Historic Timetable of Graue Mill Dam
Updated: Jul 24
Early settlers expressed a need for a dam on Salt Creek shortly after they arrived in this area, as shown in the Torode family letters that described challenges of finding food. On 5/21/1836, J.J. Torode wrote, "...we have tried to catch fish ___ with hooks but we could not succeed then we made a basket and we could not secure it... and it rained and rose the [river] and flote it off and drifted about 200 yds down so all
Photo by Bruce Nudd our labour was lost; and not one fish after all, if we
had a dam... ." (Torode letters courtesy of DuPage
County Historical Museum.)
The Torodes also needed lumber for a barn and fences to corral their cows. Their eventual decision to construct a sawmill powered by the creek instead of a grist mill must have been difficult, as
both were needed; Nicholas had experienced a bitterly cold experience in January, 1836 making the trip to the Naper Settlement to have his grist ground, writing that "the horses almost perished with the cold while at the mill I had to keep them covered with my two quilts or I would have lost
Hinsdale historian Hugh Dugan writes in Village on the County Line that the first area dam "was built of logs and brush, as the Indians used to built them, by that versatile Sherman King whose name appears so frequently in the annals of the village." In her book Hinsdale Images of America, Sandra Bennet Williams discusses the early dam, writing, "King was involved with building the first sawmill on Salt Creek in 1837, operated by fellow pioneer Nicholas Torode. The mill served the growing population by providing boards, rather than logs, for better quality homes and barns." As also stated by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, "The original dam at this site was built of brush in 1837 by Nicholas Torode, and by Sherman King, who came to this area the year before. It was used to power a sawmill, but was washed out a few years later, and replaced with a log dam."
In 1838, Frederick Graue arrived in this area, clearing land and building a home near the Torode sawmill, where he worked. Around 1848, the mill burned; Frederick purchased the mill with a partner, converting it to a grist mill and building this structure with bricks instead of wood. George Ruchty, descendant of Fullersburg founder Benjamin Fuller, writes in The Fullers of Fullersburg that the dam "was rebuilt with stones and logs piled on top of the original dam thus raising the water level in the creek and affording more water power to be used in grinding grain."
Dugan reports that the log dam at Graue's mill "was replaced by a crib-and-plank type dam in the 1870's. Originally, power for the mill was obtained from an under-shot wheel, like the one there now, but later, in 1868 a water turbine drive was installed, the turbine being shipped from
Springfield, Ohio." The author explains that the water flow become less reliable, creating the need for supplemental power.
This dam appears to be referenced by the former caretaker of the land which became Fullersburg Forest Preserve; George Kolzow (1875-1964) wrote a short memoir which was forwarded to Fullersburg Historic Foundation in 2020. George writes about the creek and dam (c.1960):
There were eight of us boys always who played down there everyday... . We
fished and went swimming every day. We never took water along to drink. There
was always fresh water from springs. ... The C.C.C. camp stood where the Boy
Scouts now camp. The old dam was 2 feet higher than it is today. The Indian
mounds are still there. We could have picked up bushels of Indian arrow heads
at this place and all around it.
In 1916, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers reports that the crib dam was washed out, and "for 16 years, there was no dam at this site until the new concrete and stone structure was constructed." F.O Butler acquired the property around the mill and dam around 1921 from the Graue family, who had owned it (exclusively) since @ 1852. In 1931, the DuPage County Forest Preserve took over ownership of this site and remains the current owner.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was established in 1933, and shortly thereafter, the low head dam (referenced above) was created at its current location. The waterfall created by this dam can be heard at the cemetery behind Faith Fellowship Church in Fullersburg, where many early settlers are buried. In 1975, Graue Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places; in 1981, it became an Illinois Historic Mechanical Engineers Landmark. Fishermen catch bass and other fish above and below the dam, and both herons and egrets can be found fishing in both locations, as well.
For further reading, see "For You" section of this website, which includes a link to The Fullers of Fullersburg by George Ruchty and the Kolzow Memoir by George Kolzow. Hugh Dugan's book Village on the County Line can be found in the "Suggested Reading" section of this site. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers' article about Graue Mill can be found at:
Sue Devick, M.A.