Greetings, and welcome to the Historical Society of Riverton's website for our town, founded in 1851, by a group of ten Philadelphians for summer homes for their families. Displayed within its scant square mile area of Victorian-flavored neighborhoods and gaslamp-lined streets are more than 150 years of American architectural styles. More than half of Riverton's buildings are included in the State and National Directories of Historic Places.

Here is the venerable Porch Club, birthplace of the PTA; Riverton Yacht Club, one of the oldest and still active yacht clubs in the country; the beloved Riverton Public School which just turned one hundred; treasured churches and other institutions, as well as businesses and a hometown to almost 3,000 proud Rivertonians.

Our masthead banner, derived from a delightful folk art painting by Riverton author and artist, Anne Knight Ruff, evokes the charm and vitality of our richly historic borough and serves as your invitation to explore it further with us.


Take a virtual drive down Riverton’s Main Street to see the locations of the post offices

Here’s my first attempt at posting a Google custom map. This one is about Riverton, of course, but the theme is Riverton Post Office Locations.  Click on the link and that should open a new window to a Google Maps page that shows the eight locations of the US Post Office in Riverton over the years.

A blog posted on May 2, Special Delivery – Riverton’s United States Post Office, has more information about those eight locations of Riverton’s post offices.

Left-mouse-click on an icon to see a caption box pop up.

Icons on the map show addresses for each post office, and clicking on each one pops up a box with a caption.

Its navigation works like any other Google Map for moving, zooming, and toggling between views – Map, Satellite, or Earth.

But the biggest break I got was that all eight post office locations are along Main Street which was captured with the 360-degree, panoramic, and street-level imagery called Street View.

Grab pegman with your mouse cursor, drag him over to a Main Street location, and release.

To view street-level imagery in Google Maps, click and drag Pegman to the place you want to see.

When dragging the pegman icon, blue lines on the map showing Street View imagery will appear. If you do not see blue lines appear it is because that road was not photographed in Street View; pegman will not “stick” to such streets.

Google Street View - 304 Main Street

As long as you are here, you might want to look around your old hometown. Just know that Street View is only enabled for Main Street, Broad Street, and 7th.

- John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

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Borough plans Memorial Day service Sunday, May 27; More Vets’ names to be listed on Honor Roll; Whitelock Memorial June 2

In March 2012, we received this gratifying email from the son of a Riverton military veteran.

From: Martin Edsell
Sent: 03/09/12 04:19 PM
To: rivertonhistory@usa.com
Subject: veteran photo – Gerard Clark Edsell

Gerard Clark Edsell

Dear Mr. McCormick,
I enjoy reading the many articles you write for the Historical Society of Riverton (found online at:  http://rivertonhistory.com/ ).

In the February issue of the Gaslight News, you requested photos of servicemen and women to match with the names on the Riverton War Memorial. My father’s name (Gerard Clark Edsell) was added to the Memorial in a ceremony last Veteran’s Day (11-11-11).

Attached are two photos of my father, either of which you may use in your online Honor Roll Album.

During World War II, my father was a Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.  From Nov. 1940 until Dec. 1945, he was stationed both stateside and on various islands overseas (Guadalcanal, New Caladonia, Bouganville, Mumda, and Manilla).

A resident of Riverton for over fifty years (from 1950 until his death in 2003), my father along with my mother (Eileen) raised seven children in the town. All of us have fond memories of growing up there.  Though the last Edsell moved out of Riverton just this past December, we can all continue to follow your articles online.

Mr. McCormick, thank you for your good work in keeping alive the history of our town and in helping to honor our veterans.

Sincerely,
Martin Edsell

Shortly afterward, I updated the online Riverton Veterans Honor Roll Album. With Memorial Day just two weeks away, this is a good time to renew our request for readers to supply us with photos of Riverton service men and women to match with the names on the Riverton War Memorial. The Borough website has information about how to verify eligibility.

Citizens assembled on Memorial Day 2011, a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.

Mayor Bill Brown recently wrote to let us know that the Memorial Day service will be held on Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.  The Riverton Military & Veterans Affairs Committee will add the following names to the Veterans Honor Roll that day:

Armand J. Bianchini Joseph A. Creighton, Jr. Robert I. Heck
George E. Horner Jr. Donald R. Hubbs Elwood C. Johnson
John S. Latimer Joseph Matera Bryan H. Norcross
Frank C. Quattrocchi Richard W. Schwering Monroe O. Steedle
Donald R. Taylor Thomas C. Whitelock

Officer Thomas C. Whitelock

Military veteran Thomas C. Whitelock (listed above) will also be honored with a memorial of another kind on Saturday, June 2, 2012.

On Jan. 14, 1976, the seven-year veteran Riverton patrolman was killed in the line of duty as the result of responding to a call of a suicidal man in an apartment on Lippincott Avenue.

The Police Department and the Borough invites the community to the plaque dedication ceremony to honor Patrolman Whitelock’s heroism at the corner of Broad and Main Streets near the gazebo on Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 10:00 AM.

