O. Torrison Company, Manitowoc
After the death of his father, a twenty year old Osuld Torrison used his savings to pay passage for himself, his mother, and three siblings from Norway to America. This leadership, ambition and industrious spirit would serve him well in his new homeland. His first two years in Manitowoc County were spent working as a clerk in a Manitowoc Rapids general store. He then moved to the city of Manitowoc to hold the same position at the Baker and Beardsley Store. By 1853, he purchased the merchandise and opened the O. Torrison and Co. Store at Sixth and Commercial Streets (Commercial Street is now Maritime Drive), which would eventually grow into one of Wisconsin’s largest mercantile operations.
After several years, the growing business was moved to a new wood frame building on the southeast corner of eighth and commercial streets. The store, dealing in general merchandise, real estate, lumber, ties, timber, pressed hay and grain, continued to grow and the operation was expanded once again. In 1882, Torrison built a three story brick building across the street on the southwest corner of Eighth and Commercial Streets which still stands today as the River Lofts condominium development. The smaller, two story part of the building was added shortly after construction.
The business thrived until the great depression when it was closed and the building was leased as a Henderson-Hoyt store, the Boston Store, Johnson Hills and The Mart, Inc. and North End Drug.
While Torrison’s store was a landmark of the downtown, he also built one of the most impressive homes in the area for his wife Martha and their ten children. The three story brick mansion, an example of French Second Empire architecture, sat on a 6.5 acre lot between Michigan and New York Avenues. Built in 1878, the beautiful home was defined by a mansard roof and decorative cast iron accents.
The inside of the home was described in an essay by Sophie (Hanson) Halverson, a relative of the Torrison’s who stayed with them to attend school: “Their house was a veritable mansion, with beautiful grounds surrounding it. All the rooms on the first floor had a fireplace. The library was used as their living room and there were double doors between that and the spacious dining room. These doors, when opened, slid right into the thick wall so they were completely out of sight…The parlor was only used for special occasions and was richly furnished, with a large low piano occupying one end of the room…From the large sitting room, one could enter the conservatory – a long narrow room with glass walls to the east and south and lined on all sides with plants of many kinds.”
Around the time that the business closed the family razed the once stately home and subdivided the large lot. Today, Torrison Drive, lined with homes, runs through the former location of the tennis courts and stables which housed horses used by the family to make store deliveries.
Osuld Torrison passed away in 1892 and his wife Martha continued to live in the home until her death in 1925.