This township was formed from Union in 1867. The first settlers of any note came into the township about the year 1802, and among them may be mentioned Thomas Gootschall, who settled on what is now a part of Torbert; His brother, William Gootschall, who settled on the place where John Lorah now lives, and John Maurer on the Nelson Brandon place. Henry Gilbert, who purchased the Thomas Gootschall place in 1811, and who is the oldest pioneer of the region now living, resided in 1880, at North Union, at the advanced age of ninety two years, and in the full enjoyment of his mental faculties. The population of East Union in 1870 was 614, and in 1880, 591.
This is a post village and station on the Catawissa Valley Railroad. It was laid out in 1864 by Nelson Brandon, who owned the land on which it is located. He built a hotel and store and sold them. The post office was established, with Rudolph Breisch postmaster, in 1868. Mrs. B.F. Clayberger was postmistress in 1880. The village contains three hotels, one public hall, two stores, a blacksmith shop and twenty five dwellings. B.F. Clayberger is the proprietor of the hall and one of the merchants; The other store is kept by Samuel Cope. The M.E. church of Brandonville was organized in 1879. Preaching had occasionally been furnished by clergymen from the surrounding towns, and since the organization services have been held with some regularity. The Union Sunday School was started in 1876, with seventy members. Its first superintendent was a Mr. Medlar. It received a charter from the courts in June, 1880, and numbered at that time one hundred and fifty five members, with D.R. Kauffman as superintendent.
Torbert is a pleasant hamlet, portions of which were formerly named Girard Manor and Valencia. It is doubtless as well and favorably known from being the residence of Hon. William L. Torbert as from any other cause. The estate of Hon. William L. Torbert covers about seven thousand acres, comprising the eastern terminus of the Catawissa valley, along which it extends about eight miles from the summit of Mahanoy mountain westward. Near the eastern boundary of these lands a copious spring of water, possessing superior mineral qualities, forms a stream which almost immediately is divided into two branches , one of which flows west, down the north slope of the mountain, into the Catawissa; The other, east to the Schuylkill. The Catawissa , a fine stream, has its course through the estate for several miles, and grist mills, saw mills and other manufactories, standing at intervals on its shores, are propelled by its water power, which is good.
Torbert’s Glen, a wild, romantic and attractive pleasure resort, is visited during the summer and autumn by large numbers of people from various localities. Throughout the entire property, but more especially in those sections adapted to the production of grass, fruit and grain, large never failing springs abound, and the brooks, of which they are the sources, are abundantly supplied with trout, bass, sunfish, whitefish, and Susquehanna salmon. The soil under cultivation is excellent, producing crops of grass, fruit and grain of superior quality and abundant in quantity. The not far distant mining towns in the coal region contain a dense population of non producing consumers of everything in the way of provisions, and afford the best of market facilities to the estate, while the large number of horses and mules used in and about the collieries cause a demand for hay and feed of various kinds, which can be advantageously supplied by the producers being enabled to furnish these necessaries and be exempt from the heavy freight tariffs at which they are brought from western Pennsylvania, New York and other distant sections. These advantages, together with the fertility of the land, most of which is newly cleared, combine to place the local agricultural interests of the future in the foremost rank of successful enterprises in this part of the State.
The adjoining properties on the north, south and east are in the anthracite coal measures, and are owned by the city of Philadelphia, the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company, Hon. William L. Torbert and the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. Torbert is proverbial for the good health of its citizens and the attractiveness of its surrounding scenery. It is noted for the generous welcome extended to strangers who tarry there for longer or shorter periods. Senator Torbert’s homestead lands are in one body, located in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties (a portion in each), Hazelton, Audenried, Delano, Tamaqua, Mahanoy City, Shenandoah and other prominent towns being distant from four to eight miles, while Ashland and Pottsville lie only about sixteen miles away.
A part of this pleasant hamlet was formerly owned by the famous philanthropist, Stephen Girard, from whom its former name was derived. It came into the possession of his heirs, and in 1854 John A. Girard, John Fabricus Girard, and their sister, Stephanie (Girard) DeLentilhac, made a settlement. They came from France, brought mechanics with them and erected buildings and mills. They opened a store in 1856, and conducted a somewhat extensive lumber business, but, owing to their lack of inclination to mix with the people of the adjacent country, and their extreme dislike for the Pennsylvania Dutch patois, the commercial language of the locality, they made few friends, and in 1864 disposed of the entire property to William L. Torbert, of Philadelphia. One of the manor houses was erected by John A. Girard. It is tastefully built in the French Gothic style, covered, in the usual European manner, with a profusion of grape vines, and finely shaded by handsome trees. Colonel Wynkoop built the Valencia manor house, he being at the time United States marshal for the eastern district of Pennsylvania. Besides these there are nineteen tenant houses, occupied by the workmen’s families, and six farm houses with the usual outbuildings. A fine brick schoolhouse was erected in 1880, and it adds materially to the good appearance of the place.