The Riverton Borough website has more information about Officer Whitelock and the ceremony here.

Burlington County Times staff writer Matt Chiappard relates more details of this tragic story in an article titled, “Decades later, a fitting memorial for a fallen Riverton officer”.

If you wish, you may join others who have left a reflection on the Officer Down Memorial Page.

To make a donation to the Thomas C. Whitelock Memorial and its maintenance, contact the Riverton Police Association, Attn: Memorial Fund, 501 Fifth St., Riverton, N.J. 08077.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs posts a straightforward answer to the FAQ (frequently asked question),

Q. What is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

A. Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.

It is our privilege to devote part of rivertonhistory.com to honor Riverton veterans. It is a small, symbolic way say to all service men and women in the armed forces, “Thank you for your service.”

Maj. Gen. John A. Logan

Did you know that Memorial Day had its origin with the observance of placing flowers on the graves of Civil War dead? Dozens of communities throughout the North and South claim to have started the ritual that came to be called Decoration Day, but it was Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans, who issued General Orders No. 11 with these eloquent words:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country…

… Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

vintage Memorial Day postcard from Moore's Postcard Museum

The restoration of the Riverton War Memorial and grounds to a place of solemn beauty along with the recent effort to recognize veterans who served during other conflicts in addition to World War Two seem to have turned back the clock to a former time.

On a day seen by some communities as simply part of a three-day weekend that heralds the start of summer, Riverton shows that Memorial Day is a sacred day of remembrance to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.

Consider stopping by the Memorial on Sunday, May 27, and at the gazebo at Broad & Main on Saturday, June 2, to remember our veterans and a police officer, without whom, the pages of history would tell a much different story.

- John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

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Treasure Day 2012 and revising the Riverton Walking Tour

If you picked up a cool collectible or Riverton related artifact at Treasure Day, please tell us about it by email or facebook. Send a scan or a photo so that we can at least share vicariously in enjoying your bargain.

While browsing through the great yearly Riverton town-wide yard sale that is aptly named “Treasure Day,” a man selling flowers by a table in front of Christ Church told me a visitor had asked him about the Riverton Walking Tour leaflet .

1989 Riverton Walking Tour pamphlet

Funny you should ask. We’re working on revising the 1989 publication. But first, some history.

In a blog entry for January 2011, called Betty’s Sage Advice I posted scans of the informative Riverton Walking Tour leaflet that has been available for many years at the Riverton Free Library for a quarter. The suggestion to produce a self-guided walking tour first grew out of an October 1979 Society meeting. HSR members Lenore Probsting and Louise Vaughn collaborated on producing the straightforward guide that debuted in May 1981.

By 1989, Betty Hahle weighed in with additional research and that revised edition has served our purposes well, but after more than twenty years, it too needs an update.

Betty wrote in 1981 that the Walking Tour “…. is by no means a complete list of all there is to be seen, but it is a good place to begin…”

After some discussion, several interested members met to discuss revising the Walking Tour. Still a work in progress, we have a draft of the text for the first tour and could use some input about what other information we could include.

Betty once told me to not forget to record the history that is happening today. Accordingly,  we would like to include some facts about these properties and their occupants for the times in which we live as well as for the times of their construction and original occupants. If you know of a feature not listed in a place’s description, or a tradition, event, anecdote, or a famous or infamous person connected to an address, please submit your suggestions  by email.

1. Historical Marker, Broad & Main Sts. (This will have a brief general history of Riverton.) Proceed along Main St.

2. 501 Main Street c.1860. Who would guess that this charming Gothic style home was once the site of F.C. Cole Dairy c. 1903-1940?

3. 410-412 Main Street c.1874. Second Empire brick dwelling with mansard roof. Front bay has round-top windows with ironwork cresting. Elaborate cornice with rosettes between brackets. Note the iron fence.

4. 408 Main Street c.1856. Italianate style, Eastlake front porch.  First floor had been doctors’ offices from 1909.  In 1930s the upper floors had a “lying-in” hospital in which many local births occurred. Now a private residence undergoing renovations.

5. 406 Main Street c.1855. Clapboard house with mansard roof.  Turret with conical roof and curved windows on left side was originally an open porch. It was converted to office/waiting room when Dr. Marcy purchased it in 1887 (for $7500.!) Later it became a music room. Notice the use of narrow clapboard and shingles, complimenting each other. On right side is an oriel window, with scrolled brackets beneath. Notice also the chimney—it is wider at top than at bottom. Brick walk, herringbone pattern.  Res. of Dr. Alexander Marcy starting 1887; remained in the family for almost a century.

6. 404 Main Street 1868. Italianate style, clapboard house.  This house and its next door neighbor – No. 402 – are “sister” houses; both designed and built by local entrepreneur/ realtor/census taker/Civil War veteran, Edward Hackney Pancoast in 1868.  Front door has fan-light and sidelights.  Floor to ceiling windows with small iron balconies, added when veranda was removed.

7. 402 Main Street c.1868. Second Empire style. Concave mansard roof; floor to ceiling front windows; paneled shutters. For many years the Pancoast lived at 404 Main and operated this popular boarding house that was known as the “Home Mansion.”

