History Column: Building things, then and now
Ongoing construction projects at the Becker County Museum and the historical log cabin at the fairgrounds, as well as at his own home, have history columnist Kevin Mitchell musing about how the building process has changed since the pioneering days.
I have recently been working with a crew on some restoration work at the historical log cabin at the Becker County Fairgrounds, a structure preserved by the Becker County Museum. Questions have come up about materials, which has led to some interesting thoughts about how people used to build things.
An example of one of those questions is, “Do you think they dried the logs before using them?”
The answer, for the most part, is that if you’re talking about the very earliest settlers, then no. Why? Because they did not have time. They came upon a site they wanted to build on, and they needed to have that shelter up before winter.
Those first settlers were quite self-sufficient. They raised and hunted their own food, found their own building materials and built their own homes. There are a lot of materials involved in the building of things, and those early folks had to be pretty clever about where and how to find (or make) those materials for themselves. Often, the only way forward was to be resourceful.
Back then, people migrated into jobs they were good at, things like blacksmithing, being a seamstress, or farmer, and so on. Things changed as logging and mills moved into the area. Industrialization came. And slowly, we arrived at where we are now, with detailed specialization.
Those very first settlers, though, were of an "I got this" kind that I myself Identify with fairly well. I live in a spoiled time, with everything readily available to me, but my default reaction is almost always to just try and do things myself.
For your pondering today, take a pause and ask yourself, “Am I more like an early pioneer, or a little more comfortable in modern times?” How reliant on other people or other groups are you?
It is fun to think back to the ever-changing ways of progress and development. In the beginning, a person would go to a place with nothing and make everything they needed. After a while, a person could join a community and still do a lot by themselves, but also be able to trade for things they could not or did not want to get for themselves.
During the course of the log cabin restoration, I found myself heading out to Amish country to get some materials. Spending time with this group of people, who are fairly independent of society and government for their needs, was quite refreshing. As fascinating as it was for me, though, and as much as I enjoy taking care of my own, I’m not sure I would want to do it without electricity, or my truck, or all the other fun modern tools I love.
While working on my own home, I buy dried milled lumber and go from there. I've been working on a home addition for about the past five years, and it's still ongoing. I have had a few people help with parts of the process, but have done some things on my own. I designed a geo-thermal system, for example, built with readily available plumbing parts, and my oldest son drew the CAD drawings on a computer.
There's construction happening at the museum now, too, as we are in the beginning stages of building our new ‘home.’ It’s a pretty modern project, done mostly by the pros, but we do have a lot of conversations about things we want to do ourselves. It will be beautiful when it’s done, and we can hardly wait! The construction crew has already begun.
It'll be a long way from a log cabin, but one day soon our new "home" will be full of history -- its own, along with so much more from Becker County’s past.
This column is a regular feature of the Tribune's monthly History page. Kevin Mitchell may be reached at the Becker County Museum by calling 847-2938.