Rorer Family

1718 - 1910

Rorer is a variant spelling of the German name Rohrer which is a habitational name for someone from any of the many places named with Middle High German "ror" meaning "reed bed", "well" or "channel". The name can first be found in Bradenburg.

Our Rorer family begins with Henry Rorer, who was born in Basel, Switzerland in 1719 and baptized on December 10, 1719. His parents were Hans Rorer and Barbara Lang. Henry immigrated on the ship “Friendship” from Rotterdam to Philadelphia, arriving on September 23, 1740. He initially settled in Frankford, Philadelphia where he helped found the Frankford German Reformed Church in 1769-1770. Originally Calvinist, the church later joined the Presbyterian organization and is now known as the Presbyterian Church of Frankford.

There in Frankford, Henry married Margaret Grieder and they had nine surviving children:

  1. Elizabeth
  2. George (b. abt. 1746)
  3. Sophia (b. June 22, 1748)
  4. Henry (Jr.)
  5. Barbara (b. November 28, 1751)
  6. Elle
  7. John (b. May 15, 1755)
  8. Jacob
  9. Joseph (b. abt. 1759)

Sophia married Jacob Castor (originally Gerstor) and Elizabeth married his brother Ferdinand Castor. Sophia’s son Henry had a daughter Elizabeth Castor who married a Thomas Rorer but his relation to our Rorers is unclear. Barbara married Jacob Pecky, who vowed for George in his pension application, and Elle married Henry Young.

Henry moved north to Bristol Township in Philadelphia (now defunct) sometime before 1774 where he was a farmer. He died here in 1780 at the age of sixty-one.

Henry and Margaret’s son George was born around 1746, the exact year being unknown even to George himself, as he declared in his pension application. In August of 1776, when he was about 30 years old, he joined the American Revolution. He first served for two months under Captain Caleb Armitage, 8th Company of Colonel John Moore’s 2nd Battalion and then another two months from December under Captain Severing in Colonel Lewis’ Regiment. Much of this service was spent in New Jersey. He was drafted for another two month again in August of 1777, this time under Captain Hazel in Colonel Moore’s Regiment again. He was drafted in 1779 for his final two months under Captain Caleb Armitage again, this time marching to Newtown, Pennsylvania.

Sometime between 1780 and 1790, George moved from Bristol Township to Oxford Township, which is now a defunct township that had been in Philadelphia County and included the borough of Frankford.

In his old age, George lived with Samuel Castor, a man who had served with him in the Revolutionary War and was probably a relation of Jacob and Ferdinand Castor, George’s brothers-in-law. The Rorers and Castors obviously had a strong bond to have so many connections.

George was a member of the Presbyterian Church of Frankford on 4301 Frankford Ave, which is also where he was buried on July 15, 1834. Most of the cemetery no longer exists and the original church, which was built in 1770 as the Frankford German Reformed Church, was torn down and rebuilt in 1860. George’s parents, as well as family friends the Castors, were founders of the church and Henry and his wife’s marks can be found on the original document regarding the land the church would be built on. Henry and Margaret were obviously illiterate since they did not sign their names and left only crosses as their marks. They were probably also buried in the church cemetery, Henry having died in 1780 and Margaret’s death unknown.

Not much else is known about George, we do not even know his wife’s name or most of his offspring. Census records suggest that he probably had at least three sons and two daughters. One of these sons was named George Rorer II, who was born in Frankford, Pennsylvania on November 9, 1785. At the age of 27, he fought in the War of 1812 as a Private in the 1st Regiment Artillery, Pennsylvania Volunteers.

His marriage to Mary Ann (maiden name unknown), who was born on September 8, 1792 in New Jersey, resulted in three known children:

  1. George M. Rorer III (b. Nov 11, 1823)
  2. Mary S. (b. abt. 1832)
  3. Clinton (b. abt. 1837)

Given the fact that their first known child was born when George and Mary Ann were respectively 47 and 40 years old, it’s likely that they had other children. Evidence of this can be found in the 1820 census of a “George Rorer Junior” living with a woman around Mary’s age and two male children under the age of 10 in Oxford Township, Philadelphia County. Further supporting this is an article from The Ambler Gazette mentioning Clinton Rorer “came from a large family”[1] so he must have had more than two siblings.

