Featherston is situated on flat land in the Wairarapa Valley near the junction of the Tararua and Rimutaka Ranges. The town is 2 miles west of the Tauherenikau River which flows into Lake Wairarapa, 2 miles south-west of Featherston. By rail Featherston is 45 miles north-east of Wellington and 41 miles by road. Masterton is 21 miles north-west by rail and 23 miles by road. The main rural activities are sheep and dairy farming. At South Featherston, 2 miles to the south, there is a dairy factory which produces butter and cheese; it also operates a large piggery. Featherston is a servicing and business centre for the district. Industries include sawmilling; the manufacture of knitwear, and other clothing; and the making of concrete products, joinery, and woodwork. There are large stock saleyards in the town. During the First World War, Featherston was an important military camp.
In late November 1841, Robt. Stokes, a New Zealand Company surveyor, with a small party, crossed the Rimutaka Range into the Wairarapa Valley from near the head of the Hutt Valley. They were the first Europeans to make this journey. Soon afterwards a track was formed along Stokes's route and later it became a road. The site of Featherston, on this road, was originally known as Burlings. It was named after Henry Burling, a pioneer settler, who took up land there in the 1840s. Burlings became a recognised stopping place for travellers, and an accommodation house was established there in 1849. On 16 September 1856 a town site of 385 acres, subdivided into sections of a quarter to 1 acre, was surveyed by Captain William Mein Smith. Suburban land, comprising some 10,000 acres and subdivided into sections of 5 to 100 acres, was also laid out. Settlement of the site began on 31 January 1857, by which time the town had been named Featherston in honour of Dr Isaac Earl Featherston, then Superintendent of the Province of Wellington. Although railway communication with Wellington was mooted as early as 1853, construction did not begin until 1872. The line was opened in October 1878. On 3 November 1955 the opening of the Rimutaka Tunnel provided a shorter route.
Featherston Highway Board took over the administration of town affairs on 14 September 1872 and in 1917 borough status was attained.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 1,069; 1956 census, 1,197; 1961 census, 1,476.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.