There have been five hotels in Yamba over the past 159 years but only one remains today in the old township area.
The first was the 8-roomed Wooli Hotel built in 1862 for Walter Black to cater for the rive entrance reconstruction workers who were mainly housed in nearby tents. It had a waterfront location where number 5 and 6 Harbour Street exist today.
He expanded it in 1870 by constructing a shingled roof building with two attic rooms adjacent to the original long low building. It was a popular venue, but the ageing building and lack of patronage led to its closure in 1911 when it was demolished and materials from the building were used to construct two houses.
In 1873, Captain William Mann retired from the sea and constructed the Pacific Hotel on the corner of Wooli and Yamba Streets where the SPAR garage stands today. By 1874, he returned to seafaring as captain of the SS New England which was wrecked at the Clarence Heads in 1882 with Mann among the eleven casualties. There were a series of licensees after him, but the hotel did not appear to be very successful and went out of existence about 1898.
Those two hotels were overshadowed by the construction of Muirhead’s Yamba Hotel in 1884. It was centrally located in the block surrounded by Wooli, River, Harbour and Yamba Streets and opposite the Yamba Wharf. It comprised 30 rooms in three distinct buildings. Robert Muirhead with his wife and family of five ran the hotel until his death in 1888.
It then had a number of licensees and owners. It was very popular with excursionists from upriver as they flocked to the “sanatorium of the north” during the hotter months. It was offered for sale in 1899 as having 26 rooms in main building, large and spacious balconies, attached large billiards room, storeroom, kitchen, servants’ quarters, detached cottage, stables etc, six water tanks, bathroom upstairs, force-pumps for water.
It was hugely popular and had a number of owners over the ensuing years, but the building was ageing. In 1927, a number of defects were found in the building and vermin infestation. As it was the only hotel in Yamba, the District Licensing Court felt it should be brought up to modern standards. Police Constable Buxton stated that the permanent township population was 650 but the travelling population of persons resident in Yamba was about 6,500 for a period of five months and 4,000 for travelling tourists for the year. From 23 December to Boxing Day, seventy people stayed overnight at the hotel. Average daily occupation was eight to nine persons per night, but it was fully booked at Easter. The bench ordered remodelling of the kitchen and staff dining room and approved twelve additional first-class bedrooms to be erected, six second-class bedrooms to replace those demolished which were then over the kitchen. At least four bathrooms, in suitable positions, were to be erected with necessary fittings to connect hot and cold-water services. Lavatories were to be provided for both sexes upstairs, also on ground floor, to be connected with septic tank.
William John Zietsch, hotelkeeper of South Grafton, purchased the Yamba Hotel from Peter Wood and Theresa Annie Smith in May 1928 and authorised the improvements.
In the early hours of 21 May 1933, a fire was said to have originated from the upper rooms above the kitchen and spread quickly through the old Oregon building. A bucket brigade was formed, and the adjoining premises owned by Mrs Duggan were saved but the hotel burn to the ground. It was insured for $10,000 and Maclean Licensing Board at a meeting on 6 October 1933 approved an application for removal of the license of the Yamba Hotel to a new site that Zietsch owned in Pilot Street.
The imposing Pacific Hotel in its unique location was constructed by William C Junget for $24,000 and was officially opened on 08 December 1934. Construction was almost stopped when it was found that the new building would interfere with the lighthouse rays. Residents felt that the present location of the lighthouse would impede the future development on Yamba Hill so relocation to the seaward end of Pilot Hill was recommended. This did not eventuate until 1955 but construction of the hotel continued.
In July 1950, it was reported that 12 bedrooms, the dining room, kitchen, bathrooms and toilet on the north and north-eastern side had to be closed at the Pacific Hotel following a subsidence which caused cracks to appear in the walls of the Hotel. Only the southern section including the bar was still in use. Subsidence has been occurring for some months and was aggravated by recent heavy rains. Estimated repair bill of $26,000 for owner, WJ Zietsch of Sydney. Furniture and fittings were sold at auction and demolition was being considered. However, local builder, Clive Pyke propped up the foundations by driving steel girders into the hillside and the hotel was rebuilt.
The hotel remained hugely popular and the panoramic ocean view from it at sunset, as the fishing trawlers head out to sea, is a constant delight.
In April 1988, a DA was approved by Maclean Shire Council for a $2m tourist development at The Mainbrace near Reedy Creek by local developer Harry Bate, his son, Greg and Leslie Muir Holdings to include a tavern and accommodation units. The official opening Stage which incorporated the tavern and bistro was on 21 November 1991. On 09 December 2010, existing owners Matt and Kirsty Muir reopened the Tavern after nine months of renovations for $5million.