchants bought land along the edge of a property owned by Edwin Jackson.

The thoroughfare that was to become Jackson Street however, lacked any formal design because development was not regulated. The early Jackson Street was by no means straight, and it varied greatly in width from end-to-end. It extended from the old Petone Avenue (now Nelson Street) to Beach Street, with access to Hutt Road via an informal track across Maori-owned land. Jackson Street was extended when the land was bought by the borough solicitor on behalf of the Crown in 1888.

The first shop was a general store built by a Mr Moss in 1880 on the corner of Jackson Street and what is now Nelson Street. The next shop was also a general store owned by Dave Wilkie on the corner of Sydney Street.

The first school in Petone was opened in 1882 at Johnson’s Hall in Sydney Street, but it was soon moved to near the corner of Jackson Street and Beach Street. However, by 1905 the number of pupils was about 900, so a new school was opened at Price’s Folly in Campbell Terrace, and later in western Jackson Street – giving the street two schools.

By the early 1900s

Jackson Street was the hub of Hutt Valley commercial activity. Families shopped and met with friends at stores such as McKenzies, McDuffs and Liebezeits.

New council chambers were built in 1903 on the corner of Bay Street and a town clock was installed in 1913.

Jackson Street’s haphazard alignment however, was still a problem. It was finally remedied after a Mr C Tringham proposed to build a large block of shops on Jackson Street from Nelson Street west. The local council decided to enforce a new building line. Twenty-eight buildings extended beyond the new boundary. Structurally sound buildings were jacked up and moved back by up to five metres, such as the Liebezeits building at 129, and unsound buildings were bought and demolished. The project was completed in 1938, after delays brought about by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

By the late 1950s

several big employers, such as the meatworks and motor companies that had set up production lines in the 1920s and 30s, began to relocate or close. Jackson Street began to decline, and even the Palace, Grand and State cinemas, and ballroom dancing at the Labour Hall in Beach Street (now the Lighthouse Cinema) could not stop people taking the cheap public transport into Wellington City.

Over the next 30 years

Jackson Street fell into general decay. Long-established stores closed and even the council chambers were demolished. The clock however, survived and was moved over the road and installed in a new tower where it stands today at Doreen Doolan Mall.

Developers who were demolishing and rebuilding in Wellington regarded Jackson Street as a place of little commercial potential. However, in an ironic twist, Jackson Street began a remarkable revival in the late 1980s, based largely on the interest in its old buildings.

In recent times, many buildings have been strengthened and refurbished, some to ensure they meet earthquake standards. Many of the old buildings have always housed residents above the shops, but several new low-rise apartment/retail buildings have emerged on the street. The new residents now enjoy up-market living in the middle of a vibrant and exciting location – a far cry from the street’s early dwellers.

In 1991

The Jackson Street Programme (JSP) was formed to promote the street as a heritage and shopping destination. In 1993 the JSP established new premises in the 1908 Police Station, which had been relocated from Elizabeth Street to its present site at 274b Jackson Street. In 1997 the Historic Places Trust granted Heritage Precinct status to Jackson Street (from Cuba Street to Victoria Street) – the only one in the Wellington region.

In recent times

Hutt City Council has recognised the importance of Jackson Street by starting a programme of streetscape works. The works have enhanced the café/retail culture the street has developed.