Prior to the discovery of gold north of Bathurst in 1851, passage across the mountains road tended to be a relatively considered activity. Many travellers had their own horses thereby ensuring they could get across the mountains in two days. Haulage contractors with bullock teams were used to being self sufficient in the week or so it took them for a crossing.
All this changed with the discovery of gold north of Bathurst in the autumn of 1851. In the mayhem that followed the road across the Mountains from Sydney to Bathurst was packed with would be gold seekers in various states of preparation and diverse speeds of transit.
These travellers often had no choice but to “accept the accommodation afforded by the overcrowded wayside inns in those parts.”
With demand exceeding supply, the conditions were primed for additional service providers to start up businesses along the Western Road.
As one report noted in 1853 in a trip across the mountains “there are many beautiful little inns which the coaches either pass altogether or stop at for a few minutes, where a person travelling ... could make himself particularly comfortable.”
In the longer term these new start ups meant competition for the established places like the Kings Arms Inn at Twenty Mile Hollow with the advantage of its precious liquor licence.
In the opening years of the 1850s however, lack of trade was definitely not an issue that the well established mountain innkeepers needed to worry about.
1855 was a pivotal year in the history of 20 Mile Hollow. It was in that year that the absentee landlord of 16 years – Michael Hogan – profitably sold his 50 acre property to William Buss and his wife Bridget for the sum of £1040.
This meant that new live in owners arrived on site armed with a range of ambitions to upgrade and develop the full potential of the premises at a time when the initial pulse of gold seeker traffic was dropping back in favour of less hectic but more predictable patterns of commercial activity.
To help fund the significant property improvements he undertook, Buss took out a mortgage of £500 in 1858.
Coinciding with – and even possibly influencing their decision to purchase the property – was the move then underway to relocate the central mountains lock up from Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls) down to the vacant block of land next door immediately west of the inn.
This was the same block of land that had been the location of a sly grog venue run by William and Mary James in the early 1830s.
The construction of the new lock up there may have been hastened by an incident in late 1854 whereby three convicted felons in the process of being conveyed by the gold escort had tunnelled out of the lock up then located up the road to the west at Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls).
As a newspaper report dryly noted “Delinquents are captured at considerable trouble, prosecuted at great expense and as now appears to be the rule, forwarded to the Blue Mountains to be turned loose upon society.”
The construction of a new lock up facility at 20 Mile Hollow presumably went some way to addressing these failings, while at the same time positioning the location as a crucial staging depot for the gold escorts.
Two months after the official railway opening party travelled past the Kings Arms Inn en route to Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls) in late August 1867, William Buss died at home aged 59.
Over the previous twelve years, he and his wife Bridget had made significant improvements to the property since purchasing it from Michael Hogan in 1855 for £1040.
The results of their efforts are evident both in the 1863 sale advertisement resulting from a short lived attempt to sell the property and also in a detailed watercolour painting featuring the new trainline. In addition to the upgraded and extended buildings detailed here, the grounds boasted stabling for 40 horses and a garden / orchard of about 1 acre in extent. Six acres of ground were also under cultivation to provide stock feed.
Bridget Buss sold the property in the following year to Alfred Fairfax for £450 – the same price it had first sold for back in 1839. It had been the property’s previous owner – Michael Hogan – who had reaped the gold rush bonus for the premises on offer in the early 1850s. Bridget retired to her farm of 60 acres on the banks of the Nepean with her two spinster daughters Sarah and Honora and died age 80 yrs in 1902.
Interestingly, Fairfax did not initially run Woodford House as his private retreat and he may not have even named it.
The site was for a time managed by John and Margaret Shiels with particular reference to the rail access and health advantages. One of a series of advertisements that were run across spring 1868 noted:
“MOUNTAIN AIR - J SHIELS begs to inform his numerous patrons that he has taken, in connection with REGENTVILLE, the house so well known as BUSS’S, on the Western Road, which will in future be called WOODFORD. The excellent apartments, situation for health, and convenience of access by rail, present advantages to families and invalids unequalled in the colony.”
At the end of the 1860s if you left central Sydney and travelled steadily west on horseback, a five hour journey would get you halfway to Penrith. Alternatively you could catch the train and be standing on the western edge of the Blue Mountains at Mt Vittoria (Mt Victoria) in that same time.
A year later in 1870 with a new timetable in place, you could leave Sydney at 8am, travel to Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls), spend six hours visiting the famous views out over the Jamison Valley and return to Sydney by 10pm.
These carefully timetabled tourist outings were part of a clear strategy for the railways to start recouping some of the enormous costs of their construction.
Likewise they looked to the freight carrying capacity of the rail lines to reap a profitable return.
Not only were the platforms built at Wascoes (Blaxland), Springwood, Buss’ (Woodford), Blue Mountain Inn (Lawson) , Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls) and Blackheath available for foot traffic - they could also put down horses and buggies.
As the Sydney Morning Herald noted in August 1867: “A large quantity of goods is conveyed both up and down the line – and no wonder considering the desperate state of the road over such a mountainous district.”
Clearly with the new rail line in place that road in desperate disrepair was not going to get better any time soon.
This left highway focussed service providers like the travellers inns needing to reconsider their business prospects at the start of the 1870s.