8. 400 Main Street c.1853. Late Georgian style, clapboard home; mortise and tenon construction; front porch removed. Built for home of Squire Louis Ourt.

9. 305 Main St., Christ Episcopal Church 1884. Gothic style, Trenton brownstone, slate roof. Architect, John Eraser. Note genuine Tiffany window, west wall, given in memory of Louis A. Godey, publisher of Godey’s Lady’s Book, seven different iron and stone Celtic crosses on roof, boot scrapers on step, and wrought iron fence. (Electrified replica gaslights are new). Christ Church Rectory 1868. Second Empire style, Trenton brownstone, mansard roof and dormers. John Eraser, architect. Porch added 1883. (Parish House behind rectory by Fraser’s son, 1895.)

10. 308 Main Street c.1870. Second Empire architecture. Mmmm..good! From 1872, until his death in 1900 it was the home of Joseph Campbell, founder of Campbell’s Soup Company. Beautiful frame house with mansard roof covered with hexagon shaped tiles and edged with elaborate iron cresting. Notice carriage mounting block and hitching post at the curb.

11. 306 Main St., Riverton Library 1855. Small Carpenter-Gothic board and batten style cottage. Built for Dr. A. Willits; res. of George Senat 1863 to c.1900. Mrs. Sarah Morris Ogden purchased it in 1907, and donated it the next year to the Riverton Library Assn. in memory of her late husband, Riverton’s first mayor, Edward H. Ogden (1894).

12. 304 Main Street 1858. Victorian home of indeterminate style. Eastlake style decorative woodwork added to front porch in recent years. The town’s first telephone (1886) was installed there. Sara and Milton Cowperthwaite purchased the home in 1888 and promptly opened a combined drugstore and US Post Office in a room on the first floor.

13. 301 Main Street c.1852. Italianate style. One of Riverton’s earliest homes. In the 1930′s, owner Owen Merrill designed and built a simple sailboat in a room on the 3rd floor. He and some friends lowered the craft from a window, took it down to the river, and christened it a “Duster”. It became a world class sailboat.

14. 207 Main Street 1884. Queen Anne style 2½ story frame residence with hipped roof and cross gables. Note patterned shingles over clapboard, elaborate projecting bay windows, floor length windows on first floor, right side, and sweeping veranda. This house won an award in 1992 Burl. Co Freeholders for restoration,, rehabilitation, and preservation and planning.

15. 213 Howard St., PORCH CLUB  1909. This is the Adirondack style clubhouse of the Porch Club of Riverton, formed in 1890 by eight young women. Today it has about 170 members. The name was suggested because of the earliest meeting places; it is one of the oldest women’s clubs in NJ. The Club’s interest in the health and education of children brought about many positive changes.

16. 600 Fifth St., RIVERTON PUBLIC SCHOOL 1910. Riverton’s first one-room frame public school was built in 1865 on the site of the present school’s blacktop; a larger one replaced that in 1892. This brick structure was erected for $40,000. Additions came about in 1933, 1955, 1973.

17. 505 Howard Street, Riverton Fire Company 1890. In 1886 volunteers from Palmyra and Riverton formed Independence Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 of Riverton and Palmyra, headquartered in Palmyra.  After a disastrous fire destroyed Roberts General Store at Howard & Main Sts. and consumed several homes along Main Street in 1890, Riverton saw the need to form its own fire company— Riverton Fire Company No. 1.

Yes, this list has fewer items than the original Walking Tour, but we want to include a little more content for each place on the tour. A tour with ten fewer stops might be completed in less time. It looks like we’ll need to plan for at least one or two more tours and have a separate Children’s Tour. This first set of Walking Tour stops are mostly along Main and Broad from Broad to Third Street.  Remember, it is a work in progress, and suggestions, corrections, and criticism are invited.

John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

 

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Anticipation Builds Toward Return of Historic Riverton Criterium Sunday, June 10, 2012

Athletes race along the streets of Riverton during the First Annual Historic Riverton Criterium 2011

Last June saw the beginning of a new Riverton tradition when cycling competitors from several states converged on the gaslamp lined streets of our village for the first Historic Riverton Criterium. Last year, many people didn’t hear about the race until it was over and they expressed regret at having missed all the fun.

No excuses this year—the word is out!

Given the hearty reception shown by racers, spectators, and residents last year, race promoter Carlos Rogers anticipates a bigger and better bicycling event for 2012 with more sponsors, more cyclists, and more prizes when the USA Cycling sanctioned contest returns Sunday, June 10, 2012, for its sophomore run through Riverton’s thoroughfares. The first race starts at 1 p.m., but come early and make a day of it.

To the uninitiated, a criterium is a bicycle race of a specified number of laps on a closed course over public roads closed to normal traffic. According to USA Cycling, it is the most popular form of competitive road cycling in the US but, until last year, most Rivertonians were unfamiliar with this exciting  sport that brings the excitement of high-speed racing to Main Street, USA where the action unfolds to within feet of spectators lining the one kilometer course along neighborhood streets.

