Old Dutch Mill, Mount Emblem Mill, Ehlers' Mill
You may tour the grounds, but the mill is closed to the public.
Mount Emblem Cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk.
74' (Original); 50' (Current)
(1867 - 1894?) Wheat
(1867 - 1916?) Corn
(1936 - present) Bell Tower
(1865 - 1867) Original
(1925 - 1926) Restoration
Henry Frederick Fischer (Original)
Christian Heidemann (Original)
Henry Korthauer (Original)
Henry Ehlers (1925 Restoration)
Franklyn Ehlers (1925 Restoration)
[unnamed contractor] (2015 Renovation)
Henry Frederick Fischer (1867 - 1877)
Edward Ehlers (1877 - 1916)
Caroline Ehlers (1916 - 1925)
Mount Emblem Cemetery (1925 - present)
1956: DuPage County Historical Society
History of the Mill
Facing Northeast to the entrance of Mount Emblem Cemetery is the Fischer Windmill, the oldest standing custom windmill in Illinois. Now beautifully adorned by planned landscaping—including Lake Emblem, evergreens, and lilac bushes—it is hard to imagine that this was once a thriving farm.
Johann Frederick L. Fischer owned almost three hundred acres of land across DuPage and Cook counties. Before his death, he left his son, Henry Frederick Fischer, with the land in DuPage County. The land was not part of any municipality at that time; in fact, it wasn’t until 1981 that the City of Elmhurst annexed the land.
Henry began mill construction around the end of the Civil War in 1865. As an interesting side note, the Graue Mill was erected by Henry’s brothers-in-law, William Asche and Frederick Graue. The mill itself was not made from local timber; rather, its parts were prefabricated to Henry's specifications and shipped to Elmhurst from Holland in pieces (similar to the method used in constructing De Immigrant in Fulton).
Asked to aid with the construction of the mill were: Christian Heidemann, whose own mill in Addison would later be based on Fischer's design; and Henry Korthauer, a cabinet maker from Bensenville. It took nearly three years to build because of changes to the design during its construction.
The hand-crafted mill features cypress beams resting upon a two-story foundation of stone and brick. The gears are made of hickory and white oak; the great spur wheel, located on the third floor, took six months to complete. The mill was originally fitted with white pine sails spanning 74 feet, making it one of the largest in the state.
Technologically speaking, the mill is very advanced: it features grain elevators; a fly-ball governor to tenter the grinding stones; an auxiliary drive system; “shakers” that tap grain into the stones; the latest wheat-cleaning and corn-shelling machines; and a spiral conveyor.
The east shipping wing was built into the mill to house the large wheat bolter, which separated fine flour from more coarse bran. During construction or shortly after completion, a north wing with wide double-doors was added for receiving wagonloads of grain. The grain was then placed onto a cart which rode along tracks in the floor to the center of the mill.
The mill began grinding with two run-of-stone (one for wheat, one for corn) by 1867, capable of grinding 40 barrels per day. Not long thereafter, a west wing was constructed to house a 25-horsepower wood-burning steam engine to drive the machinery on calm days. A small building just south of the east wing was built around 1875 and likely served as an office, but it does not appear in photographs taken after 1886.
In 1877, Henry sold the mill and ten acres to Edward Ehlers for $10,000. Henry moved his family to Oregon where, three years later, he sold another 21 acres to Edward. Henry used the money to purchase a water mill capable of 50 barrels per day.
It is likely that wheat grinding stopped around 1894 when production moved further West into Kansas and Nebraska. The steam engine in the west wing was removed in 1910 and its space was used for storage. The mill probably stopped grinding corn between 1912 and 1916 when Edward Ehlers passed away.
Mount Emblem Cemetery
Edward Ehlers' widow Caroline (daughter of Henry Korthauer, one of the original builders) sold the farm and windmill to the Mount Emblem Association for $10,000 in 1925. Although the windmill and farm buildings were initially scheduled for demolition, the association instead hired Henry and Franklyn Ehlers, Edward's sons, of Ehlers Brothers General Contractors, to preserve the mill as a museum. Ehlers Brothers Construction also built the Elmhurst State Bank Building (now a 5/3 Bank) at 105 S York Rd.
