The following text is from an Upgrade Report 14 November 2011:
Ophir Post and Telegraph Office, built in 1886 on the main street of the tiny Central Otago settlement of Ophir, is a small but significant legacy from the town’s gold mining days that continues to operate as a post office today.
The town of Ophir, known as Blacks in its early pastoral days, sits in the spectacular rocky arid back country close to the Manuherikia River. Gold was discovered in the area in 1862 on Charles and William Black’s sheep station. The Blacks Diggings Post Office opened at the general store on 1 October 1863, with James Swanson as postmaster. The settlement had its heyday in the bustling gold mining period in the mid to late nineteenth century. Provincial superintendent James Macandrew renamed the town in 1872 recalling the Biblical Ophir from where gold was brought to the Temple at Jerusalem when it was being built by King Solomon. The township flourished with Swindon Street becoming home to a cluster of businesses and official buildings. In 1875 a small postal building was erected.
The Ophir Post and Telegraph Office was designed by the Public Works Department for the Post and Telegraph Department. It cost £323-6-9 and was constructed by contractors Leslie Arthur and Co. of Cromwell. The small building is only 24 ft. (7m) long by 17 ft. (5m) wide. It is made from unworked schist slabs, with only the blocks on the formal façade worked into blocks, and marked with squared pointing. The formal façade is cantoned with plain concrete pilasters, and an arched arcade, the base of which is linked across the front and end walls. Cast iron ventilators grilles are set into the foot of the front wall. A Post Box with VR (Victoria Regina) is set into the street frontage. The interior layout shows that the building had two rooms and an entrance porch. The porch opened into the narrow public room with a desk along one wall. The mail room had a counter, sorting bench, pigeon holes and instrument table, with a fire place on one wall. There are two small additions to the back of the building.
In 1898 the Ophir Post and Telegraph Office was downgraded an agency and placed in the hands of a local resident. It returned to full status again in 1901. A residence for the postmistress was built alongside in late 1908. In 1923 there was a return to non-classified status. The mail traffic slowly fell reflecting the shrinking population of the area, which by 1976 had declined to 57 residents, from a peak of around 600 in 1868.
The long standing postmistress, the ‘grand old lady of Ophir’ Mrs M.E. Drake, retired in 1969, having run the Post Office since 1946. The postal agency continued to operate on limited hours, with a special pictorial date stamp, with an image of a gold miner’s spade and gold pan, used to cancel mail from 1 July 1977.
As the settlement declined and the population dwindled there was concern about the future of the building. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust took over the Post Office from the New Zealand Post Office on 1 September 1976, recognizing its significance as a historic structure. The Ophir Post Office is also part of the Otago Goldfields Park heritage trail, as a link to the early postal services. Displays show the history of the Post Office and the township of Ophir. In 1982 the Ophir Post Office featured in the architectural thirty five cent stamp and first day cover issue.
The Ophir Post Office has historic and architectural significance as a government building built in a style which represents the importance of the government services, in particular the post and telegraph service to isolated communities such as Ophir. As a diminutive building designed to look imposing, Ophir Post Office has special architectural significance. The Post Office represents the nineteenth century gold rush period when Central Otago was a bustling prosperous region, the architecture reflecting the optimism and prosperity, and the heart of the historic townscape.
In 2011 the restored Ophir Post and Telegraph Office, sitting in its attractively planted garden, continues to run as a postal agency open from nine till twelve on weekdays.
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is the original citation considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
This very small Post Office, a legacy of Otago's gold mining days, was built in 1886 to serve the lively town of Ophir and surrounding districts.
The basic building material is schist and the stone masonry is well executed. A notable feature of this small building is the projecting parapet which incorporates five recessed arches, three of which contain windows. The quoins and dressings are plaster and, like the parapet, contrast with the schist walls. It is one of the most impressive and appealing of all country post offices.
Solid and substantial for such a small building the Ophir Post Office continues to operate today, an active reminder of the busier days in gold mining Central Otago. Its survival is assured now ownership of the building is in the hands of the Historic Places Trust.
Pointed and dressed stone
Extension to provide internal toilet and restoration programme
14th November 2011
Report Written By
Lois Galer, 'Ophir's Hidden Treasures'
Historic Places, July 1985, 30-32
Postal History Society of New Zealand
‘The Postal History of Blacks (Ophir)’
A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.