In 1987 a small group of individuals worked with the former Oamaru Borough Council (since amalgamation, the Waitaki District Council) to obtain funding for a feasibility study into the redevelopment of Oamaru's Harbour and Tyne Streets which unfortunately by the 1980s had seen time and 'progress' take its toll.
This area now known as Oamaru's Victorian Precinct, was the original commercial and business district of Oamaru and served as the focal point for trade through the port of Oamaru. The buildings consisted of large grain and seed warehouses which served the prosperous agricultural sector in the district during the later part of the 19th century.
Following the recommendations of the Arthur Young Feasibility Study the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust was established as a charitable trust. Eight buildings including the Loan and Mercantile Building, Neill's Store, Andersons's Store, Sumpter's Store, Meek's Store, Exchange Chambers, Sumpter's Exchange and Criterion Hotel were purchased from Wrightsons Properties with a grant from the Alexander McMillan Trust.
Today, the Trust owns sixteen victorian buildings in the Victorian Precinct.
The Trust's buildings were built during the period from1860s to1880s and are today New Zealand’s most complete streetscape of Victorian commercial buildings. The buildings are constructed of locally quarried limestone. The easily carved stone lent itself perfectly to the creation of the elaborate Neo Classical style of building so popular with the Victorians at that time.
The Trust is fortunate that there are craftsmen in Oamaru today who have the skills to restore the buildings to their former grandeur. The restoration and adaptive re-use of the interior spaces of the buildings and tenanting them with unique businesses, artisans and crafts people ensures they will be part of Oamaru's story for years to come.
The Trust continues to work to preserve Oamaru's Victorian Precinct and has made significant progress in achieving its aims and objectives. The Victorian Town at Work theme for Victorian Oamaru has seen the recreation of many of crafts and pastimes of the 1800s so it isn't unusual to see a penny farthing speed by, or a coracle to being paddled in the harbour or a Victorian gentleman to doff his top hat as he passes you on the street.
A number of events take place in the Victorian Precinct with a highlight being the Victorian Fete, the grand finale to the annual Victorian Heritage Celebrations.