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  • Sue Devick

The Desperate Need for a Mill in Fullersburg

The pioneers in this area desperately needed a water-powered or mechanical mill to help provide both food and shelter. A grist mill was crucial for grinding grain needed for both their food and farming livelihood. Lumber also was needed for constructing houses, barns, and fences to contain livestock, and this could be supplied by a saw mill. Salt Creek allowed the water flow necessary to power a mill, and in 1837, a sawmill was constructed by early Fullersburg settlers Sherman King and Nicholas Torode. This mill was powered by a log and brush dam in the creek which washed out around 1840. (See "History of Dams in Fullersburg" in the For You section of this website.)

A dramatic letter written by Nicholas Torode on 1/18/1836 demonstrates how crucial it was to have access to a grist mill, however. Nicholas lived north of Fullersburg with his wife Susane and toddler son Charles, who "runs all over the house in all the time he is awake he is in mischief... ." Susane had been ill, and Nicholas found it necessary to take his horse-drawn wagon to the Naper Settlement's grist mill to have his corn ground, which was approximately twenty miles away over a rough Native American trail. Nicholas's neighbors had shared some frozen corn that had been pounded into a hominy block, but Nicholas states that he was "obliged to go or starve."

Nicholas writes that he had "seen trying times with the Cold wather," and that on his trip to the Naper Settlement, "I almost froze stiff with one great coat and two Comforts around me and a parcel of hay in the wagon beside warming my self every Chance I could get," and "it was impossible for me to face the wind... ." Once arriving at the mill, he had to wait two days (and three nights) to get his corn ground. His horses almost perished with the cold. He states, "I had to keep them covered with my two quilts or I would have lost them."

Nicholas had only about six hours of sleep over the three nights he spent at the mill waiting to have his corn ground. After this occurred, his corn was still very coarse. He faced insults from local men over the pork that he had brought to sell, and someone accused him of claim jumping, which nearly resulted in a physical altercation. At ten o'clock at night on his return trip home, his wagon became stuck in Salt Creek. He writes that Mr. Tamage's son (Talmadge) was his pilot, and that "it took us 4 hours to get out off the Crick."

This harrowing ordeal was not singular in nature. Around two weeks later, Nicholas and Susane fought a prairie fire that came within twenty yards of their home. In a letter written 1/30/1836, Nicholas writes that the stable and house "would have burned up that night the fire was great every whare I could see... ." Susane was bedridden after their enormous efforts to save their lives along with everything they owned.

In 1848, the sawmill owned by the Torode family burned; this property was sold to Frederick Graue and his partner, who began the construction of a successful grist mill. Picturesque and historic Graue Mill and Dam are still in existence at Salt Creek in Fullersburg, providing lessons about the Settlement Era and the early pioneers who struggled to build a thriving community together. The officers and directors of Fullersburg Historic Foundation strive to preserve the structures of Old Fullersburg, including the mill, dam, and the Ben Fuller Farmhouse, so that future generations will better understand the heritage of this unique area. See the "About Us" section of this site to learn about the plan to eliminate the historic dam. Torode letters courtesy of the DuPage County Historical Museum.

Sue Devick, Fullersburg Historic Foundation

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