Our History

SINCE 1865, SIX GENERATIONS OF FORSYTHS HAVE MADE WILLOUGHBY THEIR HOME.
People and Places

Since 1865, six generations of the Forsyth family have lived and worked in Willoughby, making a significant contribution to the growth and development of the community.  Three Forsyths have been Mayor of Willoughby, as well as holding numerous other Council offices, and every generation has worked with local charities, hospitals, business and community groups to help improve the lives and lifestyles of Wiloughby residents.

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People and Places

When English-born tanner James Forsyth bought 278 acres of land in around 1869 for three pounds an acre, the “Municipality of North Willoughby” was an isolated bushland community of farms, orchards, market gardens and tanneries with a population of just 553 people.  Today, the soughtafter leafy residential suburbs of Willoughby, Willoughby North and Willoughby East are home to around 13,500 people and the Willoughby City Council LGA has a total population of around 82,000.

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People and Places

The Forsyth family’s history is intertwined with the growth of the suburb and written in its streets.  More than a dozen roads are named after Forsyth family members or their residences, including Forsyth Street, Ann Street, Robert Street, Rosewall Street, Lyle Street (now part of Eastern Valley Way) and Tyneside Avenue.  The site of the first Forsyth family business the “Rosewall Tannery” is marked by a Willoughby Council Civic Heritage Commemorative Plaque on the corner of Ann and Stan Streets.

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People and Places

Many of Willoughby’s historic houses have links to the Forsyth family.  The imposing sandstone mansions “Rosewall” and “Tyneside” in High Street were built in 1883-84 as family residences by brothers Thomas Todd Forsyth and Robert Forsyth. Both are still standing and are recorded in the register of the National Trust.  Other residences such as the classic 1904 Federation bungalow “Kamaina” on Penshurst Street and 1933 “Sythmor” on Clanwilliam Street are still owned by the Forsyth family.

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The Forsyth Family
Robert Todd Forsyth (1877 - 1939)

Born at “Rosewall”, the seventh son of Thomas Todd and Ann Forsyth, Robert Todd Forsyth was the first member of the family to not continue in the tannery business. In 1898, at the age of 21, he opened the first real estate agency in Willoughby, RT Forsyth on Penshurst Street. Robert Todd was an Alderman on Willoughby Council from 1904 to 1932, and was elected Mayor 11 times.  In 1904, he married Annie Bennett and lived at “Kamaina” with their three children Joan, Phyllis and James.

James Forsyth (1818 – 1907)

James Forsyth came to Australia in 1852, during the gold rush and struck gold at the Sofala diggings. He used his newfound wealth to bring his wife Margaret and family from England in 1862 and moved to Sydney.  A tanner by trade, James established the first tannery in the Municipality of Willoughby, the “Rosewall Tannery” with his sons Robert and Thomas.  In 1870, he built his first weatherboard house in High Street. He was Mayor of Willoughby from 1875 to 1877 and an Alderman until 1881.

Thomas Todd Forsyth (1839 - 1921)

When Thomas Todd Forsyth arrived in Sydney in 1862, aged 23, he was already an experienced leather worker and went into business with his father at the Rosewall Tannery.  Thomas Todd, Ann and their four sons moved to Willoughby in the early 1870s and built “Rosewall” in 1883/84 on five and a half acres in High Street.   He was an Alderman on Willoughby Council from 1877 to 1904 and Mayor of Willoughby in 1882, 1887 & 1888.  In the 1880s, he was elected President of the Master Tanner’s Association.

James Forsyth (1908 - 1991)

The third child of Robert (RT) and Annie Forsyth, James joined RT Forsyth in 1926, aged 18 and became Managing Director in 1939.  He married Mary Elva Moran in 1933 and built “Sythmor” in Clanwilliam Street.  James retired in 1981, after 55 years in the business.  During that time, the country, the suburb and the real estate profession underwent unprecedented change. Willoughby had grown from an isolated bushland community to a soughtafter residential suburb and Chatswood had become a major commercial centre.

Michael Forsyth (1936 -

The first child of James and Elva, Michael Forsyth joined the business in 1953 aged 17, straight after leaving school.  He worked with his father for almost 30 years, building the company’s reputation for integrity and credibility, and took over as Managing Director in 1981.

Margaret Snodgrass (nee Forsyth) (?

James and Elva’s second child, Margaret joined Forsyths in 1980 after studying at the National Art school and working in the legal department of the Bank of NSW. A Director of the business for more than ?? years, Margaret has played a key role in building and maintaining relationships with clients and has worked tirelessly for the local community.  She has been President of the Inner Wheel Club of Chatswood and been involved with local Girl Guides, Pre-Schooler groups, hospitals and Willoughby District Historical Society.

James Snodgrass (?

James Snodgrass, the great grandson of Robert Todd Forsyth, has been a Director of Forsyth Real Estate since ???.  Before returning to take over the helm of Forsyth Real Estate, James was a Member of Army Special Forces, Commando Battalion and was also the youngest Australian Associate Director of one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world.

 

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The Changing Face of Willoughby

From the start, the Forsyth family embraced the Willoughby community and worked to improve the suburb’s facilities and the lives of local residents.  Three generations of Forsyths were Mayor of Willoughby and held other Council office between 1875 and 1927.  During this time, they oversaw extraordinary change, including the first electric trams on Penshurst St (1898), the opening of the railway from St Leonards to Hornsby (1890), the first electric street lights (1921) and the first sealed roads & footpaths (1920s).

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The Changing Face of Willoughby

The Forsyths have always been early adopters of innovation.  In 1898, RT Forsyth was one of the first auctioneers in Willoughby and had one of the first telephones with the number Chatswood 145.  In 1912 Robert Forsyth bought a 1908 Rover with registration number NSW 443, which was one of the first cars in the district. In the 1920s, his daughter Joan was one of the first women in the area with a driver’s licence and used to drive the company’s clients home.

