21 October 2022

Crookwell turns intact heritage to its advantage

| John Thistleton
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Sandie and James Salmond after buying the Masonic Hall in Crookwell. A design is underway in preparation for a development application for a nine-room boutique hotel and restaurant, subject to council approval. Photo: Supplied.

A former Sydney furniture designer and chef is proposing to turn Crookwell’s 1885 Masonic Hall into a boutique hotel and restaurant.

Smitten with the farming village’s authenticity James Salmond bought the hall for $460,000 and proposes a $2 – $3 million redevelopment. He aims to add to the resurgent interest in heritage buildings and homegrown produce in Crookwell and district.

Farmers, artists and small and large businesses have formed retail collectives in historic buildings on either side of the main street which are crowded with people from the district and visitors every weekend. The Laggan Pantry restaurant is always fully booked.

“One of the elements people are looking for as they move from the cities, is a town that is still authentic to what a country town should be,” James said.

Big, wide, tree-lined streets and unspoiled architecture have enchanted him.

“The beauty of Crookwell is that it didn’t have a lot of 1960s, 70s or 80s – dare I say – bastardisations of homes,” he said.

“Ninety per cent of Crookwell’s homes within the major blocks around the main street actually are authentic to the period of which they were first built,” he said. “This is far better than today’s fast-food approach to architecture, evident towards Sydney in areas that have six designs, four colours and 4000 houses. They are all made based on one thing, profitability for the developer.”

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Crookwell is making the most of its rural charm. Upper Lachlan Shire councillor and Alpaca farmer Susan Reynolds and farmer and former food technologist Sandy Warren opened Crookwell Emporium in February last year, with 19 traders under the one roof.

Susan said Upper Lachlan attracted a lot of creative people.

“Whether they’re rappers, musicians, artists or just folks who are very good at growing produce and making product, this lends itself to us having a differentiator – stores and an art gallery that actually support local artists,” she said.

Gardeners and farmers are turning their veggies into homegrown pickles and sauces, cold-pressed olive oil, truffles, honey, organic lavender, woollen and Alpaca products which are sold in the shop.

One of the traders designs, knits and hand-dyes garments and makes accessories to complement them, another woman knits heirloom collection-type toys, a woman paints vases, candleholders and glassware, another one makes coin purses, handbags, phone bags, earrings and children’s clothing.

Taste of Crookwell: Sandy Warren with homemade chocolates and other handmade products at Crookwell Emporium. Photo: Susan Reynolds.

“There is so much love going into growing and making these products,” Susan said. “The quality is there, when it is grown on farm they harvest it when it is ripe, turn it into product and sell it. It doesn’t sit on a shelf for six or 12 months.”

Susan said retailers take an interest in their century-old, charming buildings.

“We have repainted our building, we have an alpaca mural on the front, above our awning we have a mural of the region together with farm animals and windmills. It is creating a sense of pride in our historic buildings and giving it a different feel and atmosphere. It’s not all steel and glass.”

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From a human resources and finance background, Elizabeth ‘Billy’ Willis launched Ensemble and Co in January, 2021 in a 1930s building long known as the Arcadia. Fourteen enterprises are under the one roof, with coffee at the front and a nursery at the rear.

“A friend who owns the Arcadia business wanted a break after seven years, and it was just the right timing, everything was aligned,” Billy said.

“It’s amazing how many buildings are still with the original owners, passed down through the family,” she said.

Ensemble and Co. sells produce, homewares, clothing and has four furniture traders.

The original 1800s building, a farm trading post at the rear and general store at the front, burned down in the 1930s and was rebuilt and doubled in size.

The Arcadia now trades as Ensemble and Co, a popular destination for coffee, gifts, plants and homewares. Photo: John Thistleton.

“The family leased it out the whole time, to a bank which is why there is a safe in there,” Billy said. “It’s been a restaurant for 27 years, furniture shop and so forth. It’s nicknamed the Arcadia building because it usually has had multiple businesses in it at the one time.”

Artists, potters, metal workers, photographers, leather workers and knitters are among more than 60 local artists who sell their work and hold classes in ‘Get Creative’, another thriving collective on the corner of Goulburn and Springs Streets, Crookwell.

International travel restrictions stemming from COVID-19 have helped regional tourism, and Crookwell is making sure the focus stays on its community.

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