Russell Bergdolt Farmstead, L.L.C.
Get to Know Our Unique Story
About Our Farm
About Our Farm
Russell Bergdolt Farmstead, L.L.C. in Star City, Indiana is operating a Hoosier farm that has been Bergdolt family since the 1879. We grow some of our hops using some of the same sustainable methods used by our ancestors.
Our brambles are also grown using the many sustainable agricultural techniques.
The original Bergdolt's of Bergdolt Farms were Philip and Catherine Bergdolt. Also on the deed were John and Elizabeth Fitz, Christopher and Dorthea Rohof and Bertha Wise. They purchased the original 40 acres together in 1879, with the help of a mortgage from Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company. It is likely that it took all four to provide the creditworthiness necessary to allow them to get the mortgage. Bertha, Dorthea and Elizabeth were all sisters to Catherine. While Philip was on the deed, it was Catherine who signed the deed and the mortgage. That probably was because Philip was in Chicago working at the Pullman factory making railroad passenger cars. His plan was to save enough money to pay off the mortgage in one year.
His plan would have a stumbling block.
Philip Barnum Bergdolt immigrated to the United States when he was 23 years old. He had grown up in Prussia (present day Germany) the youngest child of George Peter Bergdolt and Anna Maria Voelker. His father served as chief mathematician for the king of Prussia. Because of the father's position he had enough money to buy his older three sons out of military conscription. But he did not have the money to buy his youngest son Philip out of conscription. When Prussia invaded its neighbors and reports of a thousand dead on the first day of battle reached Philip's mother, she panicked. She convinced Philip to save himself by fleeing to the USA. To prevent detection he hid himself in the bottom of a hay wagon. At the Prussian border soldiers plunged pitchforks into the hay but fortunately missed him. When he got to Bremmenhaven he managed to board a ship as a stowaway.
On board he met a German American girl and struck up a friendship. When they arrived in New York she convinced her father, Mr. Reichling, to sponsor Philip and offer him a job in his flower shop in Chicago. Her family remained friends with Philip and his family for years afterward.
Above the flower shop lived a woman, her husband and their three children. Her husband was a violent alcoholic. Philip was touched by the woman's plight. By 1871 the empathy and support that Philip had shown to the woman, Catherine (Wise) Trotter became something more. On February 22nd 1871 Philip and Catherine crossed the state line and went to Shelby, Indiana and got married. On November 15th of 1877 Catherine gave Philip his first son, Philip Jr. , in Chicago.
A couple years later they bought the farm in Indiana and moved out of Chicago to rural Pulaski County, IN . At the Farm she gave him a daughter, Amelia, in 1879 and a second son, Ernest in 1880. Sometime around 1880 Catherine was made aware she had broken the law when she married Philip because she had not received a proper divorce from her spouse John Trotter. She then got the proper divorce, but with a condition that was heartbreaking to her. She had to leave her three children sired by her former husband , John Trotter, in the custody of their father in Chicago.
Philip and Catherine raised their children ,Philip, Jr., Amelia and Errnest, on the farm in Indian Creek township of Pulaski County, Indiana. As each of Catherine's other children came of age they rejoined their mother and lived on the farm at various periods of time.
Catherine came from a close family. They all had emigrated to America and settled in Pulaski, County, Indiana.
Her sisters and their husbands were agreeable to put their names on the deed and mortgage to help Philip and Catherine buy property and settle near them.
The plan was for Philip to to work at the Pullman Factory making railroad passenger cars until he could afford to pay the loan off.
Philip did work at the Pullman factory making a good wage and working long hours. Catherine stayed behind on the farm mothering a three year old, while pregnant with a second child. At the same time she began farming the mostly uncleared land, with the help of an itinerant hired hand.
When Philip returned home ,after a nearly year long sojourn at Pullman, he laid the envelope with cash on the table and went to bed . He was prepared to payoff his note on the property the next day. In the morning the envelope with the money was missing, and so was the hired hand. Neither was seen again.
Philip spent another year separated from his family while he worked in Chicago at the Pullman factory. In January of 1889 the loan was paid. Now Philip, Catherine owned the land free and clear,
For Catherine to have spent two years being a mother while clearing a farm out of the wilderness makes one realize of what stern stuff she was made.
Philip and Catherine cleared the land and farmed the land. Their son Philip, Jr remembers trees on the property that were over three feet in diameter. Also the field was filled with stones and boulders dumped there by glaciers in the Ice Age.
Indian artifacts, including arrowheads and axe heads, were in abundance on the tops of three hills that had been sites of Indian villages over 2000 years prior.
From the piles of collected field stone the Bergdolts built a split level house with walls two feet thick. The roof and interior were made of wood harvested from the farm. A horse barn was also constructed of farm wood and prominently featured hand hewn beams. The stone house stood until 1950 when a chimney fire consumed the interior and made the exterior stone walls too unstable to use again. The horse barn stood until 1990 when it blew over in a wind storm.
