Dannevirke is located on terraces in the upper valley of the Manawatu River. The Ruahine Range rises to the west, and to the east the land is broken by a discontinuous chain of hills—the Whangai, Waewaepa, and Puketoi Ranges. The Palmerston North-Napier railway and main highway pass through the town. By road Dannevirke is 17 miles north-east of Woodville and 80 miles south-west of Napier, the nearest port. Dannevirke is a servicing centre for a dairying and sheep-farming district. Important industries in the town include footwear and clothing manufacturing, wool processing, engineering, and the manufacture of concrete products. Large saleyards provide facilities for stock marketing. Butter, cheese, and casein are produced in the district and there are two sawmills operating.
Originally the site of Dannevirke lay within the Seventy-mile Bush on an ancient Maori trail extending from the Manawatu Plain to Hawke's Bay. The Wellington and Hawke's Bay Provincial Governments jointly purchased the Seventy Mile Bush from the Maoris, and arrangements were made with the General Government to open up the land with assisted immigrants from Scandinavia. By June 1872 a bridle track linking Napier and Palmerston North had been surveyed by Charles Weber and placed in fair condition. Dannevirke means “a work of the Danes.” The name was applied to the site before the settlers arrived, probably in memory of “Dannevirke” or “Thyra's Vold”, a wall built in the ninth and tenth centuries in Denmark for defence against the Saxons. Scandinavian settlers arrived at Napier by the Hovding and Ballarat in September 1872 and on 15 October twenty-one families occupied sections in a bush clearing at Dannevirke. The early settlers encountered great difficulties due largely to high transport costs. A regular coach service was operating between Foxton and Napier by 1874, and in 1884 the railway reached the town. With the railway, sawmilling became an important activity and the population grew.
Dannevirke was at first part of the Seventy Mile Bush Highway District, which was created on 15 April 1872. In 1877 the town was administered by the Dannevirke Road Board, in 1885 it became a town district, and in 1892 was made a borough.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 4,664; 1956 census, 5,294; 1961 census, 5,517.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.