Historic Graue Mill in Oak Brook grinding again after repairs

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The old Graue Mill is once again grinding away again every day in west suburban Oak Brook. (WLS)

The old Graue Mill is once again grinding away again every day in west suburban Oak Brook.

The mill was closed for repairs for almost a year, but now its old paddle wheel is spinning again.

Let's let this paddle wheel take us back in time 164 years, spinning us away to another time when water - not electricity - was a big source of power. Power that could spin giant 2,000-pound grinding stones, turning corn into cornmeal. And it all began in 1852.

"One hundred and sixty four years ago they were opening these doors and the neighborhood had gained a factory for processing grain," said Rus Strahan, head miller.

Frederick Graue, a German immigrant, brought the grinding stones from France and he and his family kept them spinning for almost 70 years. The building fell into disrepair several times but now - thanks to over half a million dollars from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County - the doors are open again and an ancient milling process is back on the job.

"The corn goes in. It goes in between the stones and it's cut to a fine consistency. It comes out to the outer edge... It's spun out by the stone into the bucket," Strahan said. "Fresh corn mean it smells wonderful in here."

It's not easy to make something very old seem like new but they have done it here. From the mid-1800 to the 21st century, it's been cornmeal just like great, great grandma.

In 1852, Millard Fillmore was president, Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer in Springfield and it's the year that Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. And that's a part of this story, too.

"The Graue family was anti-slave, so they made their mill available as a stop on the Underground Railroad," Strahan said. "So people would come in, escaping slaves at night. They would be hidden under these gears behind me during the day while at work."

The spinning of the water wheel and the sound of the mill covered their arrivals and escapes - a sound that is still with us.

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