Graue Mill and Museum: Learn About Life in Illinois in the 1800s, the Underground Railroad, and Much More

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BY ANDREW MORKES (updated July 2021)

Breaking News: There’s a wormhole near Ogden Avenue and I-294. When my 8-year-old son and I were pulled into it on Tuesday, we were transported back to 1852. In this year:

  • Millard Fillmore was president of the United States.
  • Chicago was not even 20 years old.
  • Levi Strauss had been selling heavyweight trousers (we now call them blue jeans) to gold miners for only 2 years.
  • Native Americans were still living free in many Western areas.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was published and galvanized public opinion in the northern states against slavery.
  • And one morning, a German immigrant named Fred Graue “entered his mill [in what is now Oak Brook, Illinois] and turned the wheel that opened the sluice gates outside. Water from Salt Creek rushed into the millrace and the wooden waterwheel began to turn for the first time. It would turn the machinery that would grind grain for the next 70 years.”

Okay, there is no wormhole, but it’s fun to dream. My son and I did feel as if we were transported back in time when we visited the Graue Mill and Museum (3800 York Road, Oak Brook, IL 60523-2738, 630/655-2090 or 630/920-9720, info@grauemill.org), which is located on Salt Creek, a tributary of the Des Plaines River. This underappreciated local gem was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and it is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in the Chicago area.

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Here are 8 reasons to visit Graue Mill and Museum:

1. You get the chance to see what life was like in the 1850s through 1890s. The top two floors of the mill feature rooms that depict daily life and display household items and farm tools from the era. My son was fascinated by the horse-drawn carriages and heavy irons that one had to heat on the stove before ironing clothes. An hour at Graue Mill will certainly make you appreciate all the creature comforts we have today, but also appreciate the ingenuity in which people of the 19th century met the challenges of daily life.

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2. You get to watch and participate in demonstrations by docents that include milling, spinning, weaving, and living history presentations. My son got to prepare and spin wool and watch a weaving demonstration.

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3. Learn more about the Underground Railroad via the exhibit, “Graue Mill and the Road to Freedom” in the basement of the mill. More than 150 years ago, Frederick Graue sheltered African slaves who had escaped from southern plantations as they made their way north to freedom. The exhibit features photographs, documents (such as slave sales ads), and actual slave items (manacles, slave tags that identified the slave’s owner, etc.) that bring this terrible time in our nation’s history to life. (Slavery is not just a scourge of the past, but a serious problem in the modern world. The Walk Free Foundation estimates that 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery around the world. Visit this organization’s website to learn what you can do to fight modern slavery.)

IMG_23294. Attend special events such as the museum’s annual Craft Beer Tasting Event (July 20, 2018; act now to register because tickets go fast); Master Gardeners’ Lecture (July 29, 2018), Civil War Encampment (September 1 and 2, 2018), and Christmas at the Mill Holiday Boutique (November 17th and 18, 2018). The museum also hosts an annual Fine Arts Festival each June (but, unfortunately, the 2018 edition has already been held).

After you finish your indoor visit, take some time to:

5. Enjoy a picnic lunch in a pretty, wooded area (picnic tables are available) just outside the museum. As you eat, you can watch the creek and imagine life back in the 1850s.

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6. Tour the museum grounds to view the waterwheel, concrete dam (a wooden dam existed in the 1800s), and Graue Homestead.

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7. Launch a canoe or kayak at the canoe launch, or set up a chair and fishing pole to pass the time on the banks of Salt Creek.

8. Hike the creekside trail to the Fullersburg Woods Nature Center, which is the subject of my next post at Nature in Chicagoland.

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Things to Know Before You Visit:

  • Graue Mill and Museum are open from mid-April through mid-November. Check the museum’s website for open and close dates.
  • Museum Hours (2021): OPEN: Thursday-Friday: 10 AM to 4 PM; Sunday: 12 PM-4 PM
  • MUSEUM CLOSED (2021): Saturday and Monday-Wednesday
  • Admission Rates: Children 3-under: Free; Children 4-12: $2 Adults: $5; Seniors: $4
  • The museum has a small gift shop, which offers tasty jams and jellies, pickles, and fudge.

Copyright Andrew Morkes [text (except quoted material courtesy of the museum)/photos]

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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES

I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlightnewsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job OpeningsNontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDsThey Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titlesThey Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. 

In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering CareersWhat Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).

My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.

I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. Click on the title to learn more. 

If you like Nature in Chicagoland, please share my blog with your friends and family.

3 thoughts on “Graue Mill and Museum: Learn About Life in Illinois in the 1800s, the Underground Railroad, and Much More

  1. Liam and I looked through this but once he realized he had seen everything first hand, he returned to his prior activity. I, of course, enjoyed seeing what you had discussed on Tuesday.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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