Descendants of Graue, Asche and Fischer families to gather at Graue Mill
When the Graue, Asche and Fischer families gather this weekend in Oak Brook, they’ll serve up a heaping helping of history
At many family reunions, relatives get reacquainted and welcome new members into their bond.
When descendants of the Graue, Ashe and Fischer families gather Saturday, June 16, at Graue Mill and Museum in Oak Brook, many will meet for the first time.
"This is the 160th anniversary of the mill being built," said Norma Lagerhausen, who, as the family reunion organizer, said she expects 90 to 100 to attend. "It's been a lot of fun working on this because we've had a lot of conversations through emails."
A luncheon for family members will be a ticket-only affair, but the mill will be open to the public, Lagerhausen said.
"Family members will have name tags and the public is welcome to come and talk to family members if they're interested in the history," she said.
The historic mill was the center of economic life in the Fullersburg area, between what is now Hinsdale and Oak Brook, during the later half of the 19th century.
Lagerhausen grew up an Asche, and her great-great grandfather William (Jurgen) Asche built the mill with Frederick (Friedrich) Graue. Both were German immigrants and sons-in-law of Johann Fischer.
"I found out I'm related on all three sides," said Lagerhausen, who grew up in Roselle, but now lives in Maryland.
Graue bought out his brother-in-law, Asche, after the mill opened in 1852 and the Graue family operated it for the next 60 years until about 1912.
Now owned by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District and operated by the DuPage Graue Mill Corporation, the mill still grinds cornmeal for visitors and is a popular destination for school field trips. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and believed to be one of the stops on the Underground Railroad for black slaves escaping to the North.
Lagerhausen said she didn't know her own connection to the mill until she visited it on a fifth-grade field trip. She went home and showed her father a pamphlet she had picked up.
"He said, 'You know that's your mill, don't you?' I didn't," she said.
By her teen years, Lagerhausen became intrigued with family history.
"I wasn't going out partying with my friends. I was going through cemeteries, trying to track down where everybody was," she said.
With the Internet, tracking down family has become much easier. Lagerhausen said relatives will be coming from several states, including California, Virginia and Wisconsin. Many knew of their connection to the mill, but not to each other.
Julie Innamorato, whose mother was a Graue, grew up in California, but said she has visited the mill twice in the past 10 years.
"I was so impressed with the way it was cared for. It's just beautiful," she said.
Sandy Brubacker, the recently retired executive director of Graue Mill & Museum, said she has met many descendants of the original families who were passing through the area.
"They're all so proud they're related to Fred Graue," she said.
Brubacker helped organize a family reunion 10 years ago when the forest district opened the restored Frederick Graue house that sits adjacent the mill. Artifacts that have been donated by family members over the years will be on display at this year's reunion.
The artifacts include a horsehair settee that was in the parlor of the Graue home; a family Bible owned by F.W. Graue, Frederick Graue's son; and the deed in which Frederick gave the mill to his son for "one dollar and love and affection."
Visitors also can read the words of Frederick Graue's granddaughter, Mathilda, about what life was like at the mill at the turn of the century, a life that included peeling lots of potatoes.
"In addition to the mill, they also had a large farm," Brubacker said. "They had a lot of employees."
Constructed of bricks made from clay taken from the Graue farm, the mill took five years to build. Limestone for the mill was quarried near Lemont. The four, one-ton buhrstones used for grinding were imported from France. Originally powered by a water wheel, the mill ground corn, wheat, buckwheat, oats and rye. Maple syrup and cider also were produced.
The Graues were typical of many German-Americans, said Norman Peters, a professional genealogist living in Washington, D.C., and himself a descendant of a Graue family in Missouri. He said three main groups of Graues settled in the United States -- in Missouri, Ripley County, Ind., and DuPage County.
All three groups came from towns near Hanover, Germany, a history Peters wrote about in his book "The Graue Family: A History of the Graue Family of the Kingdom of Hannover, (West Germany)," published in 1989. (Another group of Graues settled in Australia.) The book will be available to order at the reunion, although Peters said he is unable to come to the gathering.
Like many Germans, the Graues suffered from the upheaval caused by one war after another in Europe. Not belonging to the aristocratic class and without hope of bettering their lives in their native country, they were lured to America by the promise of owning land and enjoying the fruits of their labor, Peters said.
Evangelical Lutherans by religion, they did not forget the conditions they left behind. The DuPage Graues let their mill be used as a stop on the Underground Railroad to aid escaping slaves. When the Civil War broke out, Graues along with other German-Americans joined the Union Army in great numbers
"The North may have not won the Civil War were it not for the German-Americans. They were very anti-slavery," Peters said.
Pam Kotsch, a native of Wheaton who now lives in Virginia, has written an 800-page book about her DuPage County ancestors, including the Graues, Asches and Fischers. She also has visited the area in Germany where the Graues lived.
"That area is so much like Illinois ... mostly flat," she said.
Kotsch, who will come to the reunion with her mother, Audrey Holt, hopes to gather more material to eventually write a follow-up to her family history.
"I'm looking forward to some of the stories," she said.
The Graues, Asche and Fischers remained intertwined through marriage with many of the Asches settling in Addison Township.
But at a time when many people died young and transportation was difficult, different members ended up in different places and often lost touch. Lagerhausen's great-grandmother, Louisa Graue, married Wilhelm Asche and died at the age of 37 after her eighth child was born.
"Her husband, who was the second Wilhelm Asche, died six months later, leaving eight children orphans, and one of them was my grandfather," she said.
The children were parceled out to other family members and neighboring farms, with many of them not seeing each other for years, she said. Lagerhausen's grandfather lived in Elmhurst, but moved in with her family after his wife died.
"I remember him saying how it was being moved to another family," she said. "Being an orphan in those days, you weren't treated the same."
Marlene Dyer's grandfather, Julius Asche, also was one of the orphans. He left his foster home at age 17, joined the cavalry and fought the Mexican general Pancho Villa.
"He learned to live off the land. Back then the military didn't have supplies brought to them. They had to hunt for their food," she said. "He knew how to do rope tricks."
Julius Asche settled in Prairie du Chien, Wis., where Dyer now lives. Dyer said she visited an aunt, uncle and cousin in Elmhurst as a child, but otherwise had little contact with her extended family. She's putting together old letters and mementos to bring to the reunion.
"I've always been very interested in genealogy. It's always intriguing to know how you ended up where are," she said.
Kenneth Rathje of Downers Grove would have been an Asche, but his grandfather, another one of the eight orphans, was adopted.
Rathje, who will be at the reunion, said his son wrote an essay in fourth grade about his ancestors' connection with the Underground Railroad.
"It's something to be proud of," he said. "I'm looking forward to meeting some people I never met before."
The reunion will give family members an opportunity to explore other connections they have.
"It's a big puzzle," Lagerhausen said, "but it's fun when it all comes together."
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