The religious advantages are good. The healthfulness of the locality is attested by the marked physical improvement of invalids who sojourn there temporarily. Torbert has convenient railways communication, the journey to New York and Philadelphia being made in four of five hours without change of cars, and to Williamsport, Baltimore and Washington in from four to eight hours, via the Philadelphia and Reading, the Lehigh Valley, the Central of New Jersey and the Pennsylvania railroads. Senator Torbert has charge of the Railway station, Telegraph and Express offices. The Post Office was established in 1865, with Mrs. Hester Torbert in charge.
Hon. William L. Torbert was born in Philadelphia, Pa., October 24th, 1828, and was reared and educated in his native city, where he was prominent in the Masonic order, and in the Washington Greys, a military company. James Torbert, Esq., his father, was born at Spring Mill, Montgomery county, Pa., February 19th, 1798, and passed his youth in Chester county, Pa., where his parents, brothers and sisters remained during life, and where their descendants are most of them engaged in farming. On Christmas day, 1827, he married Margaret A. Loag, of Chester county, Pa., at the old Brandywine Manor meeting house. During the following year they removed to Philadelphia, where they lived until 1868, when they took up their residence in the Girard Manor mansion, near the residence of Hon. William L. Torbert, their son. Mr. Torbert died there October 16th, 1880, at the age of eighty two, and was buried in Laurel hill cemetery, Philadelphia. His widow, Margaret A. Torbert, eighty one years old, survives him, and is living at the homestead with her daughter, Miss M. Louisa. Their children were:
Hon. William L. Torbert, M. Louisa Torbert, Mary J. Torbert, Emma J. Torbert, Anna Eliza Torbert, Ellie F. Torbert, A. Caroline Torbert, James Torbert, Jr.
Emma J. is the wife of Charles Tete, Esq., of Spring Hill, Delaware county, Pa., an extensive land owner in Schuylkill county. Ellie F. is the wife of Frank A. Smith, Esq., of West Philadelphia, Pa. Hon. William L. Torbert was married, in 1850, to Miss Hester Blatchford, also a resident of Philadelphia. Their children are:
Mary C. Torbert, A. Caroline Torbert, James Franklin Torbert, Susan L. Torbert, Ida V. Torbert, William Stephen Torbert, Elizabeth F. Torbert Victoria Hester Torbert.
Miss Ida V. married Mr. M.M. MacMillan, attorney, of Ann Arbor, Mich., September 9th, 1880. Miss Lizzie F. married Charles E. Titman, of Shenandoah, Pa., December 9th, 1880. James Franklin married Miss Sallie R. Burnett, of Spring Mill, Montgomery county, Pa., December 25th, 1880. Mrs. Torbert’s parents were Stephen and Mary J. Blatchford, residents of Philadelphia, Pa., where their remains now lie in Woodland cemetery. The former died in November, 1865, at the age of seventy one; the latter April 11th, at the age of eighty one. From 1860 to 1865 Hon. William L. Torbert was located in Baltimore county, Md.
Reference has been made to the purchase of the Girard manor property in 1864. Mr. Torbert subsequently bought Valencia and other additions to the original, being extensively interested in lumbering in Schuylkill, Columbia, Luzerne and Center counties, and having about two thousand acres of land under cultivation in the Catawissa valley surrounding his residence. Senator Torbert is the most liberal employer of agricultural labor in Schuylkill county. Those of his employes having families are comfortably located upon the estate, enjoying common privileges, each family free from expense of any kind a dwelling with fruit and fuel and ground enough for garden purposes. The liberal policy which governs Mr. Torbert in his relations with his large number of employes is so well appreciated by them that probably no set of laborers anywhere regard their employer more highly than they do Mr. Torbert. His work is pushed forward month after month without jar of cessation, and he finds not only profit but happiness in endeavoring by all proper means to better the condition of his employes and their families.
Always active in mercantile pursuits and public duties, Mr. Torbert has been at the same time a successful business man and a hard worker for the public weal. Though never a seeker for official preferment, he has been repeatedly called to positions of trust and responsibility by the voters of his township, county and district. The fidelity and earnestness which have characterized his administrations of public affairs marked him for steady advancement until the confidence of the people in his ability and integrity was manifested by his election the State Senate by a large majority in 1876, and as an independent member for 1877 and 1878, his fellow townsmen of East Union indicating that he was not “without honor” at home by casting for him the unanimous and solid vote of the township, which aggregated more than any previous vote, even during closely contested elections when every vote was supposed to have exercised his right of suffrage.
In all good work for the advancement of the causes of enlightenment and improvement, Senator Torbert has ever been qualified to lead and has been relied upon as a leader, but he has nevertheless, ever put his own shoulder manfully to the wheel, considering no necessary duty, however small, too insignificant for him to perform. It is this sturdy and stirring industry, coupled with an ever careful attention to details, that has made him one of the most successful men in this region. It is his regard for the rights of those dependent on him that has endeared him to those whose action he so ably directs. He is one of those helpful men through whose efforts the wheel of progress is made to move on, crushing obstructions and smoothing the pathway of general advancement.