Before Hinsdale, there was Brush Hill.
Chicago was still swampland. Cattle drives moved down Ogden Avenue on their way to city markets. The Burlington Railroad wasn’t even a thought.
Brush Hill was one of the first settlements in 1830s DuPage County. Settlers moved into the area after 1833’s Treaty of Chicago, a byproduct of the Blackhawk War, in which the Native Americans in the area were forced to move west of the Mississippi River.
The year was 1834, and a young Ben Fuller rode from upstate New York on horseback to the Brush Hill area in search of a new life. Before long, Ben Fuller’s wife, parents and 11 siblings moved to the area, which in 1851 became formally plotted as Fullersburg. It was the start of somewhat of a legacy for the Fuller name in the area that still lives on today, most prominently through Fuller’s Car Wash and Fullersburg Woods.
Today, five main structures remain from what is now known as the Old Fullersburg area that included parts of modern-day towns, including Hinsdale and Oak Brook. Graue Mill is the most recognizable of the group, which also includes Faith Fellowship Church and the home of the founder of Fullersburg, the Ben Fuller farmhouse.
Yet, there’s another, less well-known piece of Fullersburg’s history that quietly sits at the end of a dead-end road in Hinsdale. Surrounded by a metal wire fence and shaded by towering oaks, the sleepy Fullersburg Cemetery lives on.
Though, just how many people know about the cemetery is the question. And to Don Fuller, the great-great grandson of Ben Fuller, that number is unfortunately low.
“I think it’s a forgotten place, personally,” he said. “I think if you talk to 99 percent of the people in town, they won’t even know it’s here.”
The cemetery is not open to the public, and hasn’t been for some time. A locked gate keeps visitors, and mischief, out. Combined with its inconspicuous location behind residential homes, the cemetery sees little traffic.
“If someone doesn’t take an interest, it’ll get overgrown again,” Fuller said of the cemetery. Fuller began looking after the land after its current caretaker, Lori Kurth, whose relatives are buried in the cemetery, allowed him to take a more active role in the future of the land.
Earlier this year, Fuller threw himself into cleaning up the cemetery. Greenery had overtaken parts of the land, trees were dying and some headstones laid in pieces.
“Now it’s kind of a passion for me, especially since I’ve realized how much family is here,” Don Fuller said.
Indeed, many of the gravestones bear the Fuller name, and names of those who married into the Fuller clan. Fuller estimated that he’s related to about 75 percent of those buried on the land.
“It holds so much history of the area,” Fuller added. “It’s packed with history of the settlement.”
The more than 150 graves do tell a story of the Old Fullersburg area, which faltered after the booming of the Burlington Railroad just a few miles south in today’s Hinsdale. The town eventually annexed Fullersburg in 1923. Soldiers from the Civil War and both World Wars, as well as a local conductor of the Underground Railroad, found their final resting place at the cemetery.
Popular names of the past — Winifred, Florence, Minnie — dot the cemetery, as does a faded silk Christmas wreath. There’s a sense of age there, with birthdates reaching into the early 1800s. Yet a new American flag waves high above the engraved stones, placed there earlier this year by a Memorial Day gathering of the Fuller family and members of the Fullersburg Historic Foundation.
This was the first such gathering in many years, Fuller said.
In the future, Fuller said he hopes to add the cemetery to the list of historical Fullersburg sites and include it on the foundation’s walking tour. This would increase exposure to the site in a controlled, respectful environment, he said.
He thinks back to the tales of old Fuller family members when he visits the cemetery. Fuller used to ride his bike around the plots as a child as a cut-through, passing generations of Fullers with little thought. Now, he can stand and point out each gravestone and its owner, as if he’s naming off his own children.
“I’ve sorta gotten into it in my old age, you could say,” Fuller said. “All those stories made us feel like we belonged here.”