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The World is a Stage

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Laurel Beechey - The World is a Stage

The spring freshet was in full swing 190 years ago. The snow was gone and rain was coming down. It was a rather usual time of year for George Tillson to leave Normandale on his four-day trip, to start his own Bloomery Forge and settlement at Dereham Forge [later called Tillsonburg].

Many would have sledded their supplies in the winter, crossing creeks on frozen waters. Perhaps that is what he planned, but found spring had its own agenda that year.

We have only one photo of our founder, but we also have his account of his trip here, written in the third person and with his spelling: “March 12, 1825 “Satterday George Tillson began to load his waggon for Deerham furnace finished loading and started, went by Brinings and took on three meet barrels and from thence to Mr. Fairchild, and left 2 barrels and keeping half bushels of salt and took on board some help and proceeded to Mr. Blanys and put up. Monday morning left Blanys and proceeded to Frederick Saverien, bated with hay and took 2 bundles of oats along - got Mr. Lassing to help unload and load at big creek hill [Delhi] and help up at north creek gave him a peter [pewter?] kettle, proceeded to Vanalstines and put up. Tuesday morning started on, got 2 armfuls of hay at Ronsons [Courtland] and took to the woods - called at Panlyey and Tisdales sugar camp got Lotts Steens and Fanleys Bay to help through the mud to Ronsons camp, discharged at [?] Bay & Steens - and got Ronsons Bay and Steens to go through all the mud to the pine land, from thense proseeded to the end of the road, choped some road and put up under my waggon.

"Wednesday morning rained before day and it sleeted, chopped some more road come on hand rain drove my oxen down to Valley, and stayed till Thursday forenoon - got old Mr. Hawley and his son Daniel, Mr. Smith and his brother in law to come up with me to cut out the road, fetched up half bushel potatoes from old Mr. Hawley, chopped road in after noon and got the waggon in Deerham five [?] rods, went to site built a camp, cooked supper and slept - Friday morning went to cutting road again and sometime in the afternoon arrived at the site with the waggon and cut and piled under brush till night, old Mr. Hawley went down to his son Williams and fetched up a bushel of oats for the oxen Satterday morning cleaned off a building spot, chopped some logs and began a house and got it up 3 logs high on two sides and my men went home.”

It had taken four days to get from Normandale [near Long Point] on paths to Courtland, then cut a path through dense woods big enough to get the oxen and cart of supplies through, arriving on March 19th. If one judges the founding of a town by when the founder arrived and began his cabin, with plans to start industry and attract settlers; then March 19th was the founding of our town.

The next day George went off through the bush to find the few settlers in the area. He also collected flour oats, meat and potatoes, hay axes and had his axe repaired. He traded salt and other goods while meeting his other long distance neighbours and arranged for the men to come and help complete his shanty and build the forge. While walking, George wrote down the where land was good for a road. He later made sure all roads led to Tillsonburg.

The few local men came to help and George kept accounts noting that: “Hedges & Miller worked 4 days at choping and making shingle - Abraham Gilbert worked 4 days and Peter Gilbert worked 5 days choping - John & Ebenezer Healy, worked 5 days each - Samuel Healy worked 4 days a cooking” Others were helping as well with the times all noted.

The traditional history of the founding says that Benjamin Van Norman and Harvey Tillson were also founders and although they accompanied him on earlier excursions they did not come to help in initial building for another month and Benjamin did not move permanently here for another 11 years as he was a partner with his brother Joseph in the VanNorman Furnace at Normandale.

How are we celebrating the 190th Anniversary of our founding? Well, we are hoping for the construction of 190 log cabins to be completed by the 19th and displayed on Facebook. Anyone can pick up a log cabin kit free at Annandale NHS and let your imagination take wing.

One the actual date, Thursday, March 19 there will be a plaque re-dedication. What plaque, you ask? The Founding plaque that used to be in front of the library, and has been relocated to the originally proposed site, the approximate site of George and Nancy’s log cabin, at Simcoe St. and Vienna Rd. You will actually find it opposite the Tillsonburg Antique Market on Old Vienna Rd.

Weather permitting you can meet at the museum and leave at 1:30 p.m. for a short walk down the hill to the site, or meet us there. Following a brief ceremony, we will return to the museum for coffee/hot chocolate and cookies. You can call the museum 519-842-2294 on the day, to see if we have cancelled due to the weather.

A tidbit of information, March 15th, the day he set out on this great adventure is also the anniversary of his death in 1864, at 81 years of age, after contacting pneumonia while working one of his roads.

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