Main Street of Hahndorf

Additional information concerning Hahndorf's main street can also be obtained from the following publications:

Section of replanted trees in Main Street 2012

  • 'Cork Elms and Controversy at Hahndorf' by Reg Butler
  • 'From Byways to Highways - Hahndorf's Changing Streetscape' by Reg Butler

Main Street 2012Hahndorf's main street formed part of Mt Barker Road which originally connected Adelaide and Mt Barker, and then became part of the Great Eastern Road interconnecting Adelaide and Melbourne. 

Originally, the German pioneer settlers only took up the land on the north-eastern side of the Main Street with homes constructed between English Street (Billy Goat Lane) and just north of the Old Mill Restaurant, plus the northern sides of Victoria and English Streets.  In 1849 land on the south-western side of Main Street was sold allowing sub-division in 1850 when more permanent buildings were constructed.

It wasn't until 1974, when the South Eastern Freeway was opened and the main traffic flow was diverted away from the town, that Hahndorf became a place to visit and the historic town which today is one of South Australia’s premier tourist destinations.  Hahndorf's main street has had a troubled but interesting history which is briefly described below.

Main Street in 1839

(Portion of information prepared by Reg Butler as a ´Walking Tour Information Sheet & Teachers Notes for Students, ca1993)

Hahndorf's main street presented a very different appearance in 1839, the year of Hahndorf's foundation. The street was the first straight track and the first piece of made road, after many winding paths across gullies and scrubland over the Tiers, as the pioneers called the Adelaide Hills.

Main Street at Echunga Road Junction just before avenue of trees planted in 1885.Hermann Kook, Hahndorf's agricultural supervisor, laid out the town's principal road along the southern boundary of the 150 acres of land which Captain Dirk Hahn had negotiated for the new settlement.  The street crossed a network of six small creeks which eventually joined at the western end of Hahndorf as a tributary of the Onkaparinga River.  Thus, the fifty-four founding families could build their homes close to running water and leave uninterrupted countryside in the rest of the valley for farmland.

Main Street c1900Twenty-five families erected their cottages along the eastern side of Hahndorf's main street.  Surveyors did not map out until 1849 the countryside on the steep, stringy-bark covered ranges to the south, which came right down to the main road.  It is known, though, that the South Australian Company erected a hut and stockyards during early January 1839, near the site of the present-day German Arms Hotel.  Perhaps these were in a clearing just across the boundary from the new town; the yards would have come in very handy for keeping animals while the settlers were establishing their individual farms.  School classes and church services were held in the hut.

Main Street by German Arms Hotel c1911It appears fairly certain that Hahndorf's fifty-four foundation families chose their home and farm lands by lot.  After an arduous walk with possessions over the ranges from Adelaide, the first settlers arrived in Hahndorf during early March 1839.  They held a thanksgiving church service under a huge gum tree growing in right in the middle of what would soon become the main street.  Soon, all able-bodied people had to join in erecting homes of gum poles filled in between with mud.  Long, thick kangaroo grass thatch, which grew profusely amongst the huge red gums scattered in the valley, or huge slabs of bark became the roof.  Tightly-packed earth made do for a floor.

Main Street c1912No matter what their occupation in the German homeland, all of Hahndorf's first settlers had to become farmers to survive.  For a variety of reasons, colonial South Australians grew very little food in the late 1830s and Hahndorf's pioneers had no money to afford expensive imports.  Amongst the countless jobs in establishing Hahndorf, the settlers sowed quick-growing vegetables, such as radishes, and planted the precious sapling fruit trees they had brought out with them from Prussia.

Within months, the first crops were ready for the young women and older teenage girls to carry along the winding Tiers paths to the Adelaide market.  The groups started out soon after midnight and reached the foothills at dawn.  Following a reviving face wash in a creek, everyone set off again to arrive at the Adelaide market in time to dispose of the fresh produce, which also included butter and eggs.  Some of the precious money helped to buy needles, thread and salt - articles which could not be made at Hahndorf.  What money could be spared helped to pay off the passage money borrowed for the voyage out and the land at Hahndorf.

Once the Hahndorf pioneers had erected their homes, daily life quickly assumed a routine.  Families brought more and more of their scattered farm allotments into production, while a herdsman cared for the community's cattle on commonland nearby.  Each family had a brand to identify its own particular beasts.  Only several of Hahndorf's founders could afford to buy oxen, so useful for carrying heavy loads.  Towards evening, a bell rang to signify the end of the day's work in the plots and for the herdsman to bring back the cattle.

