John R. Ardell

John R. Ardell, Jr. was a 19th century businessman in Bellefonte who was one of the most powerful figures in the logging industry of central Pennsylvania. The “Prince of Loggers,” as he was sometimes known, made a substantial fortune and was active in Bellefonte civic society, but eventually clashed with other powerful figures.

Until the mid-1800s, western Centre County featured extensive and largely unlogged forests of virgin timber, mostly consisting of white pine and hemlock trees that were coveted by industry. Ardell, who was born in Montreal, Canada, and already had some experience in the timber business, arrived in Bellefonte in the early 1850s and started his local logging career as a business manager for various enterprises headed by E.M. Sturdevant.

John Ardell’s home on East Linn Street in Bellefonte is now operated as the Our Fair Lady Bed and Breakfast. (Local Historia photograph)

By 1869, Ardell was running his own logging operations, including the Star Mill in what is now Black Moshannon State Park that generated four million feet of lumber annually and sported its own factory that produced shingles and pickets. Star Mill was supported by a small town for workers, with Ardell building and owning the houses. Some ruins of the town can be found along Julian Pike just to the southeast of the state park.

Combined with his other logging and milling sites sprinkled around the region, Ardell processed eleven million feet of logs per year by the early 1870s and employed several hundred loggers, making him one of the largest timber operators in Pennsylvania. He established a company in his own name in Bellefonte in 1874.

Most of Ardell’s logs were floated northward on local streams, which were often supplemented by splash dams to increase water flow, and eventually arrived at sawmills and wood product manufacturers in Williamsport via the West Branch Susquehanna River. Ardell’s log-driving output was so high that his logs occasionally clogged the streams and were stuck until rain raised the water levels. One such episode on Mosquito Creek in Clearfield County made regional news in 1876.

For Ardell’s home and business headquarters, in 1883 he built an ornate, Second Empire-style mansion on East Linn Street in Bellefonte. It currently serves as the Our Fair Lady Bed and Breakfast. In the late 1890s, he also purchased a large plot of land at the Pennsylvania Match Factory site for timber storage.

During that period, public sentiment began to turn against the region’s logging industry due to its environmental consequences. Moshannon State Forest was created in 1898 from various depleted land tracts, including some that had been logged by Ardell, while Commonwealth Commissioner of Forestry Joseph Rothrock pressured Ardell to divest his exhausted lands.

Ardell was also engaged in a lengthy and bitter legal struggle with the powerful and popular James A. Beaver, who had served as governor of Pennsylvania and was a Pennsylvania Superior Court Justice. The two men contested a will and fought for years over compensation that would be worth millions of dollars today.

Ardell died in Bellefonte in 1906 at the age of 74.  He is buried in Union Cemetery.

Ben Cramer


Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association, “Stop 26B.  John Ardell House”. (Accessed June 14, 2023).

Eddleman, Carol. “History of Centre County, Pa.” PA-Roots, March 14, 2010,,635886 (Accessed June 14, 2023).

Elder, Dustin, “Green Gold: ‘The Prince of Loggers,’ Bellefonte’s John Ardell Jr., Was a Keystone of Pennsylvania’s Timber Market.” Town & Gown, June 3, 2021.

Harpster, Wayne Biddle, Come Walk with Me, vol. 4. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1984.

Linn, John Blair. History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts, 1883.

“Pennsylvania, U.S. Death Certificates, 1906-1969” (database entry for John R. Ardell, Jr. (Accessed June 14, 2023).

First Published: June 25, 2023

Last Modified: November 16, 2023