When you visit Caccia Birch House, make sure you stop by the Coach House to view the permanent archive display of the property’s history.
The original house is believed to have been built in 1895 for Norwegian saw-miller Jacob Nannestad and his family – it is present by the end of the 1895-96 Palmerston North Borough Council rating year. The Scandinavian influence is evident in architect Ludolf Georg West’s design. The property once stood on over 20 acres and incorporated the Hokowhitu Lagoon, which is now owned by Palmerston North City Council.
In 1903, John Henderson Pollock Strang bought the property and called it “Woodhey”. Strang was an affluent Englishman who had developed substantial business interests in Manawatū after his arrival in New Zealand. The family made major additions to the house to accommodate staff and add to the living area. On part of the property situated on the opposite side of the lagoon, they established a polo ground and John Strang and his brothers became leading members of the Manawatū Polo Club. In 1905, he added stables to the coach house for his horses.
“Woodhey” was leased to the Crown in 1908 for the Governor Lord Plunket and his family. During this time the Strangs holidayed in England, returning to the house in 1911.
In 1921, the house was sold to William and Maud Caccia Birch, who were retiring from farming in the Taihape and Marton districts. Mr and Mrs Caccia Birch resided at “Woodhey” until William’s death in 1936. Subsequently, Maud (nee Keiller) built a new home in Marton. When she was unable to find a buyer for “Woodhey”, the family gifted the property to the Crown to be used in the war effort and it subsequently had a variety of uses.
In 1941, the Army used the house as accommodation barracks for Home Guard Officers who were training at Massey. After the war finished, a veteran nurses’ convalescent home was established by the Palmerston North Hospital Board and it remained in use until the late 1950s.
In 1960, Victoria University set up offices and lecture rooms for tertiary education outpost in Palmerston North. This was amalgamated with Massey Agricultural College in 1964 to become Massey University.
The property continued to be used by the university and later by the Palmerston North Teachers’ College until the late 1960s. The house had become run down, in severe disrepair and was derelict by the mid ’70s. After a lot of lobbying and fundraising, the property eventually came into the ownership of Palmerston North City Council in 1983.
In 1991, the restoration began.
The majority of the work was spread over four years and maintenance is ongoing. The Council set up a Caccia Birch Trust Board with a deed that ensures the property is well preserved, maintained and available for use by the whole community. The business was set up in 1993 and has been successful in the conference venue and weddings sector.
In 2021, the governance and operational management of Caccia Birch House was transferred from the Trust Board to the City Council. In 2022, the Trust Board was retained, with an advisory group also proposed to ensure a community voice is retained in the Council’s operation of Caccia Birch.