Lithgow's History & Heritage
LITHGOW – History
From ancient rock art to engineering masterpieces, historic homes and museums Lithgow has fascinating remnants of the past that will surprise and delight you.
In 1869 the railway was completed across the Blue Mountains and this resulted in the rapid development of the Lithgow Valley which was named by in honour of William Lithgow, the first Auditor-General of New South Wales.
Following a period of industrialisation in the late 1860s and 1870s, the town of Lithgow boomed during the 1880s
Lithgow is the centre of a massive coal mining district and this lead to the establishment of Australia’s first commercially viable steel mill. The ruins of this mill are open for inspection at “Blast Furnace Park” which celebrates Lithgow’s important industrial heritage.
- Aboriginal Heritage
- European History
- Heritage Listed Sites
- Zig Zag Railway historic stations and viaducts
- Hartley Historic Site
- Esbank House Museum
- State Mine Heritage Park
- Blast Furnace Park and Lake Pillans Wetlands
- The Black Rose of Lithgow
- Lithgow Pottery
- History Avenue
- History Avenue Sculptures
- Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum
- Lithgow World War II Gun Emplacements
- Portland and the Cement Works
- Wolgan Valley and Newnes Historic Site
- Glow Worm Tunnel
- Capertee Valley and Glen Davis
The Lithgow area is the traditional home of the Wiradjuri, Gundungurra, Darug nations and there are 406 declared Aboriginal sites.
Maiyingu Marragu Rock Art Gallery
(Blackfellows Hand Art Site) is a natural rock art gallery accessed off the Wolgan Road. Stencil artworks include boomerangs, hands, and other symbols. Declared as an ‘Aboriginal Place’ it is protected under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
Mugii Murum-ban State Conservation Area
The Mugii Murum-ban State Conservation Area is named after a highly respected local Aboriginal Elder, Charlie Riley, whose Wiradjuri people have used the area for thousands of years. Mugii is a Wiradjuri name meaning a mopoke owl and Murum-ban means eldest son in Wiradjuri
Shortly after the first crossing of the Blue Mountains from Sydney by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth in 1813 and the building of the road by William Cox in 1815 the lands around Lithgow became settled and villages established.
Lithgow Valley which was named in honour of William Lithgow, the first Auditor-General of New South Wales.
As early as the 1840s, coal was being extracted and Lithgow was fuelling the new colony.
In 1869 the railway line was completed across the Blue Mountains and this resulted in the even more rapid development of the Lithgow Valley.
In the 1870s a number of ironworks companies were established along with a copper smelter, the first meat freezing works in NSW, the brickworks, and the soon to be famous Lithgow Pottery.
Lithgow became the centre of a massive coal mining district and eventually this lead to the establishment of Australia’s first commercially viable steel mill. The ruins of this mill are open for inspection at “Blast Furnace Park” which celebrates Lithgow’s important industrial heritage.
The first modern blast furnace in Australia was built in 1907 and steel was produced in Lithgow until 1928. The presence of steel was a factor in establishing a national Small Arms Factory in Lithgow which was the first modern manufacturing plant in Australia. This factory, still operating, outlasted the steelworks and has equipped the Australian army with weapons for over ninety years.
Lithgow has an extraordinary industrial heritage and there are still many opportunities to explore and learn.
Heritage Listed Sites
Lithgow has a diverse collection of heritage sites and those listed on the Register of the National Estate are:
• Former Station Master’s Residence (near the visitor information centre), a sandstone cottage designed by John Clifton and built in 1869
• Zig Zag Railway, designed by John Whitton, built by Patrick Higgins
• Ironworks Blast Furnace, Eskbank, 1875 to 1930
• Eskbank House, Bennett Street, built by Thomas Brown in 1842
• Lithgow Valley Pottery Site Kiln, 1875 to 1908
• Lithgow Court House, corner Bridge, and Mort Streets, a brick building in the Arts and Crafts style
• De La Salle Cottage (formerly Cooerwull Academy), Rabaul Street, a stone building in the Victorian Gothic Revival style, built circa 1882
• Methven, Lidsdale Road, a sandstone house built by Andrew Brown in the 1870s
• Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum
Zig Zag Railway historic stations and viaducts
The Zig Zag Railway line was part of the Main Western line and opened in 1869. It was hailed as an engineering masterpiece. The line included several short tunnels and some viaducts and allowed trains to zig-zag backward and forwards to climb into and out of the Lithgow Valley. It was a time consuming and sometimes dangerous operation and was later replaced by a direct tunnel.
Sadly the Zig Zag Heritage Railway which was formed to run on the unused section of the zig-zag track has closed, however, the infrastructure is waiting for reuse and discovery. The heritage railway may open again in the future. We hope it does.
Historic railway stations and viaducts can be found throughout the Lithgow area and the many arched viaducts along the way are fascinating.