During a typical hour-or-so long match of 20-50 laps (depending on ability), racers speed by onlookers in the battle for supremacy that tests the athlete’s racing strategy and technique as much, if not more than, his conditioning and endurance. Cyclists accelerate to 30 mph or more on a straightaway and barely brake as they lean into a tight turn at an angle on those impossibly skinny tires that seem to defy the Laws of Motion.

Attacks and chases ensue as riders jockey for pack position. Those who find themselves at a rear position experience the “accordion effect” of having to slow down more than others as the pack bunches up going into the turn while others who spend early effort to stay out front may find that they have nothing left for the sprint of that last critical lap. Racers who cannot react to changing course conditions in a split second crash or get left behind.

 

No wonder they say that to be a truly good bike racer one has to “learn how to suffer.” Writers have compared the thrill of “crit” racing to being part Nascar, part Thunderdome, part Tour de France.

 

Accordian effect in play, 2011 Historic Riverton Criterium

 

Mr. Rogers, himself a former competitive cyclist, planned with USA Cycling officials, lobbied borough council, and worked with borough employees to bring this family-friendly event to his adopted hometown. In addition to providing cash prizes for the racers, last year’s meet benefited Riverton’s Memorial Park, the Shade Tree Commission, the Boy Scouts, and Palmyra Ambulance Association. Proceeds from this 2nd Annual Historic Riverton Criterium are earmarked to benefit the Riverton Free Library.

Carlos Rogers combines his years of business skill and bike racing experience to promote the Annual Historic Riverton Criterium which will again benefit local institutions

 

 

Whether one is aware of the nuances of competitive cycling or not, you will enjoy the experience of feeling the whoosh of riders careen by as fans cheer and clang cowbells in support of their favorites. Just as porch parties, cookouts, reunions, and good old-fashioned family fun go with Riverton’s Glorious Fourth festivities, Carlos hopes that the Historic Riverton Criterium generates the same kind of hometown celebrations. The bonus is that everybody wins in this race when proceeds benefit Riverton Free Library, an institution which serves so many area residents.

Conditioning and training are key for the competitors. However, it is the race promoter’s planning and preparation that are crucial to a successful, safe, and well-executed crit for athletes and spectators alike. Mr. Rogers has certainly done his due diligence in coordinating with Public Works, law enforcement, government officials, USA Cycling officials, and residents while enlisting the participation and support of athletes, sponsors, friends, and family through Facebook.

Course Map: Race route runs counter-clockwise, start/finish at 4th and Main Streets.

 

 

His twenty years of competitive cycling experience have given Carlos a perspective of things from the administration side. He remembers in his racing days holding off on registering until mere days before an event to provide options in case of injury or a change in his plans, but he admits, from where he now stands, waiting for sign-ups as the event draws closer is nerve-racking.

In the best tradition of the Ogdens, Grices, Biddles, Flanagans, Wrights and others who strove to improve Riverton during its early days, Mr. Rogers’ meticulous attention to detail, passion for the sport, and selfless desire to give back to the town and its organizations have added a new chapter to Riverton’s history and lore. He has established something worthwhile; the racers and spectators will come.

 

“Like” the Historic Riverton Criterium facebook page so you will be kept up to date on developments as they happen. Why not like us as well? We need all the friends we can get. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

There are three tiers of sponsorship—Friends of the Race, $100; Secondary, $250;, Primary, $500. Contact Carlos Rogers for information how you can help support this event.  carlos.rogers@hotmail.com   The growing sponsor lineup so far includes (logos link to respective websites):

 

 

5-hour ENERGY

 

 

 

Bicycle Therapy, 221 south Street, Phila., PA

 

 

Holman Toyota-Scion, Route 73 N., Mount Laurel, NJ

 

 

Hush Salon Philadelphia, 45 N. 3rd. Phila., PA

 

 

Milanese Pizza, 519 Howard St., Riverton, NJ

 

 

 

Mr. Bill’s Bicycle Shop, Broad St., Palmyra, NJ

 

Nellie Bly’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream Parlour, 529 Main St., Riverton, NJ

 

NonStop Couriers, Philadelphia, South Jersey, King of Prussia http://www.nonstopcouriers.com/

 

 

 

Riverton Business Group

 

 

 

Vitaband digital health ID bracelets for athletes https://vitaband.net/home/

 

Links:

2012 Historic Riverton Criterium registration and map of the course  https://www.bikereg.com/Net/15554

HRC Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Historic-Riverton-Criterium/183652518332010

“The Fine Grounds of the Riverton Athletic Association,” Gaslight News article http://rivertonhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/137_Gaslight_News_Sep09.pdf

Phillyburbs article 2011 http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/burlington_county_times_news/cyclists-ride-in-historic-riverton-criterium/article_502296d6-125d-5be2-952a-345985e458a6.html

2011 blog entry after the First Annual Historic Riverton Criterium http://rivertonhistory.com/2011/07/bicycle-races-past-present-and-hopefully-future/

USA Cycling http://www.usacycling.org/

 

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Special Delivery – Riverton’s United States Post Office

By Mrs. Patricia Solin and John McCormick with research and editorial assistance by Paul W. Schopp

Note: This is an extended-play version of the article that appeared in the February 2012 Gaslight News. This column provides more space for explaining additional details and display of illustrations, photos, maps, etc, which the newsletter could not. We welcome your comments, anecdotes, photos, or corrections, to this article.

