Old Cromwell Town

“Preserving and reconstructing buildings from Cromwell’s past to create a unique attraction, and a setting for local artisans, cottage industries and special events”.

Concept and Philosophy

As the waters of Lake Dunstan began to rise behind the Clyde Dam, the price of progress involved the destruction of an essential piece of Central Otago history.  But the foresight of a group of concerned residents of Cromwell in early 1985 resulted in an effort to save a portion of that history. ‘Save Old Cromwell’ was born and an autonomous voluntary Incorporated Society formed, with the Board managing the activities.

Initially, eight buildings were chosen from the old commercial area due to be submerged by the advent of the new hydro lake. These buildings were to be relocated further up the main street to a site above the new lake level – and so began ‘Old Cromwell Town’.

The concept of Old Cromwell Town today is based on terms of ‘believable’ town planning.  That is, the Board is reconstructing a commercial, residential and rural zone where land is divided into distinct sections. This has been done to retain the authenticity of ‘street life’, industries and activities taking place side by side, as opposed to an open plan ‘theme’ type layout.

Constraints on the Board in the form of funding and time are a part of everyday life in Old Cromwell Town. However, with land tenure secured on the precinct, life can proceed in a positive direction.

Cromwell and the Central Otago district can now enjoy this delightful asset, a visual reminder of ‘how it used to be’.  Cromwell is the only major historic gold town to have been largely submerged under the waters of the Clutha River, only to have part of the old Cromwell town centre actually survive.

Along with the new town, Old Cromwell Town still has a lot of growing to do.  During the forthcoming years the public will not only see this happen, but will also have the opportunity to participate in the recreation and maintenance of this unique piece of history. Cromwell – submerged, but not forgotten!

The Vision

The Board of Old Cromwell Town has a vision of a successful, financially sound and freely accessible precinct. It is a multi-million dollar national asset and expected to eventually cover the area of the Lake Dunstan Reserve from Cromwell Memorial Hall on Melmore Terrace, to Renshaw’s Fish Factory, where it adjoins the famous “Meeting of the Waters’.  With the close proximity of other historic buildings and the two large Wellingtonia trees, this section of lake shore will be one of the most interesting and attractive areas in this part of New Zealand.

Old Cromwell Town Board expects to be administering a site which has:

  • Reconstructed buildings of the original Cromwell commercial area;
  • A small area of residential dwellings of the 1880’s period;
  • Reconstructed Chinese huts and gold diggings;
  • A recreated rural setting with examples of period fencing;
  • The preserved ruins of some of Cromwell’s original buildings.

Old Cromwell Town will effectively be the amphitheatre which will take the visitor back to the late 19th century through a calendar of selected promotions staged throughout the year.

The precinct will provide free access to Lake Dunstan and will be the centre for local sightseeing via the land and lake.

The buildings will accommodate appropriate businesses and house local art and craft groups, with most of these operating all year round in manufacturing and retail mode.

The area will be laid out as an attractive environment for all of these activities, visually linking the jetty, Lake Dunstan and the buildings.

Old Cromwell Town will be part of our national heritage, a place where succeeding generations will come to appreciate how past and present have merged to form the future.


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