It’s possible to follow the historic railway lines from Clarence as they wander through ever-changing landscapes to Eskbank and Lithgow and then to Bowenfels and the villages of Wallerawang, Rydal, and Tarana. To the north, Capertee on the Mudgee line is interesting and is worthwhile visiting.
Hartley Historic Site
Evidence of Australia’s early colonial history can be found and explored in the Hartley Valley. There is evidence of the first road crossing of the Blue Mountains, you can see convict-built buildings, and walk into the first courthouse west of the Blue Mountains built in 1837.
Hartley is 127 km west of the Sydney CBD and a 10km, 10-minute drive from the Lithgow Visitor Information Centre.
Hartley is located below the western escarpment of the Blue Mountains. It was once a major administrative centre and now only has a population of about 300.
Hartley contains superb examples of 19th-century architecture and is now preserved as a historic site, administered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales.
It is open to the public every day (except Christmas Day and Easter Sunday). The Hartley Historic Site is listed on the Register of the National Estate.
Esbank House Museum
The museum’s collection provides an insight into Lithgow’s social and industrial history including that of the Lithgow Pottery, Blast Furnace and Steel Works, Woollen Mills and Coal Mines.
Eskbank House has had several incarnations since its original role as home to Thomas Brown including as offices for the Steel Works and as a boarding school for girls. The furniture adorning the rooms of Eskbank House was donated by local department store owner Eric Bracey in the 1950s when he bought the property and donated it back to the people of Lithgow as a history museum. All furniture dates from the time when Thomas Brown lived in the house. Be sure to look out for the historically significant Sutton quilt.
Eskbank House was Built in 1842 for Thomas Brown, Lithgow’s first industrialist by Alexander Binning and is a fine example of early Georgian Victorian styles and features Australian Cedar and local Ashlar sandstone.
Binning came to Lithgow in 1834 and shortly afterward became a sub-inspector in the Roads Department for the construction of Cox’s Road to the west, and in 1835 became sub-inspector of bridges for the Western Division.
He received a land grant at Bowen’s Hollow (Bowenfels) and the hotel he established, once called The Royal and now called the Donnybrook, still stands today.
He designed and built houses for fellow Presbyterians Andrew Brown and Thomas Brown and, with Reverend Colin Stewart, joined them in buying the land for South Bowenfels Presbyterian Church.
Eskbank House Museum
Corner Bennett & Inch Streets Lithgow NSW 2790
(PO Box 19, Lithgow NSW 2790)
Ph 02 6351 3557
Open Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 4pm
State Mine Heritage Park
The poppet head towering above the first State government-owned coal mine signifies the struggle to bring the black diamond (coal) to the surface. The museum’s collection houses fascinating relics and stories of working life in the early coal mines.
The Park’s newest attraction is the Spectra Vision presentation Fire in the Mine, a modern-day adaptation of the Peppers Ghost illusion technique. Within the old bathhouse of the State Mine, the Spectra Vision display projects a moving image of Marion Curry, the wife of a miner, who moves through the display and shares her poignant stories of the dangers faced by miners in their everyday work.
After exploring the museum be sure to have a look in the restoration shed at the railway locomotives and rolling stock under various stages of repair.
State Mine Heritage Park
State Mine Gully Rd Lithgow NSW 2790
Ph 02 6353 1513
Open 12.00pm-4.00pm Saturday and Sunday. Group tours at any time by appointment.
Blast Furnace Park and Lake Pillans Wetlands
The towering remains of Australia’s first modern blast furnace provide a fascinating insight into the workings of the furnace and into the social life of Lithgow at the time.
Lithgow was the birthplace of the Australian iron and steel industry. Constructed in 1913, the Lithgow Blast Furnace, at its peak, produced 105,000 tonnes of pig iron produced primarily for use by the Trans-Australia Railway.
The many signs around the site provide information on Lithgow’s earliest industrial heritage. Wander along the path to Lake Pillans and enjoy some birdwatching or a quiet picnic. Lake Pillans Wetlands were built originally to store cooling water for the adjacent Blast Furnace and now provide a charming area full of birdlife, shady trees and boardwalks around the water’s edge.
The Black Rose of Lithgow
To celebrate the first smelting of iron, the Lithgow Black Rose was made in 1876 by Joseph Hallam from the first iron produced. More black roses were made as ornaments for coffins in the 1800s and you can see examples of this fine craftsmanship on display at Eskbank House Museum
Blast Furnace Park
Inch Street, Lithgow
The Lithgow Valley Pottery started operations in the 1870s and was responsible for a wide range of domestic and industrial ceramic ware from butter dishes and jugs to toilet bowls!
A collection of Lithgow Pottery can be seen at Eskbank House Museum.
More information Environment NSW
Lithgow History Avenue is a representation of the important milestones in the history of Lithgow captured in sculpture. There are 30 pieces of works along Inch Street, each of which is an opportunity to learn more about the history of Lithgow.