Riverton mail carrier and future postmaster Joseph L. Yearly with his nephew Joseph B. Yearly, 1938. PHOTO CREDIT: JOSEPH F. YEARLY PHOTO ALBUM

On July 30, 2009, the United States Post Office announced that 677 facilities would be considered for closing or consolidation, with 200 “most likely” to be actually closed.  The Riverton branch of the U.S. Post Office escaped inclusion in that closure list and in several subsequent lists published since. We look back at the many changes to the borough’s postal service over 140 years as it operated from eight different locations.

Riverton’s first railroad station opened in 1863 and once stood facing the tracks, close to today's site of the Riverton War Memorial. Railroad agent Charles Mattis lived in the house adjacent to the station and served as Riverton’s first postmaster when the first Riverton Post Office was established in 1871. PHOTO CREDIT: The New Era, 1909 Christmas Issue, p.23

According to the Historian of the United States Post Office, free mail delivery began nationally July 1, 1863.  As long as postage would cover all the expenses of the service, the government established a post office in a community. By 1864,  salaried letter carriers delivered mail in 65 US cities, although it only went only from post office to post office.  Riverton, established in 1851, did not yet have its own post office in 1864. Rather, residents had either to pick up their mail in Palmyra or, as in other cities, pay an extra two-cent fee to a private local carrier for letter delivery.

Riverton’s first railroad station opened in 1863 and once stood facing the tracks near Main and Broad, close to today’s site of the Riverton War Memorial. Charles Mattis, the railroad agent, lived in the house adjacent to the station at 601 Main, and served as Riverton’s first postmaster when the Riverton Post Office was established in 1871. However, borough residents still had to trek to the post office to pick up or to drop off mail. Mattis’ postmaster annual salary in 1872: a whopping $12.00! The house was razed in 1940 to provide space for the Riverton War Memorial.

The job of postmaster was an important one–candidates for the job were proposed by the outgoing postmaster, the local community, or local congressional representatives. Beginning in 1836, the President appointed postmasters at larger post offices like Riverton’s as part of a spoils system. Often the position of postmaster was a sideline to their primary occupation, such as storekeeper.

Those early days of Riverton were times of development and expansion, marked by population growth with each successive census, from its founding through 1930, and that certainly added to the volume of mail. No longer simply a summer refuge for wealthy Philadelphians, it had become a year-round community in need of a post office upgrade. Post office services over the years operated out of no less than eight locations along Main Street, including the railroad station, a drug store, shared space with an insurance office, what later became the office of the The New Era newspaper, and a former bank.

It is also quite possible, as some longtime Riverton residents attest, that post office capacity was influenced through a literally growing business: Dreer’s Nursery. In 1873, Henry Dreer moved his nursery business from Philadelphia to Riverton. Employing over two hundred workers in-season, the company was the largest employer in town.  Comprising about 100 acres of seeds and plants, and eight acres of greenhouses, the highly regarded House of Dreer demanded a quick and efficient way to mail their delicate products nationally and internationally. The thriving business eventually expanded to 295 acres with a water garden and 14 greenhouses with palms, ferns, bamboo, irises, and hybrid waterlilies.

1905 Dreer Garden Book cover

In a paper presented at a symposium at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in 2006, author Dr. Cheryl Lyon-Jenness credits improvements in the postal service that accommodated industrial needs for fueling the horticultural boom during the nineteenth century. The fortunes of many prominent nurseries and seed companies benefited from their close proximity to population  centers and transportation hubs, the firm of Henry A. Dreer among them.

However, to what degree the Dreer mail-order business affected the post office and mail volume cannot be determined. Numerous periodical advertisements over many years always required the respondent to address their request to Philadelphia headquarters, not Riverton.  A 1916 Dreer’s Garden Book promised, “We deliver postpaid to any Post Office in the United States, Vegetable and Flower Seeds…”  It also boasted of  “… an eight-story warehouse at 710 South Washington Square, which affords ample storage facilities and room for the careful and prompt filling of orders.”

Dreer Building,1306 Spring Garden, Phila., PA

The 1938 Hundredth Anniversary Edition of Dreer’s Garden Book displays photos of an order-filling department and a mailing department, which appear to be housed in the even larger 1306 Spring Garden Street address, which the business had occupied since 1924.      Further, of twenty-two examples of postmarked Dreer postcards and one  letter in our collection, seven have Riverton postmarks, and the rest are from Philadelphia. The assertion of our forebearers notwithstanding, lacking figures that would break down what goods or correspondence were dispatched from where, we cannot determine the impact that the Dreer’s seed and plant mail-order business had on the Riverton Post Office.

