Fullersburg, IL and Graue Mill

It is sometimes overwhelming to me just how much history is hidden in plain sight, and well within commuting distance of where I live. Some of it is obvious, and some is difficult to completely comprehend. Thankfully, many take it upon themselves to preserve their history and share it with others, making my job of sharing it with you that much easier. 

With that in mind, I'll be talking today about a place many suburban Chicago schoolchildren visit at least once on field trips: Graue Mill, and Fullersburg, IL, which was a nearby settlement that eventually became part of present day Hinsdale and Oak Brook. In the case of Fullersburg, the Fullersburg Historic Foundation has kept the history and story of the Village alive, even as housing and development has overshadowed many of its buildings.

Graue Mill: 

Graue Mill is easily the most preserved and public site that was once part of old Fullersburg. Frederick Graue, a German immigrant, purchased the site, which was a sawmill that had burnt down, in 1849, and constructed a gristmill with William Asche. When it opened in April 1852, it ground wheat, corn and grain produced by local farmers, and thus became sort of a center of commerce for the surrounding area.

Graue Mill and Museum Building. FRRandP, photo.

The area's importance was also noted regionally, as Abraham Lincoln would visit the site en route from Chicago to Springfield. The mill would be active for over 70 years, before modern technologies rendered it obsolete, and the building was abandoned. However, it was acquired by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, who in 1934 chose to restore the building to its Civil War-era appearance. Over the next few decades, the DuPage Graue Mill Corporation would convert it into a museum and restore the mill into operable condition.

The mill, powered by water from the adjacent Salt Creek. FRRandP, photo.

Aside from its economic importance to the area, the mill was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad to house runaway slaves in the basement. Of course, the Underground Railroad was not a real railroad, but rather a network of transportation routes that linked safe haven areas like Graue Mill (known as stations), and run by abolitionists and free blacks (conductors), to transport slaves (passengers) from slaveholding states to Canada, where they would be free from the Fugitive Slave Act

Because secrecy was the key to the Railroad succeeding, very few records of stations were kept, and most communication and record keeping of sites was done orally. In fact, many of the conductors would only know the next station or two along the route North. Graue Mill's location on the Salt Creek made it an especially ideal spot for a stop, since often passage required walking adjacent to, swimming or boating through, water.

Many sites, both documented and forgotten, existed around the Chicago area, because from Chicago, one could use the Great Lakes to easily get to Canada. Additionally, like it is today, Chicago was a transportation hub, with numerous roads and rail lines entering the city.

Fullersburg:

Fullersburg was never an incorporated village, but is nonetheless fundamental in how Hinsdale and Oak Brook developed into the thriving villages they are today. The area was originally known as Brush Hill, claimed after the Treaty of Chicago by Orente Grant, and named after an early settler by the name of Benjamin Fuller.

Image: Fullersburg Historic Foundation

Fullersburg had other stops on the Underground Railroad as well, according to a 1929 newspaper article, "[The Fuller Inn and the Fullersburg Tavern] were of especial significance since they were connected by an underground tunnel which formed a link in the ‘underground railway’ used to smuggle negroes from the slave territory in the south to the free territory in the north."

That underground tunnel referred to would have connected to the Southwestern Plank Road, which is today known as Ogden Ave (US Route 34). The Southwestern Plank Road opened in 1848, and connected to Naperville in 1851. An earlier remnant of this road is simply named Plank Rd just east of downtown Naperville.

Map of the Fullersburg area from Village on the County Line (1949)

A great timeline of Fullersburg's history, starting at the end of the last glacial period about 10,000 years ago can be found here, with some of its historic sites listed here. Based on archaeological studies, humans have settled the area for at least 8,000 years.


Image: Fullersburg Historic Foundation

Like many towns that predated the coming of the railroad, such as Benjaminville, Fullersburg felt that their own survival would depend on it. During the 1850's, the Chicago and Aurora Railroad was planning the route that would eventually become the BNSF Racetrack, and Fullersburg (still known as Brush Hill at this point) signed onto a letter with officials from other villages requesting the road be built through their towns. "Brush Hill is the centre [sic] of a well settled and productive country, where a fair business is now transacted, and, with a Railroad, would soon grow into importance. There is a Flouring Mill at this place which keeps two teams constantly on the road to and from Chicago."

Chicago Burlington & Quincy Roundhouse, Aurora, IL 1857, before the direct route from Chicago to Aurora was constructed. Today, it survives as a restaurant. (Historic Structures)

In 1862, surveys had laid out two potential routes. "One was to follow the Plank road; the other was to cut through the swamp and peat beds, one mile to the south of the Plank road. The first required a heavy cut through the high ground from York road to Downers Grove. The second required tremendous fill because of the swamps and peat bogs." (Fullersburg Chronicles)

By 1864, the railroad was completed, amid a railroad strike and a little skirmish known as the Civil War hampering construction over the previous five years, and the alignment chosen was the one that put the Burlington Route a mile south of the center of Fullersburg.

However, while the railroad's track certainly did not help Fullersburg flourish, the area still continued to develop, although the development of Hinsdale along the railroad would eventually engulf the settlement, rather than making it a ghost town in the traditional sense of the word. Thankfully, numerous sites and memories still exist of the old village to this day.

Thanks as always for reading, and a special thanks to the Fullersburg Historic Foundation for providing information on this blog!

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