The Athenree Homestead Trust was officially formed in 1995. Many years both before and after that date involved meetings and working through documentation, legalities and frustration with all the various authorities that required so much detail regarding our intention to restore the homestead to its original glory.
The story, and real possibility of the Homestead being restored, began back in 1986 when John Rapley and his wife Colleen purchased the property. John’s family had previously owned the property from 1921-1946 and he had many happy memories of the days when the Homestead was a wonderful well kept family home.
The house was still lived in and in good order until 1952 when unfortunately the new owners allowed it to fall into disrepair, later using it as a hay shed. The building slowly deteriorated to a state where, according to most people, it was well beyond repair.
Back in the 1940’s John Rapley and his friend Snow Browne were students at Katikati District High School, and every day they walked past the house on their way to catch the train at the Athenree Railway Station. Even though they had watched the house deteriorate, they still held a dream that it could be restored, and in May 1986 John and Colleen purchased the property so it was back with the Rapley family name again.
Over the next few years John Rapley and Snow Browne slowly worked on ideas to restore the Homestead to its former glory. A small group of other like minded people with a sense of its history shared their dream but it was a huge project to contemplate and the years slipped by.
In 1994 a further title was issued to the Rapley’s dividing the property in to three lots. One lot, containing 2.5 hectares, stood the Athenree Homestead.
During the previous decades all the lovely old homes in the district had either been pulled or burnt down so the restoration of the Homestead became even more important. Meetings were held and the possibility of saving Athenree became a crusade. The first step was to convince the Western Bay of Plenty District Council of the importance of the Homestead, not only as a historic house but also because Captain Hugh and Adela Stewart had built the house and were its original owners.
Captain Hugh Stewart was brother to George Vesey Stewart, who was the founder of the Katikati Settlement. Hugh’s wife, Adela Stewart, had written a book called “My Simple Life In N.Z” and it covered the Stewart’s daily life for the 28 years that they lived at Athenree from their arrival on the ‘Lady Jocelyn in 1878, until they returned to England in 1906. The book was a very valuable social history for the whole district.
In May 1995 after much persuasion the Western Bay Of Plenty District Council purchased the property as a Local Purpose Reserve [Historic Homestead]. The Athenree Homestead Trust was formed and the feasibility of the restoration was subjected to intense scrutiny with many voices against the idea in case it became a liability on the ratepayers. Even though the Trust was now a legal entity there were still many obstacles to overcome with numerous documents and plans to be completed, let alone fund raising activities.
In 1999 after many years of applications to various sources we were absolutely thrilled to receive $65,000 from the Waikato Community Trust. This money gave us the boost that we needed and enabled the house to be re-piled and re-roofed, giving the building a very long overdue sense of revival. This made the whole project a much more viable proposition and awakened a new enthusiasm from the community. During the past ten years many successful fund raising events have been held enabling the house to have renovations on a continual basis to the many rooms in the building.
Today the building of the five missing rooms at the rear of the house is being carried out and the shell of these rooms should be completed by the end of November 2018 – thanks to a major grant from TECT and also funds raised by various volunteer projects.