The Lithgow History Avenue Project is the result of a partnership between Lithgow City Council and Glencore Coal Community Social Involvement Program.
Local metal artist Phil Spark was engaged in 2012 to develop and implement the public art concept for History Avenue. His works now stretch from the top of Inch Street, past the Eskbank Station and Eskbank House to the entrance of Blast Furnace Park.
‘Industrious Lithgow’ is acknowledged in the sites marked by the sculptures. Some, such as the Blast Furnace and the collieries, link to an energetic industrialism that is now past.
Others, such as the Workman’s Club, the Greyhound Racing Track, and Eskbank House, remain part of Lithgow’s social, cultural and sporting present.
As walk through Lithgow History Avenue, or browsing a site will bring alive the history of Lithgow for all to enjoy.
History Avenue Sculptures
Sculptures along History Avenue with the year marked and the event featured:
1813 Crossing of the Blue Mountains
1836 Charles Darwin Visits Wallerowang Homestead
1842 Thomas and Mary Brown Move into Eskbank House
1851 Gold Discovered near Bathurst
1851 The Great Exhibition opens in London
1868 Coal Mined Commercially in Lithgow
1870 Eskbank Station Opens
1875 Iron Making Begins at Thomas Brown’s property “Eskbank”
1875 Lithgow Public School Opens
1878 Rickard J Inch opens the first Brewery in Lithgow
1879 First Pots Made by James Silcock at the Lithgow Pottery
1880 First Chilled Meat sent to England from Lithgow by Thomas Mort
1880 Ned Kelly Hanged
1887 Joseph Cook arrives in Lithgow
1887 Lithgow Workmen’s Club Formed
1891 Lithgow Co-Operative Society Formed
1901 Queen Victoria Dies
1901 First steel pour in Australia at Eskbank
1907 Railway to Newnes completed
1910 Lithgow Trades Hall Picture Palace opens
1910 Ten Tunnels Deviation of Zig Zag completed
1911 Lithgow Riot
1912 Small Arms Factory Begins Production
1913 Joseph Cook becomes Prime Minister of Australia
1915 Gallipoli Landings
1921 Steel Works Owner George Hoskins buys land at Port Kembla
1928 Lithgow Greyhound Racing Club Founded
1928 Hoskins Church Completed
1929 Demolition of Blast Furnace Begun
Inch Street, Lithgow
Ph 1300 760 276
Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum
The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum holds the largest collection of small arms in Australia.
In 1912, the Government built the Small Arms Factory in Lithgow to produce weapons and small arms. The factory was the first modern manufacturing facility in Australia. The Museum presents a visual journey into the social and engineering history of this renowned facility.
Sewing machines, mixmaster parts, and golf clubs!
It is not well known that the Small Arms Factory not only manufactured a range of weaponry but was also responsible for making other metal components for many household items. This is the first Pinnock sewing machine made at the factory.
Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum
Methven St , Lithgow, 2km west of Lithgow PO
Ph 02 6351 4452
Open Tues to Thurs 9.30am to 2pm, Weekends, public & school holidays 10am to 4pm. Groups by appointment.
Lithgow World War II Gun Emplacements
The Lithgow anti-aircraft gun stations at South Bowenfels are the only known inland heavy anti-aircraft gun stations of their type in NSW. The gun stations were constructed during World War II to protect the Lithgow Small Arms Factory as well as Lithgow’s important mining, manufacturing, and transport industries. Following the entry of Japan into World War II and improvements in aircraft technology, there were growing concerns about the vulnerability of inland areas.
Portland and the Cement Works
The heritage listed buildings of the old cement works can be viewed from Williwa Street in the town of Portland which was established around the workings. Travel around the boundary of the works to the north and you will find two bottle kilns. They were built in the early 1890s and were the first cement-making kilns west of the Blue Mountains.
Wolgan Valley and Newnes Historic Site
A trip along the Wolgan Valley is a spectacular journey in itself. Closely surrounded by towering escarpments, the road culminates at the former township of Newnes which was once a thriving oil shale works. At its peak, about 2,000 people lived there. Fascinating ruins tell a story of innovation and industry. Explore the coke-making bee-hive kilns. The former Newnes Hotel provides interpretative information.
Glow Worm Tunnel
Situated some 45km from Lithgow on the Newnes Plateau can be found a former railway tunnel which now contains glow worms. Drive through a first tunnel until you come to a carpark. A 2km return walk will take you to the Glow Worm Tunnel. The tunnel can also be accessed from the Wolgan Valley via an 8km return walking track.
Capertee Valley and Glen Davis
A journey through the widest enclosed canyon in the world takes you through rural pastures and forests to the village of Glen Davis which was established around shale oil works which produced gasoline. The operation was an important strategic resource during World War II. Remnants of this history can be seen in the village layout. Tours of the shale oil works are by arrangement. Also worthwhile is a visit to Glen Alice and its church and cemetery.