The Benjamin Fuller Farmhouse
The Benjamin Fuller Farmhouse is a true local historical treasure, as it is likely to be the earliest example of balloon frame construction in the country (and possibly the world). Located in Hinsdale, Il., this stately home, constructed around 1840, also illustrates the innovative qualities of Fullersburg's founder, Ben Fuller. In 1834, Ben first traveled to Chicago from New York in search of land for his large, extended family. The following year, he brought his family to this area and built a cabin near a creek (at the current Mayslake site) and used the flow of the water to power his tools. Ben became a leader in his new community; he established a successful farm, platted the town, and donated land for a cemetery and school. He also was an entrepreneur, operating a hotel and creating a business called The Farmer's Market around the same time that he built his new farmhouse.
Rapid growth occurred in Illinois and the other plain states after the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, which forced the removal of the local Native Americans to territories west of the Mississippi River. Ben had
forged a friendly relationship with the Potawatomi, whose village in this area was the largest indigenous settlement in DuPage County. Chicago had been a small trading center; however, it soon became associated with the emergence of balloon frame construction, in which sheathing was attached to both interior and exterior walls. This building technique also was characterized by full-length vertical studs that extended the full height of a structure in contrast to platform framing, characterized by separate framing for every floor. The use of the full-length studs was less complicated and allowed for faster construction of warehouses, churches, and other structures, including homes. This technique became known as Chicago Construction and was partially responsible for a building boom on the plains of the Midwest. From approximately 1850 to 1920, settlers in this region could build affordable farmhouses on the outlying frontier, contributing to the country's westward expansion.
Ben Fuller built his farmhouse in the heart of the village of Fullersburg, however, closer to his established businesses. His home was considered a mansion at that time; a front porch and a rear summer kitchen were added between 1850 and 1855. The home was located at 948 York Road near
the intersection of York and Ogden Avenue; both roads were former Native American trails. Ben was closely associated with Frederick Graue, who purchased partial ownership of the local mill in Fullersburg around 1850 from the Torode family, converting it from a sawmill to a grist mill. Both Ben and Frederick were successful businessmen and respected leaders of the community when they petitioned the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad to create a stop at Fullersburg in 1862. Unfortunately, the railroad chose a station site south of Fullersburg in the village of Hinsdale, which then limited the growth of Fullersburg; Ben was probably very disappointed by this development. He passed away in 1868 and
was laid to rest at peaceful, wooded Historic Fullersburg Cemetery on land that he had donated.
Additional modifications were made to the Ben Fuller Farmhouse between 1920 and 1950, and a
second story was added to the kitchen wing. However, the valuable location of the house on the west side of York Road near Ogden created pressure for its demolition and development of the land. Therefore, the house was moved from its original location to the Fullersburg Parking Lot near Graue Mill, at the intersection of York and Spring Roads. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County purchased the home in 1981, and unfortunately in this same year, the summer kitchen also burned. In 1987, restorative work began on the farmhouse, and the front porch was rebuilt. Additionally, the roof, windows, clapboard siding, and shutters were replaced; the siding of the farmhouse also was painted white and the shutters green.
Subsequently, in 2016, a Cultural Resource Evaluation and Management Plan for the farmhouse was prepared by Wise, Janney, and Elstner Associates, and this was approved by the DuPage Forest Preserve District. The analysis indicated that the Farmhouse was significant to local history under the National Register Criteria A due to its association with the early settlement of Fullersburg and DuPage County. Further, under National Register Criteria C, the house was considered a noteworthy example of balloon frame construction that remains relatively intact. The site is also included on the District's list of historic structures in the county. The cost for the stabilization and further restoration of this structure was estimated at that time to be $750,000. A grant was in place through the State of Illinois, but was retracted by the Illinois governor in 2015.
Fullersburg Historic Foundation has shown a strong dedication toward the preservation of the Ben Fuller Farmhouse since 2004. The foundation strongly feels that the interior of the house should be restored so that it can serve as an interpretive center for the area's past, including the recognition of the local Native American history and the Settlement Era; the role of this area as a "station" in the Underground Railroad before and during the Civil War is also highly significant. Details of the numerous ways in which the farmhouse could be utilized for civic and educational purposes are listed in the Fullersburg Chronicles published by the foundation and available on this website under "Sources."
The organization is still hopeful that funds can be raised to allow this unique historic building to serve as an educational site for people of all ages. As stated in the above-mentioned publication:
Once the Farmhouse restoration is underway, publicity about the project, the
balloon frame significance of the Farmhouse, the beauty and open space
character of the area, the historic Fullersburg Dam and the fascinating history
of Fullersburg will attract more visitors to the area and will result in promoting
Fullersburg as a tourism, historical, recreational, architectural, and open space
destination unique to DuPage County and Illinois.
(Valerie Spale and Don Fuller, great great grandson of Benjamin Fuller)