Torrance, Henry E.
Age: 20, credited to Sandgate, VTVITALS
Birth: 1844, Arlington, VtADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Alias?: None notedDESCENDANTS
Worthington Cemetery, Worthington, MN
Check the cemetery for location/directions
and other veterans who may be buried there.
"Go west, young man, go west!"
- attributed to Horace Greeley
By Raymond Crippen
Was Henry Torrance eighteen when he volunteered for service with the Union Army or was he nineteen?
Probably nineteen. The exact dates are lost.
Henry was born at Arlington in Bennington County, Vermont, in 1844. He was seventeen in the year the war began, 1861. He became a member of Company E, Tenth Vermont Infantry, in December, 1863, less than a month after President Lincoln made his address at the dedication of the new military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. "It is for us the living (Henry Torrance) to be dedicated…to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced." The 10th Vermont was ordered to Culpeper, Virginia.
During the first months of Pvt. Torrance's enlistment, the Union and the Confederate armies were in winter camps, separated by several miles and by the Rapidan River. Gen. Grant launched his ultimate offensive on May 5.
Three Union corps crossed the Rapidan and moved into that tangle of pines and oaks they would always remember simply as The Wilderness. In only forty-eight hours there were 17,500 Union casualties.(1) But Grant vowed to continue forward, to move south.Later in the month he said he proposed to "fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." Henry Torrance and the Tenth Vermont were part of the action. Henry witnessed comrades in arms falling in appalling numbers. They moved from The Wilderness to Spotsylvania to North Anna to Cold Harbor. At Petersburg the offensive bogged into trench warfare. Henry Torrance spent a winter in the dugouts and the mud of Virginia. It was in July, two months after Gen. Lee's surrender, when Pvt. Torrance received his discharge and returned to help his father on the family's stony Vermont farm.
The father was Andrew J. Torrance, a Vermont native and the grandson of a Scotchman. The mother was Anna Far, daughter of Thomas Far of Connecticut.
Henry, the young veteran, soon found he was no longer disposed to be content with New England farming. He had heard of the prairie lands, empty of trees and free of rocks, which were opening in the west. Winters were severe, people said, but then certainly the Torrances had known severe winters.
On April 1, 1866, Henry Torrance arrived at Quincy in Olmsted County, Minnesota. It was there that he met Ellen Ketcham, a Massachusetts native whose family also had emigrated to Olmsted County. The couple was married in November, 1868. Henry and Ellen came to have two daughters: Ellen and Gertrude.(2)
The same year that Henry went west his brother, F.A. Torrance, then seventeen, also came to Olmsted County where he worked on a farm for eighteen months. F.A. returned to Vermont and tried both farming and lumbering another time but in 1872 he returned to Olmsted County, bringing his parents with him. In 1873 F.A. moved on to the new lands which were just opening in Nobles County, staking a homestead claim on Section 14 in Olney Township.(3)
Henry Torrance spent a decade in Olmsted County but he often heard his brother's stories from Nobles County. F.A. had come back to Olmsted County to take a wife. He married Sophia Fender. It was at that time that Henry made his decision to give up farming and to move to the new (four-year-old) town of Worthington and to go into the retail furniture business. This was the eventful year of 1876, the year of the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, the year of Gen. Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn and the year the Minnesota frontier was jolted by the James Brothers' raid on the bank at Northfield.
Henry Torrance tested his Worthington market and he soon added a line of groceries to his furniture inventory. Then he dropped the furniture and began dealing in groceries and general merchandise. And also in grain. The Torrance store emerged as one of the most substantial business enterprises of early-day Worthington.
While Henry's venture prospered F.A. and Sophia were actually struggling for existence on their Olney Township farm. Chance put them near the heart of the successive grasshopper plagues and the Torrance farm experienced grasshopper visitations through seven successive years. In 1879 F.A. sowed one hundred acres of grain and did not harvest a bushel. Henry said, "Come join me." F.A. went to work for his brother. The senior Torrances, Andrew and Anna, also made their home at Worthington. Andrew died at Worthington in 1886. (Although the records are lost, the father was also a veteran of the Civil War. In year he died his grave was listed as one of those which had been decorated and he was listed as a member of Stoddard Post.)(4) Anna, the mother, lived on at Worthington as a widow. She died seven years after her husband, in December, 1893.(5)
To begin with Henry Torrance conducted his business from a frame building two stories high, thirty-two feet by forty feet, built at a cost of $1,200. In 1892 the Torrance Block was completed, a two-story brick structure fifty-five feet wide and one hundred feet in length at the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue, an anchor on Worthington's main street. The front of the building was in the modern style: plate glass windows. It had one of the most extensive general store inventories in the region with a stock of clothing, dry goods and bedding in the front and a large grocery store with a separate entrance on Second Avenue at the rear. It cost $12,000, ten times the cost of the original store building, and it was the largest retail operation on Worthington's main street.(6)
In 1895 Henry and F. A. formed a partnership. The Torrance store became the firm of H.E. Torrance & Bro. They called it the Big Store.(7) William Loveless worked at the Torrance store for six years before he launched his own grocery. Fred Goff, who also became a longtime Worthington grocer, learned the business as a Torrance employee. Erdmann Schwartz worked at the Torrance store until he was named Worthington's postmaster in 1893.
