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Construction in Ortonville 1848 vs 2023

By Stefan Austin

Ortonville was founded in 1848 by Amos Orton, who built a dam across Kearsley Creek to supply water power for his grist mill, and built many of our town buildings that are still in use today.

It’s one thing to say that he built that dam and all of those buildings, but have you ever wondered what efforts it took to make a whole town out of nothing?

If I were to start building a town today, the first thing I would do is hire a tree clearing company to cut trees and remove them. They use gas-power chainsaws, big cranes and trucks to haul it away.

After laying out the plans, I would hire a cement company to pour foundations and basements. I would then hire teams of companies like plumbers, electricians, framers, roofers and landscapers. They all use power tools and lights so they can keep working at night.

I would use my cell phone to research the companies and contact each one for my project. I would bring materials to the job sites in my truck on paved roads.

Things were much different 175 years ago. Men had to cut down trees with axes and hand saws. Once they cut them down, they would cut them into smaller pieces and boards. If you were lucky, you had a mill to power saws to cut the boards.

Back in 1848, everything was hand-made and there was no machinery to help with the process. Even supplies like nails had to be created in the blacksmith shop.

Amos Orton had to personally find the workers to complete the projects simply by asking around. He didn’t have the resources like the internet.

Back then, foundations were made by gathering rocks, stacking them and mortering them together. They had to dig the foundations with hand-held tools and back breaking labor.

Working at night was almost impossible. They had candle light but that was not enough to keep working at night. This made the process much slower.

Back in 1848 there were nothing but carriages pulled by horses. Not only was it hard to ride in carriages, it was even harder with the conditions. Rocks, logs, sticks, sand…none of the so-called roads were paved like we have today. To think that Orton rode in one of these carriages, bringing bundles of logs and plenty of other materials back and forth to build the mill, blacksmith shop, Town Hall, barber shop, drug store and much more is just incredible.

My dad owns Austin Brick Pavers, located across from the Dollar General in Ortonville. I work for him during the summers, and wow, if I had to go back 175 years and work on the same things that my dad was doing with his machines, I would just think it is impossible!

Overall, the things that Amos Orton did to construct the well-built town of Ortonville has lasted 175 years and is still thriving because he put in the maximum effort.

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