Dreer ceased operations in Riverton almost ten years before this headline appeared in the Trenton Evening Times, April 10, 1953.

In 1887, when the first railroad station had proved inadequate, a larger brick structure at Broad and Main replaced it, across from where Zena’s Patisserie shop is today.  Apparently, the post office remained in the house at 601 Main, where Dorothy Mattis had already assumed the duties of postmaster beginning in 1876. In 1888, the post office moved to Cowperthwaite’s Drug Store at 304 Main, where proprietor Milton Cowperthwaite doubled as postmaster. There was still no home delivery for Riverton, however. Postmaster Cowperthwaite’s pay, which was based on volume, had jumped to an even $1000.

Postcard detail: Riverton’s second railroad station opened 1887, replacing the first one that once stood on the lot now occupied by the Riverton War Memorial. Note Roberts Store, built 1891 on point. View is toward the river at Broad & Main.

The Historical house plaque by the front door reads: RIVERTON’S FIRST DRUGSTORE c. 1855. Proprietor Milton Cowperthwaite also doubled as postmaster there for ten years from 1888—1898. PHOTO CREDIT: JM 2008

Realize that in those early days of Riverton’s development, the railroad station was on the edge of town, making it inconvenient for those who walked to pick up their mail. The move to Cowperthwaite’s in the 300 block of Main made it a more centrally located post office.

RIVERTON POST OFFICE as it appeared when Ogden Mattis (inset) was postmaster. The office reached second class status in 1901. The New Era, July 1, 1965, pg. 16

Oddly, rural families living in the area enjoyed home delivery of the mails even before homes within the borough did. An experiment in delivering mail to rural   districts commenced in February 1898. Twice a day, carriers picked up incoming mails from Cinnaminson and Riverton and traveled two routes along New Albany, Parry and Lenola roads, and old Burlington Turnpike, now U.S. Route 130.

In March of that same year, the U.S. Senate recorded President William McKinley’s nomination for the postmaster position. Stewardship of the post office then passed to Ogden Mattis, son of Dorothy and Charles Mattis, and the venue for postal operations moved to 520 Main Street (now the Presbyterian Thrift Shop). The Rural Free Delivery service became permanent in July 1898.

The diligent postmaster reported on the situation of the new rural delivery service to the United States Postmaster General in October 1898:

The general sentiment of the people is of extreme satisfaction, and they are unanimous in desiring its continuance. There are two other communities in this vicinity that desire the establishment of rural free delivery. The amount of mail matter handled by the rural carriers has increased each month.

Philadelphia Inquirer, July. 18, 1898

R. M. Brock, a local beneficiary of the improved service who lived two miles from the post office wrote, “I do not know how to express myself for the benefit that I have already received.”

E.S. Holmes concurred:

My neighbors, as well as myself, regard rural mail delivery as the greatest privilege we enjoy. I have not heard anything but praise for the service, and would be very sorry to see it discontinued. Before it was started here, to mail a card even, I had to hitch a horse and drive a round trip of 4 miles to the nearest post office.

Clayton Conrow of Cinnaminson added his praise in a letter:

I know of no act of the present  Administration which has so warmed the hearts of the people who receive the benefits of it, irrespective of political affiliations, as this free rural mail delivery.

Due to the increase in daily mail volume and stamp revenue generated by the facility, Riverton Post Office advanced from third class to second class in 1901. The US Postmaster General’s Report for that year recorded $1,800 for the Riverton post-master’s salary. Since the volume of mail helped to determine the postmaster’s pay, enlarging the postal service area and accommodating customers was a win-win for the local postmaster.

PRES. WM. MCKINLEY NOMINATES O.H. MATTIS Journal of the proceedings of the Senate of the United States in executive session. (Fifty-fifth Congress, second session, commencing Monday, December 6, 1897)

During the ten-year tenure of Ogden Mattis, the post office again outgrew its space at 520 Main and leapfrogged over to a new building at 528 Main Street, which opened on February 19, 1903.  That day’s Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed:

For the first time in its history Riverton has a post office building. The office has been at various times in the station, grocery store, and a shoe store. The great increase of business in the last four years has made it necessary to  provide a building specially adapted for post office purposes.

Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 1904

Real 1904 Liberty head nickel. PHOTO CREDIT: www.coinpage.com/

While postmaster, Ogden Mattis found himself on both sides of the law in Riverton, and by all contemporary accounts, his standing in the community likely improved in both cases. In July 1904, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he had helped foil a ring of tramps staying at a farm near Riverside who were passing counterfeit nickels. The cost of the newspaper that day: one cent.

Normally, taking a few sick-days would not make the newspaper, but one Riverton rural mail route carrier made the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer when he fell ill and needed a substitute to handle his appointed rounds. The headline read, “Wife Took Husband’s Mail Route.” Whatta gal!

