34 km north-west of Alexandra, Cromwell is at the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha rivers. Since 1993 it is on the shores of Lake Dunstan, created by the damming of the Clutha River at Clyde, 27 km downstream; the old town was flooded by the project. A gold rush town, mining by individuals gave way to dredging by companies at the end of the 19th century, but by 1910 dredging had also waned. Between the wars, sheep farming and fruit-growing, the latter made possible by irrigation, were the main activities in the district. In the 1980s a new town was laid out to the west and north of the future Lake Dunstan, a by-product of the Clyde Dam project. Relocated buildings from the old town form a historic precinct at the end of Melmore Terrace.

Meaning of place name
Cromwell was first called simply The Junction; it was renamed after the 17th-century English leader Oliver Cromwell in 1863.

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