From it's beginings in 1865 until about 1908 Peel Forest was mainly a saw-milling village. From then on it proved cheaper to import timber from Australia than to buy from the local market. The boom was over, and the bushmen looked for other jobs.
Most of the early sawmillers drew their supplies from the Mount Peel private storehouse. It was difficult enough to keep that stocked, with everything coming in by dray across the river, which was often in flood and impassable. Two stores opened in the district within a few years of each other, one on the northern edge of the bush, and the other on the southern. One was built and owned by Boyd near the Cracroft ferry on the south bank of the river. The other was up in the Scotsburn bush where Sam Goodwin lived at the "Wattie" alongside the burn there. His wife was Rachel, a grand daughter of William Irvine who built the "Wattie." Goodwin's store was in a little hut nearby.
Boyd's clients were mostly the passengers on the ferries, and the clients at the Scotsburn store were the sawmillers and their families. Later Goodwin bought out Boyd and took over the accommodation house; "Marshalls." In the late 1860s, Mr and Mrs Andrews lived in a pretty little house with a red lattice-work verandah, just up the road from the present store. An item on an ancient account, amongst the flour and the sugar and the tapioca, read "2 hat pins I penny."
The present store, built in 1970 by Sam Burrows, replaces a one room shop erected in 1877 by Robert Button, and enlarged in 1880. It is linked in history with a hollow in the bank across the road. The hollow was a sawpit, and there in his mill Button cut the timber for that first store. In it the Peel Forest Post Office was opened on the 1st of January 1878. In 1893 the first telephone call; with due ceremony, was put through from Peel Forest to Geraldine, from that same little room, grandly styled the "Peel Forest Post and Telegraph Office." Mr Button was the first Postmaster.
Mails were carried from Rangitata to Peel Forest, and vice versa on three days a week. All the village gathered at the store, and the world's problems were solved. Robert Morrison of Geraldine, bought the store in 1884. One of his managers was C. J. Morris. He was an Englishman, but had been trained in a Parisian menswear shop; he came straight to Peel Forest on landing in New Zealand. His first day of delivering groceries began with harnessing up the old carthorse. This was a large, rangy beast, seeming huge in the loose box. "I prayed hard, Mr Robert, I did, on my knees in the corner there. He didn't seem so big then, and I got the bridle on."
Mr McKay was one of the early owners of the 1900s. Mrs McKay had been a lecturer in mathematics at Edinburgh University. While her husband was delivering stores at Blandswood one day, he met Tripp. They talked of Bess, the carthorse. Tripp described all her good points. They were many; he had bred her. It was all too much for Bess, for there and then with dignity exemplifying her breeding, she quietly dropped dead in the shafts.
At one stage, the store, owned then by the Turtons, became mainly a guest house, and Mrs Turton's home-made bread was well known. She was also often called out to attend to cases of sickness in the village. Mr Turton, running to investigate wild screams up the road, found be had to pull bee-stings from old Croker's nether regions, when he'd sat on a swarm. The Marsh family followed the Turtons, and it was their daughter who was "mail girl," in all weathers and for many years on the Rangitata Gorge mail run. The Fodens, the Rutherfords and the Lockes, respectively, succeeded the Marshs, and Mr Locke took over the mail run. Mrs Rutherford was a tall and stately lady. Customers felt they received a benediction with the pound of tea she handed to them. There was never a mistake in Mrs Locke's perfectly hand-written accounts.
Adapted from Phyllis Kerr's Tarahaoa: history, story and legend of Peel Forest, published by the Peel Forest Park Board in 1972.