The building was erected in about 1865 by J. Harrington for use as chaff mills. The premises were soon converted to a function better suited to the physical expansion of the city – serving the builder’s trade. William King Junior occupied the premises from 1865, and in 1867 these were described in rate assessments as Steam Sawmills. The builder’s yard covered the area from O’Connell Street down along George Street, which was mentioned in the 1872 assessment as a narrow lane.
The Commercial and Trades Directory of South Australia 1882-1883 listed W King Junior and Co. with sawmills in Pirie Street, O’Connell Street and at Port Adelaide. However 1882 appears to have been the last year King was to use the North Adelaide sawmills. King’s business was almost certainly affected by the general economic downturn. He even lost his seat on the Adelaide City Council (where he was Councillor from 1877 to 1881). Master builder Walter Charles Torode gained his skills initially working at King’s workshops. Torode signed an indenture for apprenticeship in 1873 to “Messrs King Blyth and Co. in their office situated in O'Connell Street, North Adelaide, SA, adjoining their timber yard and workshops . . . for a term of six years”. The pay rose from five shillings a week to 25 shillings for a 55-hour working week in 1879. Torode described King Junior as “a progressive man [who] kept good stock of timber and a good working plant of machinery of that period”. The carpenters and joiners shop was on the first floor and the sawmill below. There were 10 juniors and four apprentices. King was quick to recognise and reward skill and good work; for example, he paid Torode five shillings more than the usual rate. Torode also acknowledged the role played by the other men there: the foreman Daniel Drewer, “ for the interest he took in helping us boys when we tried to do our duty”; an English workman, John Cain, to whom Torode owed much of his skill as “a workman on special artistic woodwork and the knowledge thereto as regards high-class workmanship as usual on Oak, Cedar, and other woods”. “The workmen who taught me my trade were first-class joiners, and before I was 20 years of age, by hand with no machine work, I made several pieces of furniture out of Queensland Cedar.”
Torode left after his apprenticeship was completed. In 1881 he started in business as a builder. In later years he was contractor for such major buildings as the additions to St Peter’s Cathedral, the Elder Conservatorium and the Stock Exchange (see also Adelaide Children’s Hospital).
Torode had pleasant memories of his days at King’s, including one mischievous incident when he and his mates rigged the handle of the knock-off time steam whistle so that it fell down during the night. “The result was a continued whistle about 4.00 am until the steam was exhausted. Of course, on our return to work that morning, we listened to all the excitement related by those who lived nearby.” Not the least of them was William King himself.
Green and Co. next bought the property (as well as King’s houses in nearby Gover Street), and it appears that the sawmills and the building business continued. However, from the mid-1880s, the building trade in general took a steep downturn as the whole colony was plunged into depression.
From 1888 Green and Co. leased the complex for use as the Adelaide Hat Factory (later known as the Adelaide Hat Manufacturing Co. Ltd.). The hat-making business was obviously a successful one as it survived two depressions and a war, succumbing only just before the onset of World War II in 1938-39.
From 1908 until 1939 the manager of the factory was R. Leaver, co-owner of the hatters Leaver Brothers of Rundle Street. There have been subsequently several owners, the building continuing to prove its usefulness and adaptability.
The building is now owned as private residences.