Johon Victor Burgreen, A Vintage Vignette

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Johon Victor Burgreen
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
June 22, 2011 (updated December 10, 2014)

The Burgreen Gin at Burgreen Road and Browns' Ferry Road was established by John Victor Burgreen and operated by several generations of the family. Today it stands as a reminder of one of the few old gins of the area, even though the historical district of Madison had four operating gins at one time. Some insights into the Burgreen family history are given in census records, World Vital Records website heritage listings, postings, and a 1990 update to the 1978 book “The Lure and Lore of Limestone County” by Chris Edwards and Faye Axford.

The local Burgreen family was the namesake of the Limestone County in the Madison area. The Burgreen family history includes elements back as early as the 1400s in England, France, and Switzerland, but the story of the Limestone County gin's founder starts in Sweden, where Johon Victor Berggren (Swedish spelling) was born in 1857. His parents, Israel and Gustava Johansdotter Berggren, brought him to America in 1866, right after the Civil War. They migrated through Norway into England, Ireland, New York, Indiana, and Illinois, then to Kansas in 1870. There typhoid fever killed Israel on July 12, and Gustava died of it on July 18, 1870. John Victor Burgreen (American spelling) was orphaned at age 13. He took care of his siblings, Amanda (age 10) and two-year-old Carl (Charles, per the 1870 census record), until they were sent back to Illinois to live with their older sister, Ida, and her husband. It was in Paxton, Illinois, that John married Elfrida Sophia Helmer Anderson in 1884. John and Elfrida then moved to Decatur, Alabama. They soon afterward moved to Limestone County near the line with Madison County. The 1900 census record for John Burgreen shows four children born to Elfrida at that time, with all of them being alive when the census was taken. Their children were Conrad (born November 1884), Agnes (1886), Karl (1888), and Earl (1893). The 1910 census did not include Agnes in the Burgreen household, but it added Ruby, shown at age 7 as an adopted daughter. The adopted status was again noted for Ruby in the 1920 census.

In the 1930 census John Victor Burgreen, age 72, was living in Beaumont, Riverside County, California. He was listed alone as head of his own household. Frida Burgreen at age 67 was enumerated two houses away, also alone. On the other side of John's house listing was that of Conrad Burgreen, age 45, born in Illinois, with father and mother noted as being born in Sweden. Conrad's listing included wife Lois and four children, all born in Alabama. The household between John and Frida was that of another sole occupant, Carl C. Benson, age 30, born in Sweden. He may have been a nephew of either John or Freda. John and Conrad were both shown with occupation as “fruit farmer”, while Carl Benson was noted as a cabinetmaker.

Karl Roland Burgreen, born in 1888, stayed in Limestone County and married Lizzie Stewart. He died in 1969. Karl Roland and Lizzie had seven children, according to “The Lure and Lore of Limestone County.” Their children were Karl Edward, Thomas Victor, Ruby, John Gilbert, Frederick Lester, Lizetta, and Bobby Wayne Burgreen. Lizzie Etta Stewart was born in 1893 and died in 1985, outliving her husband Karl by 16 years. She was a member of the Parker Chapel Methodist Church for over 80 years. Karl Roland and Lizzie share a double tombstone in the Madison City Cemetery on the north side of Mill Road. The burials of three of their children who died young are denoted by small markers in their family plot near the center of the cemetery. Karl Roland's son Karl Edward Burgreen in 1935 married Mary Catherine Johnson of Monrovia. Karl Edward Burgreen founded the Burgreen Contacting Company and paved many roads in the state. He was a Limestone County Commissioner and member of the state legislature for a time. Mary Catherine, a daughter of Arthur and Kate Wall Johnson, was a descendant of the Pettus, Vaughn, and Balch families of the Monrovia area. Mary Catherine became the first female Limestone County Probate Court Judge. She also was the first woman to serve on the Athens State College Foundation Board.

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