Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve
3800 York Rd
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Open and operating.
Tours are available during open hours. Check their website for current news and admission.
April to November
Tuesday - Sunday: 10:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.
Monday: Closed, except holidays
Closed / non-operational during winter.
Basement level only
(1852 - present) Corn
(1852 - present) Wheat
(1852 - present) Buckwheat
(1852 - present) Oats
Frederick Graue (1852 - ?)
Graue Family (? - 1921)
F. O. Butler (1921 - 1931)
DuPage County Forest Preserve (1931 - present)
1975: National Register of Historic Places
1981: Illinois Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark
1874 Combination Atlas of DuPage County
Moyar, Gerald and Tuncer Kuzay. “The Old Graue Mill.” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1981
Vierling, Philip E. The Fischer Windmill. Chicago: Illinois Country Outdoor Guides, 1994.
The Graue Mill.
Photo by Tom Haskell
History of the Mill
The most famous and visited mill in Illinois is the Graue Mill. It is also the oldest surviving mill, and one of only two operating water mills in the state. After decades of partial restorations, money woes, and pleas from the public, the mill has been restored to its former glory and still cracks corn between its stones.
The history of the site actually begins in 1837, when the area was known as Brush Hill (it was later renamed Fullersburg, for which the current surrounding forest preserve is named). Nicholas Torode and Sherman King were the first to dam Salt Creek to power a saw mill. Their dam, being built of brush, was washed out after just a few years of operation. By 1844, however, the two entrepreneurs built a stronger log-style dam and saw mill; that mill ran successfully until it burned down in 1848. The site was then abandoned.
Frederick Graue (originally Friedrich Graue), a native of Hanover, Germany, together with William Asche, purchased the site in 1849. With the log dam still intact and sound, the two constructed another saw mill. Interestingly, both men also married women of the Fischer family; their brother-in-law, Henry Fischer, would construct the windmill now in Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Coincidentally, there are a number of connections between the Fischer Windmill and the Graue Mill. Graue was twice married: first to Louisa Fischer, as mentioned above, with whom he had seven children (five survived). Graue’s second marriage was to Henrietta Korthauer, the daughter of Henry Korthauer, the carpenter who aided in the construction of the Fischer Windmill. Henrietta’s sister, Caroline, married Edward Ehlers, the second owner of the windmill; and it was Caroline who sold the windmill and farm to Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Three years into the mill’s operation, however, Graue purchased the entire operation so that he could instead operate a grist mill. For this business, it was necessary for Graue to construct a new building; the four-story, 48’ x 28’ brick mill that we see today was constructed using clay from Graue’s 200-acre farm that was fired in a kiln nearby. Timber and limestone in the building came from Lemont, IL. A millwright from New York hand-carved and assembled the mill gearing, and the grinding stones were imported from France. The mill began operating in 1852.
During the Civil War, the mill, in addition to custom grinding, made syrup from sugar cane. The mill also served as a “station” of the Underground Railroad—one of three in Illinois—to aid slaves in escaping to Canada.
The mill was a successful operation and, to many who remember it, a vital economic asset—so much, in fact, that high demand forced the addition of a steam engine to the north of the mill sometime before 1874 (the Combination Atlas of 1874 shows the mill with a smokestack and additional building to house the engine). It is likely that the engine was added around the same time Graue had modified his mill with a water turbine, which replaced the original water wheel. The Standard Leffel Upright Turbine, installed in 1868, together with the steam engine, increased the two run-of-stone mill’s capacity to 125 barrels per day.
In 1879, the log dam was replaced by a stronger plank-and-crib dam; this led, in the following year, to the founding of the J. F. Ruchty Ice Company, who, in winter, carved ice blocks from the frozen mill pond and stored them in a house just south of the mill. It was also in 1880 that the mill’s boiler exploded, burning down the steam engine wing.
By 1884, a new engine house with a brick chimney was constructed, this time to the east of the mill building. A few years later, a west wing was added for storage, and then a hydraulic cider press was installed in 1893.
The mill had more or less outlived its usefulness by 1916 when the dam was washed away. The mill operated only occasionally by Patrick Kammeyer until his death in 1928. F. O. Butler, who owned the site in 1921, sold it to the DuPage County Forest Preserve District in 1931. Three years later, the forest preserve district, realizing the history of the site, chose to begin an effort to restore the mill to its original operating condition in the 1850s and 60s. The Civilian Conservation Corps first reconstructed the dam using concrete and stone in 1935; this dam is still in place today.
The Federal Works Progress Administration provided labor and funding to conduct research on the mill’s working parts and began reconstructing the water wheel and internal gearing; however, finding adequately skilled laborers proved challenging, and the work was never completely finished. The restoration project, faced with money woes, came to a halt, and the mill was eventually leased to the DuPage Graue Mill Corporation. This non-profit organization led the effort to continue restoring the mill, and continues to operate the mill to this day.
By 2009, the entire mill was again operational; the dream of having the mill restored to its original condition became a reality. Although the mill is now fully operational, it is not actually run by water power. The water wheel on the exterior or the mill does, in fact, turn by the flow of Salt Creek, but this wheel is not in any way connected to the mill’s drive train. Given the fact that Salt Creek freezes in winter, floods in spring and fall, and is nearly bone-dry in summer, the mill’s gears are instead turned by a more reliable electric motor.
Graue Mill continues to custom grind grain, which can be purchased on site. The mill also serves as a living museum, with guides dressed in period clothing, and with many artifacts on display. Visitors can also see the nearby Graue House, where the owner lived.