Over the years, Pleasant Point has endured many trials arising from fire, pestilence, flood and drought.
In 1871 a grassfire started at the smithy and, fanned by a strong wind, swept through the countryside as far as the Walton Mill on Cartwright’s farm. All farm land in the path of the fire suffered extensive damage with Reginald Orton’s crops being worst hit. Parr Bros. had sufficient warning to allow time to plough a fire break in the path of the advancing flames and were thus able to contain it before it engulfed the mill.
Some years later, a plague of caterpillars destroyed the crops. They advanced in millions and left desolation in their wake.
Another time, following fires on the West Coast, large flocks of parakeets descended on the district wreaking havoc to the crops. It is said that the stacks were green with them and that one blast from a shotgun would kill at least a score.
Fires were not uncommon in the business community. The first bakehouse owned by Morris was gutted with loss of life in 1887. When the Railway Hotel was burnt down on 30 January 1911, it was described as “the like of which has not been seen in South Canterbury for a long time with 1500 people witnessing the conflagration". Motor car and taxi cab parties journeyed from Timaru to view the spectacle. The fire started in Chisholm’s grocery on the ground floor of the Hotel, spread rapidly through the adjoining buildings completely destroying the hotel.
A ‘Bucket Brigade’ fought the fire until an old manual fire engine drawn by four horses from Glennie s Stables of Timaru, arrived on the scene but, by that time, all was lost. Fortunately, the Brigade was able to prevent the fire spreading into the neighbouring McKibben’s store.
On 13 December 1927, fire destroyed Pleasant Point’s oldest landmark — the Point Hotel, part of which had been the original accommodation house. The fire began in Frank Birse’s Cyclery on the ground floor. The flow of water was “so feeble with all the taps turned on” that the Bucket Brigade was powerless to control the spread of the flames. On this occasion, the Timaru Fire Brigade declined to come out and assist, deeming it useless if the water pressure was so low. Stories are told of the ‘locals’ rescuing bottles of whiskey and planting them amidst the foundations of the ‘Orange Hall’ for future use.
Lienert’s Factory was twice the victim of fire. When disaster struck in 1917, one of the Lienert children was found to be the culprit. The five-year-old was sent by the coach painter to fetch some matches and was sidetracked to light a fire in a pile of tow — a fibre used for stuffing coach cushions. It completely destroyed the factory and only sterling work by the locals with buckets of water and wet blankets saved the family home in Maitland Street.
When disaster struck again in 1984, the factory was destroyed and, this time, there was no recovery. The ‘Blue Garage’ where the Education Bus Depot is, was destroyed by fire about 1921, putting the town in darkness for some time. The petrol generator which powered the two street lights was housed in there. The Station Master’s new car which was garaged there was also destroyed.
Oborn’s Bootmaker’s shop went up in flames about 1940 while Mr Oborn was chatting further up the street. He was a heavy smoker and it was suspected that a cigarette butt had set light to wrapping paper under the counter.
When Burt’s Grocery was destroyed, the shop was vacant but the fire started in the adjoining residence which was occupied at the time.
The first boarding house, owned by Mrs Geaney, was gutted in the 1960s. By then, it had become a private residence.
In May 1984 much of the equipment was lost when Cooks’ Sawmill was severely damaged by fire. Two units from the local Volunteer Fire Brigade and one from Timaru were called out and firemen fought the blaze for an hour and a half before it was extinguished.
Rob’s Milk Bar was damaged in 1988 when fire broke out in the roof. This brought about the closure of the business but it has since been restored and now operates as Cortez Leather Craft Shop.
In the days before the rivers were bridged, farmers living on the far sides were often confronted with danger when fording the rivers during a ‘fresh’. A teacher en route to the Opihi school was drowned when crossing the Te Ngawai River on horseback. Once, when Mr and Mrs L. McCormack and family from Waitohi were fording the Opihi at the fork when the river was high, the trap capsized and the family was swept downstream. One of the children was drowned.
Mr Reginald Orton was drowned when fording the river on his way home from Temuka.
Floods have been frequent in the district from very early times. In 1877, a major flood swept through the district washing away part of the Walton Mill and adjoining homestead with the loss of four occupants.
In 1928 a report in the Timaru Herald states: “Nowadays the Opihi and Te Ngawai Rivers are thoroughly controlled by an extensive system of protection banks and works and the risk of loss through flood is practically nil.” How wrong!!
February 1945 and April 1951 brought floods described as “the worst ever to hit the district” with much devastation of farmland and damage to riverside homes. Bridge approaches were washed away and many people were isolated by surrounding water and had to be rescued.
Protection work undertaken by the Catchment Board strengthened the flood banks even more but, again, the power of water proved greater than that of man. On 13 March 1986 when over 200mm of rain fell in the foothills within a few hours early in the morning, the worst flood in the history of South Canterbury resulted.
The School Creek could not contain the flow and homes in Kumera Terrace were threatened and had to be evacuated. As the rain continued, the water kept rising and the Opihi River was overflowing at the Saleyards Bridge. Attempts at sandbagging proved futile.
Then the Te Ngawai River burst its banks above Hammond’s Road and a torrent of water began to flow across country towards the township. A helicopter was called in to rescue Roger and Bruce Lundie who were marooned in a tree. They and their father, David Lundie, had been swept away whilst trying to move stock. David Lundie fell victim to the deluge and was the only fatality of the 1986 flood.
People in the western part of Pleasant Point had to be evacuated. Tractors and four-wheel drive vehicles came to the rescue until the water became too deep. People then climbed onto roof-tops and, at the peak of the operation five helicopters were in service ferrying them to the Main Street and dry land. Rescues continued all day.
When the water approached the hotel corner, at 11.15 am. Civil Defence emergency was declared and all on the flat were ordered to evacuate. Because of the damage to the water and sewerage systems, it was decided to evacuate the whole population, flooded out or not, to Timaru. The Army was called in and road blocks were established on the perimeters of the township, manned by police, volunteer firemen, and soldiers until, three days later, when Pleasant Point residents were able to return to their homes.
For some, there was no home to return to and for many more, the mess and destruction was horrific with mud deposited by up to a metre of water which had raged through the houses ravaging everything in its path.
The ensuing clean-up will for ever remain in the memories of those affected but so will the community spirit that prevailed throughout. The local community rallied together with the Red Cross, Civil Defence. Salvation Army, Police, Fire Brigade, Army to help restore the havoc the flood had created.
There have been occasional severe snow storms which have brought disruption and hardship to the district. In 1945, just months after a severe flood, Pleasant Point was blanketed in snow on 14 July which, in places, was three feet deep. The resultant loss of communications, electric power and disruptions to water and transport services remained a problem for months to come. Frosts which followed exacerbated the water supply difficulties so that the school had to close. Power cuts sometimes lasted for weeks and housewives were driven to seek alternative means of cooking and heating.
August lst, 1975 was another disaster day for the district when a Nor’wester of hurricane velocity left destruction in its wake. Trees that had stood for decades were uprooted and flattened; roofs in the township and on farms were lifted and power and telephone lines severed. It was many weeks before communications were restored to some outlying areas.
In the last decade, severe drought conditions have impoverished the land and its husbander's. Parched pastures, shortage of feed, restrictions on water usage, have necessitated drastic reductions in stock numbers. The resultant economic losses suffered by the farming community has reflected on the business community in the township.