Earnings from the Big Store made it possible for Henry Torrance to buy three Nobles County farms.
In 1877, the year after he arrived in town, Henry was elected village treasurer without opposition.(8) He was re-elected in 1879 and again in 1881.(9) That year he was the only one of six candidates on the ballot without opposition. In 1882 Henry Torrance won a contest for a village council seat; in 1883 he was re-elected in a three-way contest.(10) In 1884 he won the second-highest vote total in a field of six council candidates.(11) In the years which followed he was elected to the Worthington school board and in the year he opened his new store, 1892, he also was elected Worthington's mayor.(12) In 1896 he was once again elected city treasurer, this time on the ticket which favored the licensing of saloons.(13)
By 1884 Henry had turned his attention to Ellsworth, the new town emerging in southwest Nobles County. Torrance built a store for general merchandise on Ellsworth's main street. John Peterson was named manager.(14) That same year the Burlington (Rock Island) Railroad erected a warehouse at Round Lake. Henry Torrance leased the building for buying and shipping grain. He hired John O'Connor as his Round Lake manager.(15) Henry became a stockholder and director of the Bank of Worthington.
Henry Torrance was a busy man who, among other, things was earning a reputation for producing quality butter. In 1885 Henry leased the Worthington Creamery from Daniel Shell. The next year he purchased the creamery. The Advance reported, "H.E. Torrance informs us that he will start up his Worthington Creamery on Tuesday next. His operation last year was a satisfactory one and parties to whom he shipped in New York report that the butter kept in excellent condition. We hear also that dealers in New York and elsewhere put our southwestern Minnesota butter at the head for sweetness, solidity and splendid keeping qualities."(16)
Henry's interests were wide-ranging but the Big Store was never neglected. In September, 1886: "H.E. Torrance is just opening out his stock of fall and winter cloaks, the finest lot he has ever offered for sale."(17)
Henry Torrance was among Worthington's early Masons. He joined the Fraternal Lodge No. 101, Royal Arch Masons. Ellen was a charter member of the Ransford Chapter No. 43, Order Eastern Star, and Henry also joined her in that.(18) He belonged to the Mankato Commandery, No. 4, Knights Templar and he represented the Grand Lodge of Masons of Minnesota several times.
Henry Torrance was active in Stoddard Post 34 of the GAR.
And then he died. It was the spring of 1902 when Henry was fifty-seven (or fifty-six), four decades after his service in the Union army and his days in the trenches of Virginia. At the time of his death he was among the most prominent residents of southwest Minnesota.
F. A. Torrance's son, Richard, bought his uncle Henry's share of the store and the firm became F.A. Torrance & Son. In addition to the son Richard, F.A. and Sophia had two other children, Jennie E. and Rayland C.
Like his brother, F.A. Torrance was active in the Masonic Lodge but he was not a comrade in the GAR. F.A. was seven years his brother's junior, one from that generation who only heard of the Civil War which raged through the years when they were children.
The Torrance store continued in operation at Worthington into the 1920s when it became the landmark Silverberg Brothers Store. Dick Torrance, a genial man with a green thumb, became the last of the Torrances at Worthington. He lived in a house on Tenth Street where he maintained a greenhouse and pursued a master's interest in gardening to the time of his death several years after World War II.
1. James M. McPherson, ³Battle Cry of the Republic, Civil War Era,² (Oxford University Press, Inc., 1988), p. 726
2. "Memorial Record of Southwestern Minnesota Illustrated," (The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, 1897), p. 28-29
3. Arthur P. Rose, "An Illustrated History of Nobles County,"² (Northern History Publishing Co., Worthington, Minnesota, 1908) p.391
4. Worthington Advance, June 3, 1886
5. Worthington Cemetery
6. Ibid., "Memorial Record" p. 29, Advance account
7. Advance files, 1880s
8. Ibid., Rose, p. 170
9. Ibid., Rose, p. 171-172
10. Ibid., Rose, p. 172-173
11. Ibid., Rose, p. 174
12. Ibid., Rose, p. 178
13. Ibid., Rose, p. 186
14. Ibid., Rose, p. 228
15. Ibid., Rose, p. 248
16. Worthington Advance, May 27, 1886
17. Worthington Advance, September, 1886
18. Ibid., Rose, p. 214