Kodai Hills has a history as old as time. There are references to Kodaikanal in the Tamil Sangam literature of the early Christian era. In the pre-historic times, the primitive tribes of Paliyans and Pulyans resided near the Palani Hills and their descendants still live here in many of the hamlets. There is proof of settlement of prehistoric tribes at Kodaikanal by visible artifacts such as dolmens homes of great stone slabs. After the primitive tribes of Paliyans and Pulyans, in 14th century, villagers of Palani foot hills fled into Kodai hills, to escape from the oppressive rule in the plains and also from the invasion of Tippu Sultan.
Kodaikanal as a hill station was set-up by the Americans, though the British soon joined.The first European to visit Kodaikanal was Lt. B.S. Ward a surveyor in the year 1821. His Head Quarters was Vellagavi village. The irony is that, till now there’s no road to this village and to the many settlements in and around Vellagavi. The Hill bananas and the oranges from this village are exotic as they are cultivated without the user or any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
During the Raj, the British / Americans could not bear the oppressive heat in Madurai and they faced sickness from epidemic diseases and consequential deaths. They wanted neat and healthy natural surroundings near Madurai to rest and improve their health. They were happy to find from the report of Lt. B.S. Ward about the hills with wonderful climate and easy accessibility from Madurai & Periyakulam. Many English and American missionary people visited Kodaikanal through various routes. Notable among them are J C Wroughton -Sub Collector, C R Cotton Judge and Dr. Weight. Dr.Fane built two houses in 1845 in the lake road. More houses were built by British Govt. The American Missionaries moved in and built a lot of dwellings in the southern side which is still there and now called ‘Sunny Side’ and ‘Shelton’ . In the year 1860, the first church was built jointly by the Bishop. American Madurai Mission built the union church in 1895.
From year 1860, there was all round improvement due to the visit of several dignitaries. Roman Catholics came, purchased a bungalow for Jesuit fathers, as rest house which is now called La Providence in upper shola road. Governors of Madras Sir Charles Travelyon and Lord Napier visited in the years 1860 and 1871. One major JM Partridge of the army introduced Eucalyptus and wattle trees in the year 1867. Bier Leverage, collector of Madurai lived in Pamhar house after his retirement. Only through his tireless efforts and initiative the artificial Kodaikanal lake, the foremost attraction of the tourists was formed. He arranged boat rides in the lake. He planned and executed several approach roads to Kodaikanal. He introduced several foreign trees and vegetables such as Pine Forms and Pears. In the year 1872 Lt. Coaker cut a path along the ridge of steep south eastern side which commends a magnificent view of the plains below. The path was named after him as Coaker’s Walk and even today it offers a good walk with the panoramic view.