Gifted to the National Trust of South Australia, the museum opened in 1973. It is housed in what was originally a factory established in 1880 by Clarence H. Smith to manufacture the stump jump plough and other agricultural equipment. This plough revolutionised the opening up of Australia’s mallee country for agriculture enabling land to be cleared for cropping quickly and now has legendary status in South Australia’s history.
In its heyday, the factory employed up to 130 men and was the largest in South Australia, finally closing in the 1930s. Power was supplied to the factory and town from the building which is now the museum. The museum façade is the only reminder of what the huge factory used to look like.
Today the museum features the history of the factory with displays of agricultural equipment, photographs and other memorabilia of the factory days. As well as the Clarence H. Smith implements there are other items of farm equipment, several tractors, small engines and a collection of washing machines.
Models and photographs also tell the story of the dependence of the area on the sea. A jetty was built at Ardrossan in 1876-7 a few years after the town’s establishment which made the area much more accessible to sea trade. In the early days there were no good roads to Adelaide so everything brought in or taken out had to be shipped on a huge fleet of ketches known as the Mosquito fleet right up to the 1950s. The Harbour-Masters Office shifted from the jetty has been set up inside as an old time General Store.
Another room in the museum features exhibits from the Zanoni, a 338 ton barque on her maiden voyage which capsized and sank in a sudden squall just off the coast of Ardrossan in 1867. Described as the most complete shipwreck in South Australian waters, it was not rediscovered until 1983 and is now an historic site.
A large display room features dolls, dresses, irons, communication equipment, typewriters, a magnificent display of china and many photographs and other exhibits telling the story of Ardrossan, its people and its prolific barley and wheat growing area. After the passing of the Strangeways Act of 1869, many pastoral leases were resumed and the land divided for agricultural production leading to the town of Ardrossan being proclaimed on 5 November 1873.