They installed new windows, shingles and trim; replaced and reinforced the stage and hand rails; painted the mill; and built new sails, which were turned to a Saint Andrew’s cross ("X" formation), meaning the mill is in a "long rest".
The cap was turned Northeast toward the cemetery’s entrance, but prevailing west winds lifted the cap of the mill off the dead curb track. To prevent future damage, the cap was permanently strapped to the tower. The Itasca Electric Store installed flood lights on the roof of both the North and East wings to illuminate the mill at night. The west wing was destroyed to construct the parking lot of the administration building, but the iron drive shaft flange is still visible from the exterior of the mill's west wall.
The cemetery’s administration building, along with the entrance gates and bridges, were designed to resemble English architecture of the 1850s to "match" the styles used when the windmill was built; however, these copper and stone English structures only contrast with the German and Dutch woodwork of the mill.
It took eleven years for the architects of Simonds, West, & Blair to transform 75 acres (now 160 acres) of flat farmland into a picturesque, tranquil scene with tens of thousands of new trees and shrubs in addition to the creation of Lake Emblem. Dr. Preston Bradley dedicated the cemetery in June of 1936. For years, the mill could broadcast music on Sundays and holidays from loudspeakers in the third-floor windows.
The mill became an icon as the subject of artists’ paintings and the backdrop for both weddings and funerals. In 1956, Mount Emblem was awarded for its preservation of the mill by the DuPage County Historical Society.
Over the years, west winds continued to cause damage to the mill. The sails lost their wind boards, and three of them broke. The replacement sails, nearly identical to the one remaining original, were a few feet shorter with only 26 sail-bars instead of 30.
During the winter of 1990-91, a severe storm nearly destroyed the mill. Forces against the tail of the cap caused the brake to release and the sails to turn. The wind shaft twisted apart. As the sails fell, the brake wheel rose until its teeth came into contact with the wallower which, thankfully, held together and prevented the machinery from causing further damage. The aging mill was deemed structurally unsafe was thus permanently closed to the public.
New replacement sails were installed for show, built without an angle of weather, and this time with only 19 sail bars each. In 1998, yet another storm tail-winded the cap, snapping the two upper sails. These were replaced, and all four sails were reinforced with extra bolts, clamps, and cables.
A winter storm in 2004 brought them down again. For the bulk of 2004, the sails and wind shaft sat on the ground to the east of the mill as a gaping hole in the cap exposed the brake wheel. In early 2005 the sails were replaced again, this time with just 13 widely-spaced sail bars and constructed of lightweight aluminum.
Renovation, but not Restoration
In a 2007 visit to the mill, I noticed a green-and-white sign that read “Windmill Restoration / Starting Spring 1996.” Unfortunately, the plans were not pursued.
In 2010, the east shipping wing slipped off of its foundation, breaking one of the stage’s supporting timbers from the stone wall. The blizzard of 2011 caused the stage to fall onto an electrical box near the east wing, and the wind blew open two of the access doors allowing snow to drift in.
As part of the O'Hare Airport runway expansion program, deceased members of the Fischer and Asche families were relocated from St. Johanne's Cemetery to Mount Emblem. Norma Asche Lagerhausen convinced Dignity Memorial, the new owners of Mount Emblem, to keep and restore the mill.
Despite the outcry from the community and millwright Lucas Verbij, general contractors were hired to reinforce the structure but not restore the mill to working condition. Work began in April 2015, and you can see the latest photos on Facebook.
Vierling, Philip E. The Fischer Windmill. Chicago: Illinois Country Outdoor Guides, 1994.
The History of the Old Dutch Mill. Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Pirola, Louis. Historic American Buildings Survey. Heideman Mill, Addison IL. Chicago: HABS, 1934.
“Windward ho!” Addison Press. 26 June 1998.
DuPage County Clerk land and tax records, 1850—1926
Advertisement. Cook County Herald. 2 November 1926
1874 Combination Atlas of DuPage County
Photographs of the Bensenville Public Library
Photographs of the Elmhurst Historical Society
Oral history of Ernestine Ehlers Hackmeister
Map of Mount Emblem Cemetery
Personal records / observations
The newly-renovated Fischer Windmill in November 2015.
Photo by Tom Haskell