Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township

HATT | PO Box 2084 | Pocono Pines, PA 18350-2084

**The Blakeslee Family

Contributed by Gene Kerrick | July 2012

The Blakeslee family has played an important role in Tobyhanna Township ever since the first member, Jacob Blakeslee Sr., arrived here in the very early part of the 19th century.

Lasting effects occur in two examples: the name of the town came from the first postmaster, Jacob Blakeslee Jr., and the Austin T. Blakeslee Nature Preserve, named after the last survivor with that surname in the township.

The first Blakeslee came to Connecticut in 1620. He was a blacksmith as were several of his descendants. They branched off into sidelines such as being a tavern owner or a farmer.

In the fifth generation, Jacob Blakeslee Sr., (1780-1851) married in Connecticut, but left his wife, who sued for divorce, and came to Wilkes-Barre. There he married Rachael White, daughter of John, who as an Irishman had been impressed by the British into the army to fight the colonials in the Revolution. He changed sides and fought with the Americans.

Jacob came to Buck Township, Luzerne County, and then to Tobyhanna Township in 1812. He and his second wife had three sons: William, who became progenitor of the Buck Township (“up the road”) Blakeslees; John, who married and lived in the area of White Haven and Hickory Run; and Jacob,Jr., who was born in our Tobyhanna Township.

William married Mary “Polly” Simonson, who went to look for her cows and disappeared. No trace of her was ever found.

Jacob Jr. (1822-1896) was the founder of the Tobyhanna Township (“down the road”) Blakeslees. He married Clarissa Winter, also of an early pioneer family of the area.

Jacob was the first postmaster, appointed in 1883. The post office was located near Burger Road, across the Wilkes-Barre/Easton Turnpike (Route 115) from his homestead, which was located on the hill to the left of Homestead Lane. It was also a country store.

Jacob owned several thousand acres, 300 of which were cleared. He was a farmer and lumberman. He was also a justice of the peace, and a trustee and member of a group which in 1852 erected the first Tobyhanna Methodist Episcopal Church (now Blakeslee United Methodist) approximately at the same location as it is today.

Jacob and Clarissa had 11 children, the most prominent of whom was the eldest, Franklin Pierce (1853-1930). He married Jennie Torbert and in 1892 acquired 365 acres, a hundred of which had been cleared.

He, like his, father was a farmer and raised cattle. His wife was postmaster on their land called the Preserve (not to be confused with Pocono Lake Preserve). The area is now a housing development called Old Farm Estates.

In his early years Franklin went to public schools and then Wyoming Seminary for a commercial course. In his later years he was blind.

Other Jacob Blakeslee children were well-known in the community. Rachael the younger replaced her father as postmaster; Mella was one of five young women who raised $1,500 to build a new Methodist church in 1896-97; Howard was killed in a logging accident at Stoddartsville Falls, and Cora married James Warner. Cora was also a member of that committee of five for the Tobyhanna Methodist Episcopal Church.

Succeeding Rachael, Warner became postmaster. Due to his early death, Cora became postmaster at Blakeslee until she died in 1933. After that event, both that post office and the Preserve were closed and the post office reopened at Blakeslee Corners. Josephine was a school teacher who spent her time there when not teaching at the homestead.

Franklin and Jennie had eight children, some of whom need to be brought forward. Helen Virginia became a missionary in Kenya, especially caring for girls, some of whom were abandoned in infancy; Austin Torbert, who was a prominent member of the community; and Clarissa Scott who married Adam Smith.

Notice needs to be taken of Jennie Torbert Blakeslee as a remarkable woman. Having lost her father (George W. Torbert of Gouldsboro) in the Civil War, she went on to work in a lumber camp, but rose to be postmaster and ran a boarding house.

Jacob,Jr., was also very active in local government. He was elected as justice of the peace, serving for several of years between 1861 and 1886, and as school director from 1858 to 1884, and as Tobyhanna Township supervisor in 1864 to1866.

Austin ran a farm where his parents lived. He married Dorothy Reichers with whom he had seven children. In maturity only one remained in the township. The nicknames of some of these children are fascinating: Austin was Pudge; Jerome was Pickle; Betty was Babe, and Clarissa was Shine. He pioneered “new ground” along Route 115 near the top of Effort Mountain on which he raised crops such as cabbage and cauliflower.

There are a couple of stories about him:

The board of the always-disputatious Blakeslee United Methodist Church was trying to decide what color to paint the wainscoting. Austin settled the matter by going to town and buying the paint.

Also, he found at one point that some of his children had deliberately missed the school bus. He pointed them in the right direction and followed them all the way to school in his car while they walked.

Austin Jr., ran the family farm. When he left it, he became an employee of the Department of Agriculture as a soil conservation expert. He also headed the board for the Monroe County Conservation District, and the nature preserve in the township is named for him.

There are several descendants of Jacob Blakeslee Jr., who still live in the township, but sadly, no direct one with that surname remains here.

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