The site of the Wakefield Hotel was originally part of Section 85 and was a four acre block owned by the Wakefield school teacher James Thomas Smith, who had arrived in Wakefield in 1845 to take up his role as teacher.
James Thomas Smith built a large house on the front of the section and his wife Grace (nee Cavanagh) operated a small shop from it, believed to be the first shop in Wakefield. In a shed behind this house, W. Flounders Maiben ran a small liquor store which was later moved to another district.
James Thomas Smith died in 1878 aged 66. Between 1855 when he retired from teaching in Wakefield and moved into Nelson, and 1865, the property was sold. In 1865 Charles Louis Draeger and his wife Ellen opened a Boarding House in the large 12 roomed house, known as ‘Draeger’s Accommodation House’ and their daughter Minnie sold sweets from the small shop with in it that Grace Smith had operated from.
In 1878 Draeger’s Boarding House was advertised for sale, however it cannot have sold because in 1887 it was purchased by Mr Charles Harley when the Draeger family left the district. The business had previously not been licenced to sell liquor. However James and Grace Smith’s son Robert Martin Smith, had at one stage, operated the Forest Inn, situated south of the present Jimmy Lee Creek and in 1887 the licence for this establishment was transferred to what then became the Wakefield Hotel. Mr Harley employed James McLeod as the hotel Proprietor.
In 1892 the Licensing Board required them to tidy the premises up by providing more comfortable guest accommodation, building a 6 stalled stable block and re-gravelling around the building. Renovations to enlarge the building began with the intention of pulling down the old part. However a fire broke out and burnt down the old building. Fortunately the new building was saved and on 6 Feb 1906 the new Wakefield Hotel was formally opened and offered the following; a dining room measuring 40 x 16 feet (12 x 5 metres), a kitchen with modern appliances including a Shacklock Range with a high pressure boiler, 90 feet (27 metres) of hallways in three different corridors in the upstairs accommodation, an electric bell system and acetylene lighting.
Since then the Wakefield Hotel has undergone several periods of renovation but remains on the same site. In the 100 years from 1887 to 1997 it had 30 different proprietors and many more would have been there since then.
This information was shared on a historical walk (in October 2022) along Edwards Street, by the Waimea South Historical Society (Inc 2022).