A History of the Sawmill Cafe
The recycling of an industrial icon. Throughout the latter half of the 19th Century, Leigh and its environs were actively logged for native timber.
These early settlers, drawn to the area by its great natural beauty and range of natural resources set about establishing the community we see today.
Among the early wave of immigrants was the Wyatt family who moved to the area from England in 1863. They quickly set up a pit sawing operation at the head of Leigh Harbour where they could be readily serviced by the coastal craft utilising the deep-water anchorage at Leigh.
With increasing workload, a steam driven saw and its associated building were constructed. Then, with improvements in land transport and inland roading the Wyatt‘s were prompted to move the operation inland to its present site in the 1930s. This transplanted building forms the core the present Sawmill Cafe's structure and elements of the original building and the entire operational vertical breakdown saw are visible in the café today.
Electricity replaced steam and the mill was gradually modernised to process the bulk volume pine plantations that replaced the dwindling stocks of local native timbers.
Two of the last great Kauri to be felled for timber were on Wyatt land and were milled here (see detailed history below). Soon however, competition from huge automated timber mills and the lack of quality native timber to process (requiring these old style saws and a trained eye), resulted in a steady decline in profitability of these small hands-on operations.
The old part of the mill was finally decommissioned in 1981 and the electric motors were removed to drive the new saws in the new shed (now the site of the accommodation).