From The Roxborough Times of November 15, 1928, by H.C. Chadwick:
"Several months ago the writer happened to meet a Germantown lady whose family name was SORBER, which is a historical one in this northwest section of Philadelphia, who stated that she would like to know more of the past lore of her family. Since the time that we met her we have been on the trail of the SORBERS, and here is what we have gleaned. We know that the story will prove of interest to all the family, which is a large one and scattered all over our field, and we hope that there are others who will be glad to see the tale in print.
Most of the information contained herein was found among the writings of BERNARD DOWDALL, who once wrote a history of the Falls of Schuylkill, and which appeared in "THe weekly Forecast" published by the Carwardines, in East Falls.
To start with, the Sorbers can date their ancestors among the first settlers of Germantown. It was in 1732 that Joseph Sorber and his brother arrived in Germantown from Sweden. The brother, whose name we have not yet been able to obtain, dedided to throw his fortune with Canada and, therefore, went to the Dominion.
Joseph Sorber, the original of the family in this section, remained in Germantown, and earned his living as a carpenter. It was he who built the first cupola on the Germantown Academy. How old Joseph Sorber was when he first came to America, we do not know, but he lived in Germantown for thirty-five years before he died in 1767, on Queen Lane. On the ground adjoining the house in which he passed to his reward, his son, Joseph E., afterward built the first brick house in Germantown, it being an addition to the old home.
Joseph E. Sorber , the son of the pioneer, married Elizabeth Kirk, of Lower Merion. Miss Kirk's father was aRevolutionary character who bore the name "Fearnaught". It is told of fearnaught, that he was a spy under Washington, and that during the terrible winter at Valley Forge, he came to Philadelphia seeking information of the enemy's activities, and while returning to Washington's Camp, he encountered one of the British pickets in the neighborhood of Ridge Road and School House Lane.
Feeling that escape would be impossible, if an alarm was given, he crept up upon the unsuspecting Redcoat, until he could touch him, then suddenly he sprang, wresting the gun from his foe, and clubbing him, knocked him insensible, and finally reached the American Camp in safety.
Joseph E. Sorber, Fearnaught's son-in-law, moved to the Falls of Schuylkill in the year 1803, occupying a house on Ridge Avenue east of Queen Lane, which still stands. The house in Revolutionary times was known as Palmer's Tavern. Sorber built an addition to the original building which was used in the writer's time as a dwelling. The structure housed the first grocery store in the Falls. It was also the birthplace of the plumbing business of Edward Foster. In addition to the store, Sorber also operated the noted Sorber Fisheries, on the west side of the Schuylkill River, at the end of the present Strawberry Mansion trolley bridge. The "west river" property remained in possession of the Sorber family until a few years previous to the time when the Fairmount Park Commissioners gained control of it. In the interim it was owned by a man named Jones, who had bought it from Charles K. Sorber, who died a decade or two ago.
But to get back to Joseph E. Sorber, the son of the pioneer. Sorber in addition to his other industries erected a building for the manufacture of carriages, which rremains to this day, he having had considerable experience in that line. (During the Revolution, while a resident of Germantown, he had made gun carriages for the use of the Colonial troops.) This venture proved very successful and his plant afterward became widely known.
The wife of Joseph E. Sorber was a neighborhood nurse, and widely known for her kindness to the poor of the community. An incident in connection with her charitable services is mentioned relative to a call from the Mifflin family to attend the wife of the Governor. The carriage was sent and was at the door and waiting to carry Mrs. Sorber to the mansion, but she had given her word to a poor woman that she would attend her about the same time, and the carriage returned to the home of the Governor vacant.
Of the family of Joseph E. Sorber, thee were four sons-Jacob, Charles, Joseph, 3rd., and William H. Jacob became engaged in the carriage business with his father while in his teens; Charles, the second son, died from the effects of a tumor when about 27 years of age. The third son, Joseph, was a doctor, and married into the widely known Potts family, after which the city of Pottsville is named. Dr. Sorber was a resident of Pottsville for manu years, building up a large and successful practice, and finally died there. A number of his descendants are now scattered throughout the State of Illinois.
The fourth son, William H., also stayed with his father in the carriage building trade. All of the Sorber buildings on Ridge Avenue were erected there by the first Joseph E. Sorber who moved from Germantown. He also built on the property the first building used for school purposes at the Falls. It was erected shortly after he arrived in the community. It still stands, although in a fearful state of dilapidation, on the east side of Queen Lane, just above the junction with Ridge Avenue. Joseph E. Sorber died when he was 62 years of age, in 1827, being survived by his widow until 1846, when she died at the advanced age of 87 years.
At the death of the father, the carriage business was conducted uninterruptedly by Jacob and William H. Sorber, until 1854, when Charles K. and Joseph, the 4th; the two sons of William H., assumed control.