Beginning in 1900 Philip. Jr and Ernest began to buy the land that now comprises the majority of the farm. Purchases were made in 1905, and 1910. In 1911 Philip, Sr and Catherine signed over their original land acquisition to Philip, Jr and Ernest. By then Philip, Sr had cataracts and was blind. Years earlier Catherine had injured her back building the stone house and now she was disabled.
By 1917 the Bergdolt's were well regarded by their neighbors as hardworking and successful farmers. The atmosphere changed with America's entry into World War One. With the war a general suspicion of Germans developed. One evening in September of 1917 a crowd of angry neighbors gathered around the Bergdolt's stone house. They demanded that Phllip Senior destroy the picture of the Kaiser that he kept on his mantle. He tried to explain to them that the man in the German uniform in the picture was not the Kaiser but Phillip's father. He had not seen his father since he left Germany in 1865 and this was the only picture he had of him. The crowd was not satisfied and they asked to see the picture. They took the picture and burned it there on the front lawn before they dispersed.
When Catherine and Philip, Sr built the stone house, large boulders were brought to the construction site. Wood was piled on the stones and set afire. Wood was continually fed to the fire until the stone turned white hot, almost molten. Then large tubs of cold water were poured on the stones and they would crack with flat sides. Once the stones cooled they were carried by hand to the mason who formed the walls of stone and cement, Philip, Jr recalled that his mother "broke her back" carrying the stone to build her new home.
When Catherine passed in 1913, at the age of 74, she left her grieving husband and two bachelor sons without a wife and mother. It became quickly apparent to them that they also lost a cook and housekeeper. So they put an ad in the Logansport newspaper for someone to come live at their farm and do cooking and housecleaning for them.
At that time Alpha Ulrey Tucker was a young, recently widowed, mother of two small children(Roscoe Tucker and Charlot Tucker). She had
no assets. She answered the ad and was hired. The men loved having the children around the house. It was an ideal solution for the destitute young woman . The men appreciated her cooking and housekeeping skills.
0n March 10th of 1916 Philip, Sr passed away.
With the passing of their father the two bachelors realized it was time to get on with their own lives and ,for starters, that meant finding a wife,. Both men were attracted to their winsome housekeeper, Alpha Ulrey Tucker. She knew that if they both found other spouses, she and her family would likely be homeless again. She was attracted to the younger , and more educated son, Ernest.
The brothers' educational deficit occurred when Philip, Jr and Ernest were young and they attended a one room school house. Both boys spoke German fluently at home and sometimes when talking to one another in public. During the teacher 's instruction they would occasionally make jokes in German and laugh. One day the teacher opened the door to the potbellied stove that kept the classroom warm with a roaring fire . Then he picked Ernest up by the scruff of the neck and the seat of his pants and threatened to throw him into the fire; "if you damn Krauts ever come here again!"
Thus Ernest's education stopped at reading and basic math. Philip, Jr never learned either skill. Their father didn't protest; he was satisfied to have their help on the farm.
By late summer of 1918 it was apparent that Alpha was going to have Ernest's baby. They were married September 11th of 1918. Their daughter, Lois Katherine Russell, was born January 31st of 1919.
With Ernest being the one chosen by Alpha, Philip, Jr became uncomfortable in the household. He moved out. A loan was taken on the farm so he could by a home and a farm a mile away. Eventually he would marry another widow with children, Maude Jordan.
For years the brothers would continue to farm together and own land together. They would exclude their wives from some of their business dealings by speaking German when discussing business. Alpha had a sharp mind, a high school education, superior math skills, and a keen reasoning ability. The business dynamic between her husband, her brother-in-law and her was a source of conflict throughout the marriage. Over time the brothers begrudgingly began to respect her ability to help them make better decisions.
During the Great Depression the farm was threatened with foreclosure (on the loan used to provide funds for Philip Jr.'s farm). Alpha worried about Ernst's mental state since there were many stories circulating about farmers who went to the barn and hung themselves. She would often send Lois to the barn to make sure he was still alive.
About this time, President Roosevelt provided Federal backing for loans to farmers who were facing foreclosure and thereby saved the Bergdolt Farm from ruin.
During the Depression the Bergdolt farm was well known as a place where a homeless person could get a meal and could stay the night in the barn. Ernest was by nature a generous and empathetic man. But he had his limits. Once a homeless person was invited to share an evening meal with the family. These were hard times for everyone and the only thing left in the larder was potatoes. When the potatoes were served the guest announced that he did not like potatoes. Ernest replied, "You'll eat those god damned potatoes just like the rest of us! "
In July of 1924 Alpha gave Ernest his second daughter, Ruth Victoria Bergdolt. By 2021, at the age of 97, she is the oldest living Bergdolt farm owner. Like her sister before her, Ruth left the farm as a teenager to study for a profession(Nursing) and later to marry( Paul Webster).
