and welcome to
A short history of a beautiful city.
At the north western foot of the Blue Mountains, upon the Great Western Highway, sits the city of Lithgow. After the crossing of the Blue Mountains by Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and Charles Wentworth in 1813, many roads were constructed across the range to open up the Western Plains. Lithgow was named by Hamilton Hume whilst seeking one such route in 1827. He named the valley Lithgow's Valley, in honour of William Lithgow, the Governor's Private Secretary, and the future Auditor General of New South Wales. The Lithgow region settlement developed as an outpost on the route devised by Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1832. Known as Victoria Pass, this crossing passed straight through Hartley and into Lithgow.
The first European settler in the district was the Scotsman Andrew Brown, who commenced pastoral activities in 1824. Development of the settlement was very slow. By the 1860s, a total of only four families had settled in the region. These early settlers were aware of the abundance of coal in the area, and put it to use for domestic fuel. Andrew Brown employed coal commercially for use in his flour mill during the 1850s. However full commercial exploitation of coal could only arrive with an improvement in transportation to Sydney.
In 1869 this obstacle was eliminated with the completion of a railway line across the mountains. The Zig Zag railway was considered to be an engineering miracle in the colonial world. The potential for domestic and international trade was envisaged, and coal mines in the region proliferated. The population soared, and Lithgow experienced a great boom period.
Coal mining was not the only industry to flourish. With reserves of fuel at hand, Lithgow attracted all industries which required power. A pipe and pottery works, brick works, flour mill, clothing factory, two breweries, even a small arms factory commenced operation in the region. By the turn of the century the first steel produced in the colony was turned out from a plant at Eskbank. Thomas Mort opened a meat processing and chilling factory, and copper was transported from as far north west as Cobar for refining, to no less than three refining companies in Lithgow. Lithgow was incorporated into a municipality in 1889.
Unfortunately, Lithgow's great distance from both markets and raw materials eventually brought about its decline. The coal industry was too dependant upon light tariffs, the copper was too far from the mines, and even with the Zig Zag railway, the Sydney markets were too far a distance. After World War One the main steel works - the last surviving productive industry - moved to Port Kembla, and the depression years were sorely felt in the region.
The 1980s saw a resurgence of light commercial and industrial activity in the district. In 1977 it was incorporated with the shire of Blaxland to become the Greater City of Lithgow. The coal deposits of the area have become the focus of industry again. The once abandoned Zig Zag railway has been restored by enthusiasts, and the spectacular descent of this steam relic does not fail to mystify passengers today. Another thoroughfare of inspiring beauty is the Bells Line of Road, from Lithgow to Windsor. The township harbours a great pride towards its past, evident from the beautiful restoration work on its many colonial public and private buildings. Many buildings in Lithgow are either listed for conservation with the National Trust or already have been conserved. Also of historical interest in the area are the nearby townships of Hartley and Bowenfels.
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This page is Copyright © August 1998 by Pat Cox
Updated June 2004