The Rorer family had moved to Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania by 1840 where George worked as a farmer well into his 90's. However, from around 1870 to 1880, he did have the help of a farm laborer by the name of Jacob Carter, who was boarding with the Rorers. George's children Mary S. and Clinton were also still living at the family home, having never married.

Cheltenham was a township first established in Philadelphia County in 1682 but became a part of Montgomery County in 1784 so it was well established by the time the Rorer family settled there in the mid 1800s.

George II died in Cheltenham on April 7, 1881, ten years before his wife who died on July 8th at the age of 98. They are both buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania.

Their first born son, George M. Rorer, was born on November 11, 1832. He and his wife, Henrietta Gilbert were married on April 23, 1862 at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, located in Flourtown, which was founded in 1855. George would have been 29 years old and Henrietta 36. They had two daughters:

  1. Mary Ann (b. February 10, 1863)
  2. Emma G. (b. July 1869)

Although it was a common name, it seems Mary Ann was named after her grandmother.

George had worked on his father’s farm until he was married and then he became a carpenter, settling in Cheltenham and Springfield Township, Montgomery County. He owned 10 acres on the corner of Waverly Road (now West Waverly Road) and Cheltenham Ave, which is now a cemetery, just down the road from his father’s and brother’s properties. After his death, this lot came under the ownership of the Manor Real Estate and Trust Company. Sometime in the last decade of his life, George and Henrietta had their photographs taken by William T Paullin in his studio at 244 North 8th Street in Philadelphia. This address is now a parking lot.

Mary Ann Rorer had married a man named John Henry Fallows on February 2, 1887 when she was 23 (to read about Mary Ann's married life, see the Fallows Family Chapter). Her sister Emma married Arnold Aiman and their daughter, Pearl, married Lloyd Van Sciver, the son of Joseph Van Sciver, founder of the famous Van Sciver furniture company.

George and his brother Clinton were honored by having a stained glass window of the chancel in the Wyndmoor Grace Lutheran Church built in 1903 dedicated to them after their deaths which suggests they converted from Presbyterian to Lutheran. Clinton had also been an active member of the community, serving as sheriff of Montgomery County and being nominated by the Democrats in 1898 for congress in the seventh district. He co-founded and was president of the Chestnut Hill Casino Company, president of the Blue Mountain Railroad Company, a Freemason, and a prominent landowner. A street which now crosses through one of his former properties is named after him, Rorer Street. Curiously, he never married or had children which meant when he died, all his wealth went to his two nieces, Mary Ann and Emma G. Suffering from Bright’s Disease, Clinton moved in with Emma and her husband, Arnold, in August of 1899 where he died on December 12th of that year.

The reasons for Clinton’s lack of marriage can only be speculated. Modern minds tend to jump to the conclusion that he was secretly homosexual. This is a possibility but there are others to consider as well. With all his wealth, he may have felt that he could never be sure that any woman he married was not just after his money and social status and that he was happier to see his wealth go to his nieces. Maybe he was just a romantic who wanted to marry for love but never found it; or maybe he did find it but it was unrequited or maybe she died before they had a chance to marry. Another possibility, though perhaps far-fetched, is suggested in the fact that Clinton’s sister Mary S. also never married. Could it be there was a secret incestuous relationship between them? Clinton was described more than once as “genial” so certainly, it was not an unlikeable disposition which drove any potential bride away from him. Equally, although in his later years he became rather obese, as a younger man he was not unattractive.

The Chestnut Hill Casino Company was a limited partnership founded by Clinton and a few other stockholders named Henry B. Auchy (owner of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company), John Roehm Sr., and John Roehm Jr. with the intent of creating a park to similar to but more affordable than Willow Grove Park. In February of 1898, the company purchased 25 acres of land in Springfield Township, opposite where the Wheel Pump Hotel stood at the time. Their park, named Chestnut Hill Park (presumably not to be confused with the previous horse racing track from the 1850’s of the same name), was set to open a mere 3 months later but due to heavy rains, it was delayed two weeks until it finally opened on June 11th. It was described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a “fairyland” with 50,000 fragrant plants, a large lake, toboggan, carousel, row boats, electric launches, and most notably, a live brass band conducted by Professor Kalitz playing in the casino. However, with the trolley ride to the park being only five cents, cheap in comparison to the 30 cent ride to Willow Grove Park, it was criticized for attracting a lower class of visitors, which the local residents resented. In efforts to establish respectability, Auchy enforced a dress code requiring men wear jackets and ties and women wear dresses and hats, regardless of weather. In 1906, the park became known as White City Amusement Park but in 1912, several local residents who were annoyed by the activity the park attracted pooled their money, bought it out, and shut it down. The land remained unused until 1927 when Erdenheim High School was built on part of it, which now operates as the Philadelphia Montgomery Christian Academy.