Her sister Lois became a teacher and also married (Arden Russell). Lois passed at the age of 99 1/2 in 2018. Lois's sons , Thomas Russell and Dr. Edwin Russell, inherited her share of the farm. Edwin purchased Thomas's share in 2019.
Today Edwin is the sole manger of Bergdolt Farms .
Edwin's wife Mary enjoys laboring with with him on the hops at the farm. Sons Benjamin(52) and Abraham(51), and Ed and Mary's grandchildren Charlotte(22), Caleb(19), Zane(17) and Tizita(11) today all work from time to time with the hops on the farm. Other family members(Kristan, Abe, and Erica) serve with the other adult family members on the Board of Russell Bergdolt Farmstead, LLC.
William Russell, carpenter and farmer, moved to Pulaski County in 1900. He arrived with his wife Cornelia (Ray). They came with five children: Clark, Elihu, Marilla, Myrtle, and Charles. The couple had married in Arlington, Ohio in 1879 when she was 17 and he was 18.
William had grown up in his Uncle Thomas’s household. The uncle had taken him and his sister in because William’s father and mother died tragically of milk sickness when William was one-year old. “Milk Sickness” was caused by drinking toxic milk. Snake grass is not toxic to cows, but the toxins can be passed along in a cow’s milk and are fatal to humans. William’s father, Arthur, was a farmer and a schoolteacher.
William’s grandfather, John, was an Irish immigrant who arrived in Ohio in 1799 with his wife and five children: Joseph, Martha, Thomas, William, and Arthur. John was 4’ 11” and his wife weighed 400 pounds. John had been a Presbyterian minister in Cork County Ireland but became a successful grist mill operator in Ohio. He died at an advanced age in Arlington, Ohio.
William did not inherit his Grandfather's longevity. William died in 1902 at the age of 51. Over time, all of William's boys got a good start in agriculture in the Indiana; the girls married well and moved away.
One of William’s sons, Charles, established a farm on the outside of the town of Pulaski. He married Carrie Ellen Jones from Winamac, IN on June 30th of 1909. She was 19 and he was 24. They had five children together: Doris, Ruth, Robert. Arden and Esther. Esther died shortly after her birth in 1921 and her mother followed her a few months later after a battle with eclampsia.
That same year all the children became infected with a life-threatening case of German Measles. They all survived, but then the house burned down. The only structures that were saved were the kitchen and the garage. The family took refuge in these as Charles made repairs while he also farmed and raised his family. This was also the beginning of the Great Depression for farmers. The home was rebuilt piece by piece as resources allowed. Charles’ mother, Cornellia, moved in and cared for the family until her death in 1929.
For a brief period Charles with belonged to the populist Klu Klux Klan party. Some speculate it was because of a disagreement with his Catholic neighbors. Perhaps it was because so many Hoosiers at the time were attracted to its image of political independence and Christian values.. But to his credit, within months, he realized the party's inherent moral hypocrisy and appeal to peoples baser instincts, so he quickly disassociated himself.
Despite all these challenges Charles managed to raise and inspire three of the four children to attend and complete college. Ruth graduated in the top of her class at Indiana University. Robert and Arden graduated from Purdue University’s School of Agriculture.
By the time the home was completely reconstructed the children had all moved out and William had a terminal case of Leukemia. His poor health made it necessary to sell the farm. He died six months later in 1941. Eventually the home would be jacked up, put on a truck and moved to its current site along the Tippecanoe River in the nearby town of Pulaski.
Arden Russell was playful and mischievous as a child. These were traits he carried with him throughout his life. He enjoyed telling jokes and particularly liked practical jokes. He attended Pulaski Schools for both his elementary and high school education.
It was there he met Lois Bergdolt.
On July 4th of 1942 Arden and Lois were secretly married at the Wesley Foundation at Purdue University. He was a senior at Purdue, and she was a recent graduate from a 2-year teacher’s program at the Ball State Teachers College. They married secretly because she had accepted a teaching position at Pulaski School that fall, and the law required female teachers to not be married. She became pregnant in the fall of 1942; it had not been in her plans. Now she had another secret to keep in order to stay employed.
On June 19th of 1942, well after the summer closing of the school, Edwin Ernest Russell was born in Winamac, IN. Arden had just received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue and a job as a vocational Agricultural Teacher in Delphi, IN. A year after that he started his career with Purdue Agricultural Extension service, first as an Assistant County Agent in Blackford County for a year and then as the same in Grant County for a year. His second son, Thomas was born in Grant County in 1945. Finally, he was promoted to Extension Agent and transferred to Clinton County where he remained for 13 years. Sue Ann Russell , at the age of six, was adopted in 1958.