The 1839 Hahndorf founders had little spare time as we understand the word.  'With them it was work, work, work, work; work from morning to night, week in, week out'.  Settlers found relaxation in song - both at home and at the church services.  Either a tuning fork, or one of the congregation (usually a woman), set the pitch for the main hymns.  Talented boys and men learnt to play tunes on a gum leaf held against the teeth.   Other people in the group quickly joined in with words learnt by heart in the European homeland.

By the end of 1839, much had been achieved to make Hahndorf a comfortable settlement.  Some of the pioneers had begun to take seasonal work with the neighbouring British colonists establishing sheep and cattle stations along the district's numerous water courses.  A few of Hahndorf's founders were already buried in the barely-cleared cemetery in the centre of the community.  Sickness and extreme cold during that first winter saw to that.  Early in 1840, the survivors agreed to remain in Hahndorf for good and started to erect a permanent church as a sign of their intention.

Brief Main Street History

As stated in 'Hahndorf - State Heritage Area' by State Heritage Branch of SA Government  ... As Main Street was part of the Great Eastern Road, it became an important thoroughfare and the focus for the town's commercial activity.  Most of the early shops and industries were family businesses with many of the buildings reflecting a dual residential and commercial function.  Wheelwrights, blacksmiths, publicans, shopkeepers, carpenters and joiners soon established their premises along Main Street to service the local community as well as the increasingly busy through traffic.

Local Government Control

From 1853, Handorf was split between two local government bodies (District Councils of Onkaparinga and Echunga) with the main street the boundary.  This meant that responsibility for the maintenance of the main street tended to be in dispute between the Councils, with the result that the street was virtually neglected for a considerable period of time.  Reg Butler states in 'Cork Elms and Controversy at Hahndorf', Thus the 'Mad Mile', practically the only decent stretch of straight road between Mount Barker and Adelaide, was wrecked relentlessly by riders and drivers whose steeds and teams glorified in their few moments of easy travel.  Even before local authorities arrived to complicate matters, Hahndorf's main thoroughfare was not noted for any particular beauty."

Eventually, on 28 May 1889, it was Gazetted by the Government that Hahndorf was to be served solely by the District Council of Echunga.  This seemed to give impetus to further improvements to the street including some new shops opening for business.

Hahndorf was transferred to the District Council of Mt Barker in 1933.

Avenue of Trees

View of Main Street Tree Planting Ceremony on 19 August 1885.

Hahndorf residents turned out in force for several meetings during the 1885 winter to discuss planting the main street with an avenue of Moreton Bay figs.  All wrangling turned to one side when wealthy pastoralist Robert Barr Smith promised to donate all the trees needed, which Richard Schomburgk, Director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, advised should be as best ... the cork elm ..., the plane tree ..., and the chestnut ..., all of a fine, shady, leafy growEffect of Tree Lopping 1913th ... so that this long avenue, when well grown and in full foliage, will add a new charm to our already pretty village.

Children from the Hahndorf Primary School and the Lutheran Day School planted the first of the selected trees on Wednesday 19 August 1885.

It would appear that English elms made up three-quarters of the original 1885 planting, with the rest shared equally between chestnuts and planes.  Newspaper reports mentioned  that three hundred trees were planted, but there were spaces only for some two hundred and twenty.

Through the years, Hahndorf residents have resisted vigorously various governmental attempts to either lop the avenue severely, or pull it out altogether.  At times, some of the  trees have been replanted. For diverse reasons, the original three tree varieties have increased to thirteen with varying success.  Lining a busy main street, the avenue has suffered understandably both from many kinds of vandalism and nature’s caprice.  Main Street - lopped trees in front of German Arms Hotel 1913Main Street Lopped Trees c1913About two-thirds of the original elms have disappeared over the years, with Desert ash and White cedar as the most popular replacements.

A few years after the main street avenue of trees was planted, a systematic annual lopping of the trees commenced to prevent interference with the overhead telegraph wires.  This aroused fierce debate amongst the townsfolk such that in September 1895 the Commonwealth Telegraph Department installed 28 new poles to raise the height of the wires out of reach of the trees.  This was successful for a number of years until 1910,  when due to the rapid expansion of South Australia's telegraphic services, it was necessary to erect additional transmission wires.  To enable this the Commonwealth Telegraph Department cut a 'valley' through the tops of the trees leaving a mere shell of branches on the outside.  This was done without consultation with the District Council or the residents, and as a result re-ignited the debate over the trees.  The arguments for and against the trees climaxed in 1913, however, the controversy was dispelled with the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

In 1963, the Mt Barker Council announced that it intended to remove 38 avenue trees in order to allow the Highway's Department to widen a section of the road.  Intense local and State wide reaction to this announcement ensued with petitions organised by Walter Wotzke (artist and local resident) presented to the Government and Council.  The eventual result was that the advice of Noel Lothian, Director Botanic Gardens, that five only trees should be removed plus the gradual removal of alternative trees along the main street was agreed by Council.  This decision resulted in further protests and although the Council removed a small number of trees, the protesters eventually won the day.