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The Changing Face of Willoughby

The real estate company has consistently served existing and new residents as Willoughby developed from remote bush settlement to prosperous suburb on the fringe of Sydney’s second CBD. Forsyth Real Estate has been involved in many of the significant property sales from the original 1880s Victorian mansions and cottages to the vibrant mixture of heritage homes, Californian semis, Art Deco apartments, 1950s home units and contemporary apartment complexes that make up Willoughby today.

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The Changing Face of Willoughby

In the 1922 Wilson’s Street Directory, Willoughby was promoted with the slogan “As a suburban resort, a better place would be hard to find”, and home owners flocked to the area in their thousands. RT Forsyth marketed and auctioned many of the early subdivisions, including the 1924 “Wireless Subdivision” named after the pioneer radio station transmitter and land in Northbridge on behalf of the Greater Sydney Development Company, whose director was Canberra’s architect Walter Burley Griffin.

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The Changing Face of Willoughby

After the war, Forsyth Real Estate moved into commercial and industrial property sales, including the sale to Willoughby Council of the site of the Willoughby Civic Centre and the sale of several Chatswood properties to Grace Brothers for their first Sydney store - one of the first landmarks in the commercial development of Chatswood.

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The Changing Face of Willoughby

However, it was not just in property but also in recreation that the Forsyths changed the face of Willoughby.  In 1888, James Forsyth and Thomas Todd Forsyth, both enthusiastic bowlers, were foundation members of the St Leonards Bowling Club. Thomas Todd was instrumental in founding Chatswood Bowling Club in 1900 and was one of its first vice presidents and a lifetime member.  Robert Todd Forsyth was a member of Chatswood Bowling Club for some 35 years.

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Leading the Industry

Over the past 120 years, Forsyth Real Estate has survived through wars, depressions, recessions, booms and busts. With a finger firmly on the pulse of the local marketplace and an eye to national and international trends, the company has continually evolved to offer the best possible service to its clients within an ever-changing marketplace.

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Leading the Industry

Since the early 1900s, Forsyths have been leaders in the real estate profession.  RT Forsyth was an early member and President of the Real Estate Auctioneers & Agents Association (Real Estate Institute of NSW). In 1950s, James Forsyth was President of the North Shore Real Estate Agents’ Association and a Fellow of the Commonwealth Institute of Valuers. In the 1990s, Michael Forsyth was a Board Member of the Real Estate Employers Federation and Founding Governor of the REIA’s Industry Superannuation Fund.

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Leading the Industry

In the early 1960s Forsyth Real Estate was influential in the development in Australia of the innovative American marketing system the Estate Agents Cooperative (EAC Multi-List).  In the 1980s, the company recognized the marketing benefits and became an early member of the First National network of independent real estate agents, helping to build the brand in Australia. In ????, to reflect changing market trends, the company rebranded as an independent boutique company Forsyth Real Estate.

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Leading the Industry

Forsyth’s real estate offices also developed over the decades to reflect the changing needs of the business and its customers.  In 1912, the original timber building was replaced with a turreted brick building with a tram-waiting alcove for the comfort of clients and local residents.  In the early 1950s, the premises were remodelled and extended in 1962.  The current building, built in 1978, has been updated to create a welcoming environment with leading edge technological capacity to meet the needs of the electronic age.

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Family Tradition

In 1968, when RT Forsyth Real Estate celebrated 70 years in business, President of the Real Estate Institute, Max Swell said:  “It is rare to find a firm that has survived after such a period as a third generation of Career Real Estate Men. This is to my knowledge the only such firm in the City of Sydney.”  Today, with the fourth generation of Forsyth real estate men, James Snodgrass, heading up the company, it is one of the oldest family-owned real estate companies in Australia.

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Family Tradition

From the early years, the Forsyth family has valued its relationship of trust with the local Chinese community.  In the late 1800s, Chinese market gardeners who leased land from the Forsyths trusted Thomas Todd Forsyth to mind their money, give management advice and also provided loans. Robert Todd Forsyth continued this relationship, assisting Chinese residents with official forms, writing letters and representing their interests.  The family is proud to have been regarded as a trusted source of advice to this community through the decades.

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Family Tradition

Forsyth has continued to provide trusted professional advice and quality service to generations of immigrants who have made Willoughby their home.  When Robert Todd Forsyth founded his real estate agency in 1898, he was committed to providing personalized service and being accessible to every property owner.  Over the decades, the company has welcomed successive waves of immigrants to Willoughby, including Italian families who arrived after WWII, followed by people from Yugoslavia and Armenia and then by immigrants from Asia.

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Family Tradition

Over the decades. Forsyth Real Estate has enjoyed the confidence of tens of thousands of families who have bought, sold or rented through the company, as well as numerous Trust Companies, Government, local authorities, public and private companies and community organisations.  Some clients have been with the company for 60 or 70 years, through two or three generations, and it has even been known for long-term clients to stipulate in their wills that their home is to be sold by Forsyth.

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Family Tradition

A commitment to community service is also a strong tradition in the Forsyth family.  Robert Forsyth was on the Committees of Royal North Shore Hospital and Willoughby Benevolent Society. His wife, Annie, was awarded an MBE in 1939 for her work with the Red Cross, hospital auxiliaries and Tresilian North Mothercraft Training School. Through the depression and wars to modern times, the family has been involved with youth organisations, Rotary and Apex Clubs to support those in need.

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Family Tradition

While continually evolving to meet changing market needs, Forsyth Real Estate has retained a sense of family tradition, a commitment to personal service and a focus on achieving results for their clients, and continues to remain at the forefront of the real estate market on the North Shore.

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