Clinton’s stock in the Blue Mountain Railroad Company was purchased in 1894, when he also was briefly elected president of the company. In 1895, he was replaced by Edwin F. Partridge. Clinton’s election came only a year after the company had been renamed, having originally been known as the South Mountain Railroad which started in 1854, though from 1859 to 1873, it was known as Harrisburg and Hamburg Railroad before being changed back. It ran from Harrisburg to Hamburg along the south side of Blue Mountain and in 1868, the South Side Railroad was incorporated to connect Hamburg to the Delaware River via proposed Leigh, Moore, Plainfield Townships. In 1872, these lines were planned to be incorporated into the Poughkeepsie Bridge Route but work on them halted in the wake of the Panic of 1873 (an economic depression caused by the collapse of the silver mining industry) which had caused wage cuts and poor working conditions for railroad workers, to the extent that they began to strike, a movement now known as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. It began in Martinsburg, West Virginia but had a profound effect in Pennsylvania. The strikes were sometimes violent, including the Reading Railroad Massacre and the 1877 Shamokin Uprising, both occurring in Pennsylvania, with Shamokin in particular being only just north of the railroad in Blue Mountain. President Hayes began to send federal troops city to city, suppressing the strikes which then died out about 45 days after they’d begun. As the depression also began to lift about a year or two later, the railroad industry began to recover and the shell of the South Mountain Railroad Company was finally reorganized into the Blue Mountain Railroad Company on August 8, 1893. In 1898, along with thirteen other companies, Blue Mountain Railroad was sued for $5,000 for failing to make return to the state bureau of railways. After Clinton’s death, the company was sold for a mere $43 in June of 1901, evidence of its decline and failure. It was again renamed as the Harrisburg and South Mountain Railroad on August 12, 1901 but the company was completely inactive by 1912 and only remnants of the railroad can be seen today.

After George's death on March 13, 1892 when he was 59, his wife Henrietta lived in a house next to her daughter Mary Ann's family (the Fallows) before moving in with her other daughter Emma's family (the Aimans) until her death at the age of 84 on March 26, 1910. Both George and Henrietta are also buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery. The land Henrietta briefly lived on was given to both her daughters and split in two properties. The Aiman’s had also bought Clinton’s property across the street before he died. This meant both sisters owned two properties.

© Robin Bauer 2010-2013

Citations:

  1. "Norristown Letter." The Ambler Gazette 4 Jan. 1900: 1. Pennsylvania Digital Repository, Wissahickon Valley Public Library. Web. 28 July 2013. <http://www.accesspadr.org/u?/wivp-gazett,4054>.

Sources:

Rorer Photos and Documents

George Rorer III

Henrietta Rorer (nee Gilbert) in her old age.

Henrietta Gilbert, possibly with her daughter, Mary Ann Rorer, and granddaughter, Emma Sarah Fallows.

Tintype of Mary Ann Rorer (right) with friends (or family), probably sometime when she was a teenager.

Mary Ann Rorer, possibly after her marriage to John Henry Fallows.

Clinton Rorer, George III’s brother and Mary Ann’s uncle

Clinton Rorer as an older man.

Clinton Rorer’s stock in Blue Mountain Rail Road Company.

A postcard image, probably sometime between 1906 and 1912, of Chestnut Hill Park aka White City, co-founded by Clinton Rorer.

Another view of White City aka Chestnut Hill Park, founded by Clinton Rorer.

Rambo House, where Clinton Rorer lived while sheriff.

The original deed for the Frankford Presbyterian Church, which Henry Rorer helped found.

George Rorer II’s headstone inscribed with “A Soldier of 1812”.