As a result of the '2000 Community Consultation Workshops' to develop concepts for public art works to celebrate the role played by the Hahndorf Pioneer Women, the Mt Barker Council extended the Avenue of trees to River Road.  54 additional trees representing the founding families were planted. 

Additionally a Community Grant received from the District Council of Mount Barker by the Hahndorf Community Association (HCA) of $2500 to honour pioneer women resulted in a plaque being placed on a Granite Rock on Main Street, just beyond Ambleside Road.  The wording directed people’s attention to the 54 trees that had been planted by Council along Main Street as far as River Road.  The wording on the plaque says:  “This Avenue of 54 trees commemorates the Pioneer Women of Hahndorf and the part they played in the provision of fresh produce to the early settlers in Adelaide”.

Lighting and Power

Main Street prior to trees being lopped - ca1909  (note street lamp on right hand side of photo)Main Street - early 1950's showing power and telegraph lines (note - trees still being lopped)The main street had been devoid of any form of permanent lighting until an exhaustive ratepayers' meeting in July 1908 narrowly agreed to a special rate to finance installation of acetylene gas lighting for the street.  Subsequently, it was reported in the Mt Barker Courier that ... The lighting of the streets of Hahndorf is accomplished.  Six lamps, in addition to the trial one erected some weeks ago, have been installed by Mr Mozart of Gawler, to the order of the District Council and on Tuesday evening (24 September), they were lighted for the first time.  The burners are of 35 candle power each and throw an excellent light, while the posts are of a neat design.  A number of inhabitants paraded the streets on Tuesday evening to inspect the lamps, the unanimous opinion being that they were a much needed improvement.

During the mid 1920's, electric power lines on high poles were installed on the northern side of main street to carry power to Mt Barker as well as providing electric lighting to the street.  The main street now had telegraph wires and poles on one side and electric power lines and poles on the other.

It wasn't until 1981/82 that the decision by Mt Barker Council, ETSA and the Heritage Unit to  ... remove the stobie poles and power lines from Hahndorf's main street and ... putting the power underground ...  was undertaken and completed.  The Mt Barker Courier reported that ... An aim of the project is to allow the trees lining the main street to grow back in order to preserve the streetscape.

Tourism Pressures

Main Street Traffic 2006Although there had been some tourism earlier, it wasn't until early 1970's that the tourist industry as known today had its beginnings in Hahndorf.  Walter Wotzke had opened his art gallery in the former Lutheran Day School building and subsequently in the Hahndorf Academy, Haebich's Blacksmith Shop had become Storison Art and Craft Gallery, and Wittwer's Mill a restaurant.  These plus other developments helped to popularise Hahndorf and marked its genesis as a tourist destination.  Tourism was accelerated in 1974 when the South Eastern Freeway was opened and through traffic was diverted away from the town.

Although tourism was welcome in the town, it created a number of additional problems including:

Main Street Traffic September 2014 at Traffic Light Crossing near centre of Main Street.

  • Additional vehicular traffic -
  • Car parking problems -
  • Heavy transport through traffic -
  • Street clutter and signs -
  • Inappropriate modification and demolition of historic buildings -

Pedestrian Crossings (Wombat Crossings)

After community consultation with the Residents and Traders, two new wombat crossings (pedestrian crossings) were installed on Mount Barker Road (at each end of Hahndorf Main Street) and became operational on 15 September 2014.  They were installed by the Transport Services Division of the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) of the Government of SA.

Wombat Crossing near IGA 2014A circular issued by the DPTI to all Hahndorf Residents and Traders contained the following information:

  • The wombat crossings will help improve safety and access for pedestrians and reinforce slow speeds to vehicles.
  • A wombat crossing gives pedestrians the right of way and requires drivers to stop and give way to any pedestrian using the crossing.
  • In addition to the construction of the wombat crossings, the full length of the main street in Hahndorf has been signed at 40 km/h.
  • The works cost $250,000 and were funded by the Responsive Road Safety Programme.
  • These two crossings and the lower speed limit will make this wonderful South Australian tourist attraction much more pedestrian friendly and safe.