A piece of Cromwell history has been given a secure future with its ownership being finalised.
Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust chairman Warwick Hawker said the trust had completed the purchase of the former Methodist church at the corner of Donegal and Erris Sts.

“It’s been quite a long project.”

It had taken about five years and meant the trust could confidently plan for the future, Mr Hawker said.

Members of both the trust and Methodist Church of New Zealand had worked towards finalising the purchase.

The 132-year-old church was fitted out as a small theatre, which had previously been run by the community as Arthur’s Cinema, named for the stonemason who built the church.

When the group running Arthur’s Cinema decided not to renew its lease, the trust bought the theatre equipment and fittings to ensure it was retained, Mr Hawker said.

Now the building purchase was complete the trust would devote its time and energy to earthquake-strengthening and renovation.

However, it would factor the greater development of the surrounding area into any decisions about the building’s future.

The Old Cromwell heritage area had been designated as a cultural and arts area in the Cromwell master plan and the trust was conscious of what that might mean for it, Mr Hawker said.

However, the building’s theatre could complement the one in the proposed new Cromwell hall and events centre as a much smaller and more informal space.

At present the church-turned-theatre was hired out to private groups and made a small income for the trust, which did not have an income stream.

The purchase of the building was made possible by grants from Central Lakes and Otago community trusts and Te Puna Tahua Lotteries Grants Board along with private donations.

Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust aimed to develop, represent and promote the historical sites, trails and events of Otago.

Its signposts highlighted the gold rush trail across Otago and it hosted the national gold panning competition each year.

Its best-known event was the cavalcade, which followed the trails of gold seekers across the region ending at a different host town each time.

Participants walked, rode, cycled and tramped the trails.

It seemed appropriate the trust bought the building, as it was built in 1891 after the heady days of the Central Otago gold rush.

Stonemason Leslie Arthur, former prime minister Helen Clark’s great-grandfather, built the church.

The building served as a Methodist church until 1960.

ODT, 13 July 2023