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John Torrey important businessman in early NB

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

“Connecticut Yankees in Prince Carl’s Court” might describe the Torrey brothers, John F., Tudor, Abraham, George, David, and Thomas. They were indeed from Connecticut and three of them did end up in Prince Carl’s domain. One of them, John, stayed.

If you look at the 1850 map, you will see a street named Yankee Strasse parallel to the Comal River. It was next to the property on which John Torrey put his first mill. Yankee Street is no more and what used to be called Market Road was renamed Torrey Street.

In 1838 we find the Torrey brothers engaging in a merchandising company near Houston located on a hill about two miles from the Brazos River. The brothers were “closely associated with Sam Houston’s efforts to establish friendly relations with Indians in Texas”. (Source: Oscar Haas) Indians hunted hides of buffalo, deer, raccoon, cougar, beaver, antelope, bobcats, grey wolf hides and they were traded for provisions that the Indians wanted. The hides were processed by the Torreys and sent all over the United States, even Canada. Mules were also traded. Most of the mules were captured by the Comanches on their annual raids in the northern province of Mexico. (Source: Roemer)

The Torrey brothers furnished wagons, teams, and provisions for the first German emigrants coming to NB from the coast. The company also supplied guns and swords for Prince Carl’s mounted soldiers. As a result, John Torrey accompanied the emigrants to NB and there established a trading house. The first corn crop from the settlers was ground by a horse-powered grinding mill for 10 cents a bushel. This establishment was at the intersection of San Antonio and Hill Streets.

Three of the Torrey brothers married in New Braunfels; John married Laura Dittmar, George married Mary Frances Taylor, and Tudar married Annie Weir. The 1860 census for Comal County lists John Torrey, wife Laura, daughter Emma, son John; also Abraham Torrey and the Torrey’s father, Jacob.

An interesting family connection to George Torrey is that his wife’s father was Matthew Taylor, who was the proprietor of Taylor Hotel (former Comal House) located where the Pfeuffer Law Offices are now. During the Civil War, Matthew Taylor became the tax assessor and collector in Comal County of Confederate States War Tax. The rate was 50 cents for $100 value.

In 1848 John Torrey began his manufacturing ventures big time.  He received a permit to build a water powered grist and saw mill on the Comal River at the foot of Mill St. To this he added the manufacturing of wheat flour and a shop to produce doors, sashes, and blinds. In 1861 this three story timber constructed building was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours.

Not giving up, Torrey in 1863 received a charter from the State of Texas to import cotton cloth weaving machinery, duty free, from Mexico. He built a three story stone building at the same site on the Comal and went into partnership with the Runge Brothers of Indianola. Once again, Nature swooped down and a tornado in 1869 took off the third floor where the looms for manufacturing cotton cloth were located. He put a roof on the second floor and continued operation.

Three years later the Comal River went on a flooding rampage and totally collapsed the newly renovated stone building, plus the rebuilt dam and a nearby iron bridge. The only thing left is part of the Torrey Mill foundation visible at the Clemens Dam area at the foot of Mill Street.

That was it for John Torrey. He left New Braunfels and lived out the rest of his life on land that he had purchased in 1843 in Hood County. He died in 1893. Although he gave eight acres of land to establish the Comal Cemetery, he is not buried there.

Descendants of Torrey gather at the marker placed at site of first grist and flour mill. Erected by the State Centennial Historic Committee on Oct. 9, 1936, the marker can be seen near the tube chute.

Descendants of Torrey gather at the marker placed at site of first grist and flour mill. Erected by the State Centennial Historic Committee on Oct. 9, 1936, the marker can be seen near the tube chute.