Blackwood Vale, Park, View, Hill or Estate?
Blackwood takes its name from the dark limbs of the native trees particularly casuarina stricta (sheoak) and eucalyptus microcarpa (grey box gum) growing down the hillsides. The Blackwood tree, (acacia melanoxylon) is not native to this district. Perhaps the undefined boundaries of vegetation account for the name of Blackwood being used anywhere between Belair and Coromandel Valley.
Parts of the present-day suburb were previously known as Belair Park, Blackwood Estate, Blackwood Hill, Blackwood Park, and Eastview.The earliest evidence of the name dates from 1853 when William Dawbiney's death was recorded at "Blackwood Vale Farm". In fact one of the early subdivisions of today's Blackwood was offered as Belair West around Woodleigh Street. Hence we have Blackwood District Community Hospital in the "beautiful air" of Belair, Blackwood schools in Eden Hills. Blackwood Vale Farm was in present day Glenalta and Blackwood Estate was in Hawthorndene. Also in Hawthorndene is the controversial Blackwood Forest (which began in 1908 as the Blackwood Experimental Orchard) and the Belair Hotel opened by Robert Burfield started out as the Blackwood Inn in 1869.
The boundary of present day Blackwood follows the railway south from Laffers Road along Main Road to opposite the Davies-Thomas Reserve and leaves it at Plymouth Road which forms the southern boundary. It then doglegs on Coromandel Parade into Cumming Street and Craigburn Road. The western boundary is hard to describe as it follows the old section boundary between Blackwood Hill Reserve and Sturt Gorge Recreation Park to the railway. It then runs north through Wittunga Botanic Garden almost to Gulfview Road and recently has been changed to skirt around the edge of Section 2203 to include a council reserve adjoining Watiparinga Reserve and Banksia Crescent. Finally the northern boundary twists and turns along Gloucester Ave, Grevillea Way, Gum Grove, and Neate Ave to Gratton St.
Land Grants for this area were not issued until the early 1850s and then no one held them for long, although by the end of the decade most of the sections had a dwelling on them.
Blackwood was described as "poor scrub land" the area along the ridge now carrying Main Road was surrounded by steep gullies and lacked surface water making it difficult to farm or shepherd stock. In the 19th century long term residents of Blackwood had other occupations, like Thomas Proctor who lived in the area for at least 20 years and was an agricultural labourer, possibly working in Coromandel Valley.
Daniel Johnson, a bullock driver would have been among the many who carted timber and firewood down to town and returning ('backloading') with supplies for the isolated settlers. Although described in 1883 as a "most illiterate man and can neither read or write", he bought much of the land south of the railway. In fact Johnson Parade ends where "Johnson's Cottage" of 4 rooms is marked on an early map. Perhaps it was Daniel and his mates Mrs Ann Shephard referred to, when she protested to Council upon learning of a proposal for the road that bears her name. She stated, "it will give me a great deal of trouble to keep much more fencing in order, knowing from experience that fences by the road side are so liable to be broken through by the carelessness of the people driving the bullock drays."
The railway had a profound effect on the development on this area and led to land speculation by syndicates of "gentlemen". Key figures were Richard Searle, draper, George P (later Sir) Doolette, (who later made his fortune speculating in the Broken Hill and Western Australian mines) and Member of Parliament the Hon. John Carr. The latter formed the Hills Land and Investment Company which bought up land along the proposed railway route through the Adelaide Hills from the 1870s.
There was a flurry of subdivision during the 1880s most of which were no more than drawings on promotional plans. Concessional railway fares linked to the value of the houses gave people incentives to some to build substantial mansions, like Mr Carr's bluestone two storied house on Coromandel Parade.
Eastview subdivision east of Coromandel Parade between Edgcumbe Parade and Keith Road gave rise to some interesting split-level houses and yet included the simplicity of Gamble's Cottage built in 1902.
In 1882 Daniel Hewett moved with his family from Clarendon and employed a team of men to build houses around the area. It was claimed in 1914 that over they had built half the houses in the district when there were over 200 occupiers listed in the Council Assessment Book. At that time an architect, eight bricklayers, two builders, 11 carpenters, a draftsman, four masons, a painter, three plasters, a plumber, two electricians lived in Blackwood. The four carters who carted building stone and bricks from the Eden Hills Works also listed.
Many professional people lived in the cool of the hills and used the train to commute to Adelaide, as the roads were so bad. However, once home there they had to stay until the next morning as there were no late passenger trains to the city. This social isolation from the city life led to discussions by the commuters as to what could be done to improve local social activities. A committee was formed and in 1903 they built an institute called the Blackwood, Coromandel and Belair Boy's Club. Clubrooms were also built and they were open almost every night of the week. The Literary Society division of the committee produced a monthly edition of "The Blackwood Magazine" in 1914. The club particularly benefited the youth of Blackwood, "where the bracing effects of the climate seem to produce an extra supply of surplus energy, and the need was strongly felt of a channel where this energy could be expressed more fittingly than by the little acts of mischief of which some of us were the constant victims." Sport and intellectual activities filled the lives of the community under this umbrella until 1977 by which time the old wood and iron hall was replaced by the Recreation Centre on the old site.
"Blackwood is beautiful to-day." Begins this ageless description published in 1914. "But unless care be taken some of the beauty will vanish as time goes on, and, with the erection of new buildings, the trees bordering her roads disappear." A residential committee, with Council's approval began planting about 100 trees along Coromandel Parade, spaced 50 feet apart commenced at Mr RB Reid's corner and continued to, and perhaps beyond Mr Davis' house.
"Deep" drainage curbed bitumen roads and supermarkets were not the expectations of residents for another fifty years. Nineteenth century cottages and villas built from local sandstone are few and far between, north of Shephard's Hill Road but more have survived on the south side.
The locals considered Blackwood a country town or a village until the 1960s when, like a teenager, change was rapid and unpredictable. Main Road is unrecognizable from a generation ago, although a curse to commuters the roundabout at Fiveways is the focal point of the commercial area as it stretches away along three main roads.
Bungalows from the 1920s again are scattered and tend to be close to Main Road, many today housing small businesses. The 1920s profile of Jones' Butcher's shop, (now a hi-fi retailer), the Uniting Church and the Soldiers Memorial are still familiar features from which past residents can take their bearings. They may remember the Jones family in the street names of Clarence, Alison and Archibald which now subdivide their old stock holding paddock.
Today, away from the bustle along Main Road one can enjoy shaded walks through the quieter residential areas with occasional pockets of "poor scrub land" still rich with now valued native vegetation. Or one can enjoy the more manicured Hewett Sports Ground, Blackwood Bowling Club or Wittunga Botanic Garden. Views of the gulf are refreshing from Gulfview Road and the Sturt Producers cold store in Station Road is a remnant of the times when orchards supplied fresh fruit for the city which left the nearby Blackwood Railway Station, "the first station built in the hills". Blackwood has been the home of WJ Adey, Director of Education 1929-1939, explorer Larry A Wells, who was killed by a train, anthropologist Norman Tindale, and artist Anslie Roberts as well as many others.
See Blackwood Chronology (5516 kb) for more information.