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 21, 1905

Riverton citizenry must have been shocked indeed in June 1906, when a   federal grand jury indicted their crime-busting postmaster for “…making false returns in 1904 and 1905 to the department for the purpose of increasing his compensation.” It found that he had violated postal regulations by selling  thousands of dollars’ worth of stamps “to a Philadelphia firm” and then not turning in the money for them until the last calendar quarter—the one which determined his pay for the next year.

Trenton Evening Times, June 26, 1906

The Philadelphia firm, of course, was that of Henry A. Dreer. Mattis pleaded “not guilty.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on June 25, 1906, “…he was brought here tonight and gave bond for trial next Tuesday.” Perhaps in support of his cause, the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer quipped on June 26:

Postmaster Mattes (sic), of Riverton, has come to grief doing too much business for Uncle Sam; which teaches that a good businessman should not waste his energies in a postoffice.”

Official register of the United States Volume 2, United States Civil Service Commission, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1907, pg. 311 Riverton Postal Employees with compensation

A July news dispatch pushed the trial into September, but it appears that the trial may have had further delays. Despite being under indictment for fraud, his postmaster’s salary rose to $2,100 in 1907. Inexplicably, the matter was not resolved until May 1908, as his commission was nearing its end.

As described in the May 14, 1908 Trenton Evening Times newspaper account, when two US District Court judges passed sentence of a $400 fine on Postmaster Mattis, “…at least 50 friends of Mr. Mattis who were in the courtroom to testify as to his   character, gathered around him, and practically all of them offered to pay the fine.” Presumably, some of these were buddies from the Riverton Firehouse, Riverton Gun Club, Republican Club, Masons, or Riverton Yacht Club—all organizations with which he had ties–or perhaps even some employees from Dreer’s.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 15, 1908

The real head-scratcher is that the one who ultimately wrote out his personal check to cover the fine was Thomas J. Alcott, the very United States Marshal in whose custody Mattis had been. Central to Mattis’ defense was his argument that he had made the false returns to keep his post office out of the carrier class, not for personal gain. Another factor that helped him in receiving the relatively mild sentence was that he had deposited the money in the post office account at the bank. In this light, an inclination to ascribe the best motives to his alteration of the office’s gross receipts is understandable.

Charles L. Flanagan assumed postmaster’s duties in May 1908, right before another upsizing. In 1909, the post office service migrated back across the tracks, this time to 609 Main Street (the current place of business for Freddy’s Shoe Repair), a small frame building, next to what was then the Cinnaminson Trust Bank.  In addition to Charles L. Flanagan, three more postmasters each served terms as postmaster there: Horace G. Stonaker (March 1917), Ross E. Mattis (Feb. 1922), and Mrs. Mervil E. Haas (June 1934).

---THEN and NOW--- AT LEFT: 609 Main Street, fifth location for the Riverton Post Office, operated under three postmasters. ABOVE: Freddy’s Shoe Repair PHOTO CREDIT: JM

Nine-thousand pieces of mail passed through the post office per day in 1909. Two postal carriers covered about twenty miles on their rural routes, twice each day (except on Sunday) to over 210 families, delivering 800 pieces daily. Riverton had the only post office between Burlington and Camden open on Sundays, with nine mail shipments arriving and departing daily by train. However, Riverton residents still had to trek to the post office to pick up their mail.

Trenton Evening Times, Aug. 9, 1922

Home delivery in Riverton finally debuted November 1, 1922, as it cleared the last obstacle that had blocked it for so long—the establishment of standard house numbers within the borough. Riverton had long before satisfied the other requirements of the 1863 Act of Congress that  provided for free mail   delivery such as providing sidewalks, named streets, and street lighting.

---THEN AND NOW--- ABOVE: Original site of Cinnaminson Nat'l Bank of Riverton from 1907-1928. The building served as a US Post Office from 1936-1940. BELOW: Now, the historic building houses the full-service graphic artist staff of Jean Pettine Graphic Design. PHOTO CREDIT: JM

Meanwhile, in 1928, the Cinnaminson Bank moved across the street to their new larger quarters on the corner of Main and Harrison Street (now the location The Bank on Main, an event venue owned by the Antonucci Family). In April 1936, the old bank at 611 Main served as the next location in this growing succession list of Riverton Post Office sites, with the  former post office at 609 Main becoming the new office of Riverton’s hometown newspaper, The New Era. Riverton resident Joseph Yearly started his 37-year postal career in 1936 at 611 Main under Postmaster Haas. He recalled that the office employed eight men  servicing two deliveries a day in town.  A Model A Ford was used for the rural route into Cinnaminson.

 

Mrs. Mervil E. Haas—the longest serving Riverton postmaster IMAGE CREDIT: HSR Archives

Postmaster Mrs. Mervil E. Haas holds the Riverton record, discharging her postmaster’s duties from three different Main Street locations  spanning the years 1933-1959.  She served the greater part of her career in the next and most ambitious upgrade of all Riverton Post Offices.

The Riverton Post Office at 613 Main was one of 29 building projects authorized by the Postmaster General and the Secretary of the Treasury for construction in the State of New Jersey by the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932. The Riverton July Fourth festivities agenda in 1940 included a dedication ceremony for the long anticipated new post office facility built expressly for the United States Post Office Department by the Federal Works Agency at 613 Main Street. This new building was one of over 1,100 post offices that the federal government built during the New Deal.

