The History of Williams House
Williams House is situated near the Paihia waterfront, adjacent to the main shopping centre, with the main entrance in Williams Road. Between the house and Marsden Road is an open, grassy reserve now known as The Village Green. This open area has been historically associated with the property since the earliest European occupation in the district.
Williams House was constructed in 1920 as the family home of Reverend Percy Temple Williams, his wife Mary and their two children, which they occupied from 1924 until the death of the daughter, Mary Williams, in 1993. The present house was constructed on the site of an earlier house, which was the home of Hugh Carleton and his wife Lydia. Lydia was the youngest daughter of Reverend Henry Williams, who established the Paihia Mission Station. Although Percy Williams had the older house pulled down he retained one of the out-buildings, the stone shed, that survives to this day.
The gardens around the house were first established under the Carleton family in the 19th Century and contain a number of fine trees. Percy Williams was a keen gardener and the trees and plantings that remain today are a result of his efforts. During the time she occupied the house, Mary Williams made very little changes to the grounds or the house. Consequently the property survives as an unusually well preserved example of a 1920s dwelling.
The house itself was built with a frame of kauri and rimu, (native timbers), covered on the outside with kauri weatherboards. The gabled roof was covered with corrugated iron. Interior walls were lined with tongue-and-groove kauri boards and the floor was also of kauri boards.
The house and surrounding land remained in Williams family ownership from 1920 until 1967. From the time her father died in 1933, Mary Williams lived at the house with her mother, until her mother died in 1950. In 1966, Mary and her brother Patrick agreed to sell the house and garden to the Northland Harbour Board. The sale was subject to the agreement that Mary could have life tenancy of the property and that it would be preserved as open space in perpetuity. Until her death in 1993, Mary fiercely resisted commercial proposals that might jeopardise the property's historic status or limit public access to the open space reserve.
Following Mary's death the Bay of Islands Mission Heritage Trust, a registered charitable trust acting on behalf of the Far North District Council, commissioned a conservation plan, (the Salmond Report), as a means of identifying appropriates uses for the site and buildings. As an outcome Williams House was registered in 1995 with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, under the Historic Places Act 1993, as a Category II Historic Place, (as a place of "historical or cultural heritage significance or value"). Follow this link for the entry in the NZHPT register.
Restoration of the house and grounds took some time. After Mary's death, debate raged for years over what to do with the property. Meantime vandals had defaced the empty building to the extent that some locals wanted it to be demolished. However, the tenacity of Mary Williams in maintaining the property as open space reserve meant that finally the Far North District Council commissioned restoration work.
In 2003, the Paihia Library was finally moved out of a back room in the Paihia War Memorial Hall and relocated on the ground floor of Williams House. The library's reference section on the history of the Bay of Islands is regularly extended and the Friends of Williams House continue to fund-raise for further enhancements to the property.
As part of the Friends of Williams House involvement, a History Trail is being formed through the gardens. The trail will allow visitors to identify the items that are considered of historical importance to Williams House and Paihia.