After the passing of the Stangways Act in 1869, as many as a hundred towns were surveyed and laid out. Land hungry farmers moved far beyond Goyder's line and cultivated new land, including that of Yorke Peninsula, where previously only the pastoralist and some miners had ventured. Townships which had only recently been staked out suddenly blossomed as a result of the excellent seasons, local demand and speculation. Land which was normally sold at one pound per acre went for as much as seven pounds as 'rain would follow the plough'.
The town of Ardrossan was initiated by the wheat farmers and wheat transporters, near the old landing at Parara. It was named by Governor Fergusson after the seaport in Scotland and proclaimed on 5 November 1873. Previously this area had been known as Clay Gully or Parara. Parara was a Bowman property held under a pastoral lease. The first settlers arrived by the ketch Fleetwing and their first job was clearing the land before farming could start. Without any surface water, drinking water had to be carted from wells sunk on the beach.
As early as 1874 there were calls for a tramway and jetty at Ardrossan. But they had to wait two years before construction was started with the jetty. When completed in 1877 it was nearly 150 metres long. in later years it has been extended a number of times to cater for the larger steam ships until it was more than 400 metres long. It never got a tram or railway. Railway travel was only available from South Hummocks which could be reached by coach. As late as the 1930s Ardrossan was served by a twice-weekly steamer from Port Adelaide.
As with most young towns, apart from making a living, the first concerns would be with the establishment of a school, church and hotel, although not always in that order! In June 1877 a meeting was held in the home of G.Webb which resulted in the building of a Methodist Church which was officially opened in March 1878. Twenty years later the Anglicans had their St James Church. The Catholics were a little slower. There being not as many of them, services were held in private homes or the hotel. They did not get a church until 1963 when Bishop J.W. Gleeson opened St Christopher's on 10 March.
The 1870s and 1880s had been difficult times for the farmers. Land clearing was their main problem. Any method was used to get rid of the dense scrub. Mullenising was often used after whole areas had been set on fire. However the removal of the stumps remained a problem for many years. Its was the Stump Jump Plough, invented by the Smith brothers of Kalkabury which finally solved some of the farmers' problems.
Postal services started from April 1877 with J. Henderson as first postmaster. He would not have been too busy as there were only six houses, a flour mill and a hotel. A post office building was completed in 1880 and Helen Stewart appointed Postmistress. In 1878 the Ardrossan school opened with Otto Tepper as teacher and children made up from five families. They were Lily and Clara Naughton, Herbert and Edmund Bowman, Albert Gordon, Philip Pavy and Esther and Arthur Webb. In 1881 its population only just exceeded one hundred but now it also had an Institute. It was also in the early 1880s that the Royal Hotel was completed.
In 1880, twenty-five year old Clarence Smith bought some land in Ardrossan, built a house for his wife and daughter and a workshop to build stump jump ploughs. Within ten years Clarence's family had grown but also his factory. Orders for his superior machines came from all over Australia. Although he died at the very young age of forty-five on 25 July 1901, his sons were able to continue his work. Within ten years the factory employed more than a hundred people.
From 5 January 1888, Ardrossan became part of the District Council of Yorke Peninsula. Since April 1969 it is part of the District Council of Central York Peninsula. The longest serving Councillor has been Charles George Roots Cane who represented the town for forty-four years, of which twenty-six as Chairman. Cane born in England in 1860, came to South Australia in 1880 and operated a butcher store in Maitland for five years before moving to Ardrossan. Here he also started a butcher business but also diversified into farming and grazing. In 1890 he married Ada Emma Lodge of Ardrossan and they had eventually five children.
Cane became very active in all matters concerning the town. Apart from being on the Council, he was also treasurer of the Institute, Chairman of the Parara Copper Mine, member of the Maitland School Board of Advice and President of the Ardrossan Jockey Club.
During the 1900s Ardrossan relied mainly on its farming produce to supply a steady income. The town prospered and increased in size. Many more buildings were added and it attracted more and more business from neighbouring towns. As some of their schools closed, the school in Ardrossan became much larger and several extensions have been added. However during, and after, the depression of the 1930s Ardrossan fell on hard times and both population and business stagnated.
During 1950 some major improvement in Adrossan's prospects occurred when BHP opened a Dolomite Quarry. A new one kilometre long jetty was added and at the same time construction was started with grain silos. The jetty would service ships loading dolomite and those who came to load wheat, grain or barley. The same facilities have also been used to load salt from the solar salt pans at Price, about ten kilometres north of Ardrossan. The dolomite goes to Whyalla, Port Kembla and several other BHP concerns. The agricultural products are exported all over the world with the barley in particular being in high demand.