Pahiatua is situated in a valley drained by the Mangatainoka River and Mangaramarama Creek. The gently undulating valley floor is bounded by the Tararua Range in the west and the Puketoi Range in the east. Pahiatua is 9½ miles south of Woodville by main highway and 51 miles north of Masterton. The Wairarapa Railway passes west of the town, a 1½-mile branch road providing access to the Pahiatua station. The station is 28 miles from Palmerston North via the junction of Woodville.
The fertile land of the valley is used for dairying, mixed farming, and fat-lamb production, with extensive grazing on the outer hills. Pahiatua is a trade and servicing centre for the surrounding district. Industries include cheesemaking, the manufacture of hosiery and clothing, precut furniture, cleansers and polishes. At Mangamutu, 2 miles west, is a plant for prefabricating steel farm buildings, and at Mangatainoka, 2 miles north, a large brewery. Pahiatua is an important livestock market.
The town was formerly within the area of forest called the Forty Mile Bush, which extended north from Mount Bruce, near Masterton. Settlement commenced in 1881 but in 1897, when there was still much timber close to the outskirts, a bush fire swept through Pahiatua destroying practically the whole town. Provision was made in the town design for the railway to pass down the centre of the main street. The line, however, was laid west of the Mangatainoka River and the area reserved for the railway was subsequently turned into lawns and gardens. This accounts for the unusual width of Main Street (3 chains). Pahiatua was constituted a borough on 25 July 1892.
The origin and meaning of the name are obscure.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,097; 1956 census, 2,322; 1961 census, 2,577.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.