Christian and Maria Russo’s home was in the very south-east corner of Gnadenfeld and one of the first to be finished the spring of 1835. They enjoyed having the stand of trees to their east, a piece of land to the rear of their home to grow their own food plus a lovely yard that surrounded the house to grow flowers and fruit trees. Christian and Maria both enjoyed gardening so what a blessing it was to have land to grow things that were not just needed to survive but were simply there to look at. To grow things just to grow them was a privilege and it made their little part of the world beautiful.
It seemed that this black dirt could grow anything! Besides the lot for their home, the Russos along with every family in the village each had acreage to farm the food and textile items needed to support themselves. A large variety of vegetables, wheat, rye, barley, oats, potatoes, corn, sunflowers, watermelons, pumpkins, tobacco, silk worms and flax were attempted. They continued to grow what worked. Each family farmed for themselves, not a collective, but the farmers discussed what they could produce to create goods everyone needed. After some years these farmers found the big cash crop was wheat and a great deal of the surplus grain was exported to Western Europe. It was easy to become self-sufficient with this land and the Russos were truly thankful for it all.
Christian Russo had come a long way to end up living in Gnadenfeld. He was a Lutheran and a pacifist living in Italy, a combination that was dangerous in the early 1800s. The constant wars waged by Napoleon was one threat to his life, for any moment he might be stolen off the street to be conscripted into someone’s army. Both sides of the wars were looking for men and the officers would order anyone taken who was able-bodied and could fight whether they believed in the cause or not. Christian was not afraid to fight but he felt strongly that God did not want him to murder men anywhere, let alone a battlefield.
As the Napoleonic wars were subsiding, Italy was waging another war on its own. It was slowly moving towards becoming a unified country. The Italian city-states wanted out from under the thumb of the Hapsburgs of Austria while the Catholic Church, seated in Rome, was struggling to make Italy a set of Papal States. The Church supported the Hapsburgs for fear a new Italy would persecute Catholics. The region was in a constant state of turmoil and no one knew what insanity would take place from day to day. Looking to secure a better future for himself, at the age of 18, Christian packed his bags and moved to a more stable part of the world.