Catalog > School Field Trips > Fun Chicago and Suburban Field Trips > Graue Mill and the Underground Railroad
Graue Mill and the Underground Railroad
|Private Instruction - $750
May 1st - October 31st
Group will be picked up in a clean bus and will meet a professional tour guide at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County - 15 miles west of downtown Chicago.
Group will be assigned a costumed docent who will conduct your group through the following:
• A brief walking tour of the mill grounds (weather permitting)
• A corn grinding demonstration
• The Underground Railroad exhibit
• The upper two floors where there are period room settings of the Civil War era and volunteers dressed in costume demonstrating spinning and weaving techniques.
Although visits generally require at least one and one-half hours we will be happy to modify the length and content of your tour if you have more time to spend. We can accommodate no more than 125 students in one time slot and recommend that the students be divided into groups of 20-25.
Picnic sites are available at no extra charge. Many preserves have shelters that are available on a first-come-first-served basis.
Clothing for outdoor activities should be appropriate for the weather. Some outdoor trails are paved or have crushed-limestone surfaces, but those using trails should wear boots on muddy days. Bottled water, sunscreen, insect repellent, and other such needs are recommended.
One summer morning in 1852, Fred Graue entered his mill 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 seventy years.
Today, Graue Mill is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in Illinois.
As early as the 16th century, western European nations constructed a slavery system in the Western Hemisphere. There was slavery in all thirteen original American colonies. After the Revolutionary war the northern states found slavery to be unprofitable and abolished it; the largely agricultural southern states found slavery to be profitable and continued it. Although both black and white people were temporarily bound as indentured servants in the early colonial period when demand increased for a perpetual labor force, laws were passed which established chattel (that is, lifelong) slavery. People of African origin were taken from their homelands to supply this labor. Enslaved Africans took considerable risks to gain freedom by escaping from their masters. Their escapes were carried out in secrecy (therefore, "underground") and were most numerous about the time that newly built steam railroads had captured the public imagination.
The "Underground Railroad" became a major impetus leading to the eradication of slavery. Through the use of secret codes, runaway slaves ("passengers") usually traveled to their destinations by night either alone or in small groups. Whenever possible black and white abolitionists provided food and shelter at stopping places known as "stations" or served as "conductors" providing transportation between stations. The Underground Railroad remained active until the end of the Civil war as black bondsmen continued to use the system to flee the horrors of slavery. DuPage County played a significant role in this pivotal chapter in American history.
In the 1800's, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Wayne Center, Warrenville, West Chicago, Lombard, Naperville, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Lyons and Oak Brook had "stations" on the Underground Railroad. DuPage County was situated in such a way that "passengers" coming from the south, southwest, and western parts of the state passed through the area. Wheaton College, the Filer House (Glen Ellyn), the Peck House (Lombard), and the Blodgett Home (Downers Grove) are examples of the few remaining structures in DuPage County which provided havens for slaves seeking their freedom.
The Graue Mill and Museum in Oak Brook is one of the remaining authenticated "stations". Frederick Graue, a miller by occupation, housed slaves in the basement of his gristmill. The Graue Mill's location on Salt Creek, a tributary of the Des Plaines River, made it an ideal location for harboring slaves. Glennette Turner, local historian and noted author regarding the Underground Railroad in Illinois, believes that Mr. Graue built tunnels linking the basement of his mill with other hiding places. Today, the exhibit "Graue Mill and the Road to Freedom" uses photographs, documents, a computer interactive system and additional displays to illustrate the issue of slavery, the Underground Railroad and the importance of Graue Mill and DuPage County in assisting fugitive slaves to escape to freedom.