In 1837 Robert Hoddle surveyed the lands surrounding Melbourne dividing them into parishes. Land sales were held in the Jika Jika parish during the Melbourne land boom of the 1840s, which comprises the suburb to become known as Alphington. Long, narrow allotments of between 90 and 180 acres were bought up by property speculators which offered frontages of the Yarra River or Darebin Creek (refer to map pg. 7 Lemon).
In 1840 Thomas Wills relocated from Sydney and bought a prime 176 acres with extensive frontages on the Yarra River including its junction with Darebin Creek. He paid the enormous sum of $7568 indicative of the heights the land boom had reached. Wills began clearing immediately and built a bluestone mansion called 'Lucerne' which was noted as being the 'grandest of its day'. Thomas Wills was one of early Melbourne's most honoured citizens and acted as a justice of the peace before becoming a magistrate and residing on the board of Port Philip Savings Bank. 'Lucerne' was evetually demolished in 1962 to make way for the Latrobe Golf Club. Another early purchaser, Dr Godfrey Howitt, bought a 90 acre allotment in 1840 but didn’t settle. Some of the land that was bought was leased to farmers.
In 1844 David Bowman became the licensee of the Darebin Bridge Hotel at the point where Heidelberg Road forded the Darebin Creek. The road was a busy thoroughfare for teamsters, gold seekers and day trippers on their way to Heidelberg from the city. Alphington was slow to develop and subdivide yet the land was still productive with produce able to be sold to travellers. One of the most prominent of these early farms, complete with a vineyard, was 'Fulham Grange' on the banks of the Yarra. It was owned by the Perry Brother's who commissioned notable artist Eugene Von Guerard to paint the property in 1855. Sydney merchant Charles Roemer's original 1840 purchase passed to William Manning, solicitor-general of New South Wales. Manning saw potential in creating a village as a resting place en route to Heidelberg. In 1854 130 plots were offered for sale at 'Alphington Village' estate, named after Manning's home town in Devon, England. In 1856 John Adams opened a general store and became the first postmaster in 1858. The Weslyan chapel built in 1858 (today’s Uniting Church) and a two story bluestone shop (756-8 Heidelberg Rd) are the oldest buildings in the Northcote/Heidelberg area. A count conducted by the Heidelberg Council discovered that in 1885 there were 63 houses adjacent to Heidelberg Rd in Alphington with many more under construction.
During the land boom years of the 1880s large areas of the land east of Northcote Hill, today's Fairfield and Alphington, was bought by Charles Henry James and his brother-in-law Percy Dobson. Early subdivisions catered for affluent buyers with small acreages perfect for 'gentlemen's residences' along the Yarra on offer. Fulham Grange, halfway between Fairfield and Alphington, was the first of these estates to be sold at Saturday auctions. The predominantly flat land north of Heidelberg Rd was subdivided into smaller allotments and sold subsequently at a much lower price as working men's freeholds. James subsequently bought land which stretched as far north as Thornbury. Lucerne Crescent, part of the Lucerne Estate dating back to 1885, is home to several significant Federation-style houses built around the turn of the century.
The construction of railway stations in Fairfield and Alphington added to further settlement, although they were not as yet operational and referred to cynically as the 'nowhere to nowhere' line. The Heidelberg Line eventually opened in 1888. Unfortunately as the railway passed through so many junctions on its way through the suburbs of Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood that the trip from the city to Heidelberg took upwards of an hour and a half. In 1901 the Heidelberg railway line was much improved, now running half hourly during peak times and directly to Princes Bridge, Melbourne via Clifton Hill. The population continued to grow during the early 1900s, largely due to the overcrowding of inner city suburbs, particularly Collingwood and Fitzroy. With the introduction of new electric trains workers were able to travel easily between the affordable housing in the flat areas of Alphington to factories in the inner city suburbs. Industry was also on the rise in the area with an number of small factory beginning to emerge. In 1919 the Australian Paper and Pulp Co. mill was established becoming the largest industrial complex in the district. The Yarra River was a popular drawcard for the area with Alphington Park a favoured destination as a picnic and swimming area from the 1920s to the 1950s
After years of hardship along with the rest of the country during the Great Depression, Alphington gained a new prosperity in the post World War 2 years thanks partly to the proliferation of factory jobs in the area. In 1962 Alphington finally separated from Heidelberg Council thanks to the overwhelming support of its residents and, along with Fairfield, became part of the City of Northcote. The character of the suburb has moved from predominantly blue colour towards middle-class gentrified, driving housing prices up as the inner city again became sought after in the 1980s and 1990s. On 22 June 1994, the City of Northcote was abolished and was merged with neighbouring Preston into the newly-created City of Darebin.
'Northcote History Group'
'eMelbourne - the city past and present' website: www.emelbourne.net.au
“Darebin Heritage Review 2000”. Andrew Ward (for the City of Darebin)
“Northcote Side of the River”. Andrew Lemon
“The History of Northcote”. William George Swift
“Surviving the Six O’Clock Swill: A History of Darebin’s Hotels”. Gary Edge