William H. Sorber had married a Mary L. Dewey, of Germantown. It is on the ground once owned by this family that was built the well-known Henry House, opposite the Hood Cemetery, in Germantown. William H. Sorber was known far and wide as "Squire Sorber" an honor which was given him, and which held up until the time of his death, which occurred in 1865. An incident is told of William H., relative to the privilege of holding services in the Old Academy, which was erected on Queen Lane, in 1813, and to the fund for the building of which his father was a contributor. William H. Sorber was liberal in his views and believed in justice to all. In the case referred to, the believers of a certain creed wished to hold services in the Academy. Opposition manifested itself, but the Squire decided that there would be no controversy over the matter, and therewith on the day on which the meeting of the trustees of the building were to meet to grant the privilege, he called in a well known resident of the Falls, at that time, one John Mettinger, a German and a good-natured character in general. Mettinger was informed that at the meeting to take place that evening, at a signal from the Squire, he was to put out the lights. He volunteered no answer, but silence; knowing that when the Squire directed an order it was necessary. That evening, when the question was opened, the Squire quietly presented the books containing the rules governing the privileges of the Academy, which he read, supplementing them with the names of the contributors to the building fund. The creed of the names mentioned was known to all, and successfully silenced all the opposition argument, and rendered the fulfilling of the Squire's orders to Mettinger unnecessary.
Members of the Sorber family have always been prominent trustees of Falls of Schuylkill Association, which still controls the destiny of the Old Academy. The old Squire died at the age of 65 years, and his title or official position descending to Charles K. Sorber, who is well remembered by the writer. The first Squire's wife survived until 1865, when she passed away at the age of 82.
Charles K. Sorber married Virginia Madison, of Germantown, to whom was born one daughter, named after her mother. This daughter became the wife of the late Charles Lesh Dykes, who served with particular merit in the Select Councils of Philadelphia, and as president of the State Board of Undertakers of Pennsylvania.
Charles K. Sorber's only son, Harry M. Sorber, was a very popular young man, who, after graduating from the Old Forest School, which we know know as "THe Samuel Breck School", took a business course and in 1891 became a notary public and conveyancer. In the midst of a successful clientage, which promised a bright future, he was stricken with typhoid fever and died.
Joseph Sorber, the 4th, had married Elizabeth Stace, a daughter of Jacob Stace, a Revolutionary neighbor of Henry Hill, of Carlton.Joseph lived in a house on Queen Lane, just below the Falls of Schuylkill Y.M.A. He was the father of three daughters, Miss Kate Sorber, Mrs. Harry Conover, and Mrs. Zachariah Potter. The only son, William H. 2nd, who learned the trade of carriage painting, continued in the carriage building business with his uncle, Charles K. Sorber. In 1897, the latter retired from the carriage business and devoted the remainder of his life to notarial and conveyancing, which work he had taken up at the death of his son. William H. Sorber, 2nd, had a short business career, for about a year after assuming ownership he succumbed to an attack of lead poisoning. He left a widow, and three children, one girl and two boys. These two boys, since the death of their uncle Charles are the last male line of the original Sorber, who settled in the Falls in 1803.
Joseph Sorber 3rd, fell a victim to the small-pox epidemic of 1872, after which the carriage business was conducted by C.K. Sorber. The term of Charles as Squire expired in 1872, when the position became elective under the official name of magistrate. Mr. Sorber did not desire to be a candidate. He was also postmaster at the Falls for a number of years, being appointed by Postmaster Snowden, under President Grant, and retiring in favor of John Cruice during Postmaster Harrity's term expiring in 1882.
A sister of Charles K. Sorber's married Robert Scott, at one time a large property holder in this section, after whose death she became the wife of Dr. John Conry of Manayunk, who was a noted Civil War character.
The Charles Sorber, referred to as having died from the effects of a tumor, at 27 years of age, our manuscripts tell us, married Julia Young, the daughter of the then proprietor of the old Falls Hotel. Young established a private school of languages in Roxborough. Charles, at his death, left a widow and two sons, William and George Y., of whom the latter learned the blacksmithing art in the old shop at the corner of Queen Lane and Ridge Avenue. George Y. Sorber afterward married Mary C. Shingler, of Schuylkill County Pa. This couple had seven children, three sons and four daughters. Of the girls, Emma, the eldest, married George W. Wooley, of Trenton; Sallie A., married Robert G. Foster, who was well known as a plumber in East Falls; Susan E. became the wife of Dr. L.W. Moyer of Schuylkill Co., and ida M. became Mrs. Benjamin F. Stamm, of Schuylkill Co., but afterward moved to the Falls.
Charles F. Sorber, a brother of the above named woman, followed the trade of machinist, and married a Pottsville girl named Sarah Noll. John Sorber, another brother, married Miss Kate Brierly, of Orwigsburgh, Pa., and afterward took to farming at Summit Hill, Pa. The other brother for many years conducted a drug store at the corner of Nineteenth and Fitzwater Streets, in Philadelphia.
There are still a great many of the descendants of Joseph E. Sorber living near East Falls, and in Germantown, but they probably could add to this little history; but the printing of any additional facts will have to be left for another edition."