Lois Russell began to teach again because the laws had become more progressive and allowed married women to practice in the profession.
Edwin and Thomas Russell grew up in Frankfort, IN. Sue spent part of her childhood in Frankfort and the rest in Marion,IN
In 1960 Edwin entered Purdue University and Arden accepted a new position in Grant County, IN. Lois got a job teaching 1st grade in Marion, IN. During this period, she was cited as “Teacher of the Year” by the National Education Association. Arden pioneered an adult education program in Marion, IN which was a partnership between Purdue University and Marion Community Schools. The “Open Doors” program opened public school resources to the community with programs ranging from Adult Basic Education to Square Dancing. He gained national recognition for his efforts and a short documentary was made about the program.
In his final years with the Purdue Extension Service he worked as a Community Development Specialist.
At the age of 57 he retired and a year after Lois retired. For several years the two traveled the country in an Airstream trailer and took many cruises. They returned to Frankfort , IN and Arden hand-built a modern home nearby at Little Lakes subdivision. They finally settled in a home in Sun City Center, FL in the 1980’s. They lived there enjoying their many friends and activities until Arden passed in 1994 and Lois passed in 2018.
Sue Russell married Robert Buckalew in 1971 and gave birth to her son Robert Erik Buckalew in 1972. They traveled the world as international teachers. Robert died in 2010. Sue and her son reside together in Sun City Center, FL
Thomas Russell graduated from Marion College in 1967. He married Ann Milford in 1968. He spent his career as a corporate accountant and comptroller. Tom and Ann had three children: Todd, George, and Tricia. Ann died in 1988. Tom married Marsha Burnes in the 1990’s. They retired to Sun City Center, FL. Around 2010.
Edwin graduated from Purdue University in January of 1965 and married Mary Matthews in June of 1965. The two moved to Boston where Ed entered the Boston University School of Theology. Mary taught elementary school in the suburbs of Boston and earned her Masters Degree from Boston University. They also served as houseparents at the Berklee School of Music until 1969. Benjamin Russell was born in Boston on June 13th, 1969. Days later the family moved to Marion, IN and then to Bedford IN where Ed joined Purdue’s Cooperative Extension Service as a 4-H Club Agent. Abraham Russell was born in Indianapolis in 1970. The family moved to Chesterton, IN -- where they would stay for 32 years. In 1975 Ed completed his Master of Education degree at Indiana University. Ed taught Adult Basic Education classes at night and middle school English during the day. Mary taught Adult Basic Education part-time at Portage Township Schools, operated her own preschool, served as an adjunct professor at Governors State University and served as a consultant to Headstart in South Chicago.
In 1980 Ed earned his Doctor of Education degree from Indiana University. He briefly taught at Valparaiso University, then took a fulltime position as Coordinator of the Portage Adult Learning Center. The following year the Reagan Administration cut funding of the Adult Basic Education Program and Ed’s position was reduced to half time. To supplement his income Ed began selling mutual funds and insurance. In 1988 he qualified himself to open his own financial planning practice as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). In 2008 Ed sold his financial planning practice and retired. Mary retired the year after and they moved to Carmel, IN to be near their son Benjamin and his family.
Benjamin attended Purdue University and graduated in 1992 with a degree in Actuarial Science. He married fellow Purdue grad Kristan Helms in 1994, Charlotte Russell was born in 1999 in Chicago, IL. Her male siblings, Caleb (2001) and Zane (2005), were born in Indianapolis, IN. Their sister was born in Ethiopia in 2009 and was adopted soon after .
As of 2021, Ben is Vice President in an international insurance company. Kristan is a marketing consultant with that same company. Charlotte is a junior at Purdue University, Caleb is a sophmore at Indiana University, Zane is a junior at Carmel High School, and Tizita is a 5th grader at Carmel Elementary School.
Abraham graduated from Western Kentucky University in 1994 with a BA and MBA. He began his career in Bowling Green, KY as a supply chain executive with an international clothing company. He married Erica Anderson in 2011. She also has a BA and an MBA.
They currently both serve as executives in international companies. They live in the mountains outside Boulder, CO.
Lois Bergdolt, Ernest Bergdolt, Ernest's half sister(Trotter) and brother-in-law (Reichling)
Mary and Ed Russell, Abe and Erica Russell, Zane Russell, Ben and Kristan Russell, Caleb Russell, Tizita Russell, Charlotte Russell
Ruth Bergdolt Webster -- the oldest living member of the Bergdolt family
Charles Russell standing in prize winning field of wheat
Alpha Bergdolt with daughter Charlotte and son Ross Alpha Bergdolt at 55