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Peterborough Heritage Walk

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by Steve Hudson (subscribe)
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Published June 19th 2017
Where has this grand old town gone to?
Stepping onto the pavement on the main street in Peterborough and the distinction is immediately striking. Perhaps not unexpected, but the extent took me by surprise. I should have guessed that streets that back onto railway lines are visually different depending upon the side of the road you are on. I am at the Town Carriage Museum and about to start the Heritage Walk through this mid-north town that was once one of the busiest railway towns in country South Australia.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Peterborough - Steve Hudson


The Peterborough Information Centre is one of a kind. I've seen Information Centres in all sorts of buildings, but this is the first one that I have seen inside a railway carriage where a series of photos, items and a video display provide visitors with a unique insight into the early days of Peterborough. While outside, Bob the Railways Dog looks on like he did for years towards the end of the 19th Century.

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Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Town Carriage Museum - Steve Hudson


One of the key things that we learn is that the town was first settled in 1875, was named Petersburg, was subdivided in 1879, was named as the location for the significant east-west and north-south railway junction in 1880, and saw the first of many buildings appear from 1880 onwards. One of those early buildings was the original Petersburg Institute which soon became the town's strikingly coloured first Town Hall.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Old Town Hall - Steve Hudson


Deemed inadequate after 30 years, Council set about building a new Town Hall next door, a Town Hall that was opened in 1927. By this time, the town had reluctantly adopted the anti-German sentiment that was in existence at the time, and changed its name from Petersburg to Peterborough, despite many of the town's pioneers and chief benefactors being of German heritage. The size and grandeur of the new Town Hall attracted much comment at the time and had a significant impact on the town's finances for some time especially given the difficulties in selling the original Town Hall.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Town Hall - Steve Hudson


Continuing west alongside the Main Street the southern side of the Main Street is complete with statues, pavers, memorials, rotundas and well kept gardens all bordering alongside the east-west railway line. The effort in acknowledging the past service by townspeople as part of the Railways or as participants in the various wars or even just as Scouts is loud, welcome and inviting.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Main Street Memorials - Steve Hudson


By contrast, the northern side of the Main Street is former home of the shops, stores, hotels, banks and the Capitol Theatre, all of which would have been privately owned and popular locations during Peterborough's heyday. However today, the story is somewhat different with a combination of tired buildings, commercialism and the passing of time in a town that is a lot smaller today than it once was.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Shopfront - Steve Hudson


Like many country towns, hotels were near mandatory, and Peterborough has four of them along the Main Street with the Peterborough Hotel, Junction Hotel, Federal Hotel and Railway Hotel. The latter hotel became famous in 1949 when two lives were lost in an apparent murder-suicide in one of its rooms. Articles from this event are on display throughout the hotel's dining room to facilitate speculative conversation, and to cause wonder about the existence of ghosts in the Hotel.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Railway Hotel - Steve Hudson


A beautiful mural on the side of the former Co-op Store leads us onto the back streets of Peterborough where numerous churches dominate, some still in use today, and others being privately owned and loved. A bit further down the street, the original District Council Office of Peterborough stands out, but for the wrong reasons. It is clearly a building that has failed to make heritage listings and has failed to find a loving owner.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Former Council Office - Steve Hudson


Saint Cecilia's or the Bishops Palace stands out as a stately building of grandeur on the southern side of town. Built by the original Bishop to Port Augusta in 1913 prior to his passing in 1923, the home was used for many years by Mary Mackillop's Sisters of Joseph before passing into private hands and being renamed St Cecilia's. The home has been known to feature some paranormal activity, and regularly hosts dinner and murder / mystery tours.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
St Cecilia's - Steve Hudson


But Peterborough was and always will be known as a railways town, one that prospered during the chaos of multiple gauged railways and being at the junction of multi-directional Commonwealth and State-owned railways. Sadly the original Peterborough Railway Station is no longer and has been replaced by a (now) largely empty besser brick building and a platform shelter that would look more at home on a metropolitan rail line during the 1970's. And indeed it was in 1970 that a sad ceremony was held to unveil a small plaque to commemorate the standardisation of the east-west line, one of the significant days last century that drove another nail in the coffin for the railways of Peterborough.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
That Plaque - Steve Hudson


The Peterborough Heritage Walk is around 4km long and takes around 90 minutes to complete. Further details are available online at the Visit Peterborough website or at the Visitor Information Centre in the Main Street at Steamtown where details are available of many of the other attractions in Peterborough including the multi-award winning Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre.

Peterborough Heritage Walk, Petersburg, Capitol Theatre, Petersburg Railway Station, Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, St Cecilias, Ghost Tours, Railway Hotel, Willing Bush Retreats
Old Co-op Mural - Steve Hudson
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Why? A former grand old railways town
When: Anytime
Where: Peterborough, South Australia
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Interesting place!!
by Diana (score: 2|444) 6 days ago
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