Vintage postcard of the 1940 Riverton Post Office built by the federal government during the New Deal at 613 Main Street. PHOTO CREDIT: WILLIAM DOWNS

World War Two intervened and interrupted Mr. Yearly’s postal career from 1942-1945. With the return of GIs after the war, population growth in post-war Riverton and elsewhere created the Baby Boomer demographic, and in 1947 the Riverton Post Office was hiring to fill new substitute clerk-carrier vacancies. Starting pay: $1.04 an hour.

Trenton Evening Times, Sept. 5, 1961

Joseph Yearly eventually rose through the ranks to become Assistant Postmaster and succeeded Postmaster Haas in 1961.  Over the years, he had seen the cost of mailing a letter increase from three cents to ten cents and the office grow to service 17 routes.

Mr. Yearly was at the helm when safecracking thieves twice broke into the Riverton Post Office at 613 Main Street. The first time, in February 1964, netted the burglars nothing, but they damaged a vault that held street letter box keys, so the headline read, “Not Rain Nor Sleet But Key Stays Mail.”

Courier-Post, Feb. 20, 1964 IMAGE CREDIT: MARY FLANAGAN

Four years later, a safe now fortified with tear gas did not deter another thief from cutting a 24-by-30-inch hole through the door of the safe with an acetylene torch and fleeing with $25,000 in stamps.

Joseph Yearly retired in 1974. What he did not know then was that Riverton’s years of growth and development were largely behind it, that declining  population was in store ahead and downsizing was all but inevitable.

Courier-Post, Jan. 25, 1991

In November 1991, all offices and  carrier services transferred to the newly constructed “state of the art” Cinnaminson facility, just off Route 130 on Andover Road. In an unusual turn of events, the Cinnaminson Post Office remained a branch of the parent Riverton Post Office. The Riverton site continued to maintain counter services and 250 boxes.

This transfer of carrier operations to Cinnaminson only foreshadowed further reduction of services for the post office. Finally, over Memorial Day Weekend 2009, Riverton’s stately post office at 613 Main relinquished all mail services to a diminutive postal facility that opened at 605 Main Street, part of Riverton Square, LLC.

Riverton Post Office, lower right, since 2009 - 605 Main Street HOURS: MON-FRI 8:45 am - 2:15 pm SAT 8:30 am - 12:30 pm PHOTO CREDIT: JM 2011

That imposing edifice which dominates Main Street is the Riverton Post Office that is familiar to the memories of most Rivertonians, operating for almost seven decades. Many consider its closure a loss, representing more than merely a cutback in services. The shuttered federal building was a blow to Riverton’s civic identity that they did not see coming until it was too late.

The sun sets on the vacant former Riverton Post Office, Jan. 2011. The sign advertises for “NEW CONSTRUCTION 3 New single family homes” built facing Cinnaminson Ave. on the large parking lot in the rear of the building. PHOTO CREDIT: JM

Riverton officials, anxious to move municipal offices from their cramped location in the Borough Hall to a larger building, considered the possibility for a time, but abandoned the idea as impractical. The property languished for months in the doldrums of the commercial real estate listings. Ultimately, a local developer   rehabbed the vacant building and it  subsequently became the place of business for Tristate HVAC.

Tristate Hvac Branch Office Manager James R. McQuaide is the person behind the postmaster’s door now.

Manager James R. McQuaide now conducts business from the postmaster’s office. Still not settled in to his new digs, he explained during an impromptu tour how postal supervisors could look down on the sorting area undetected through viewing slots accessible from an upper level room. Mr. McQuaide seems elated at the opportunity to base his company’s operations in such a spacious and historic building.

WHEN BIG BROTHER WAS WATCHING James R. McQuaide gestures to the spot where supervisors stood to surreptitiously observe the sorting area on the floor below through viewing slits in the wall. PHOTO CREDIT: John McCormick

Out in back of the old post office, even the huge parking lot where mail trucks once pulled up to the loading dock has been downsized. BWC Realty Associates, LLC carved out three building lots for residences at 608, 610, 612 Cinnaminson Street, still leaving Tristate HVAC ample parking and loading access.

The contrasts between the post offices at 613 Main and 605 Main are astonishing and give some residents pause to wonder what further cost-cutting measures will bring. Will twenty-first-century downsizing threaten to return our post office from whence it came–relegated to being a sideline business for a storekeeper.

1902 USPO special delivery 10 cents

Over the past two years, hundreds of post offices have closed across the nation as the Postal Service system shrinks in an effort to cut costs. We shall not debate here the many complex reasons for the postal service’s financial crisis. Clearly, the universal postal service envisioned by Benjamin Franklin is in jeopardy as events play out which threaten the very “special delivery” that we have enjoyed from our many post offices over the years.

 

 

Special thanks to Mrs. Mary Yearly Flanagan for making available her family albums and files of newspaper clipping, photos, and information, without which the story of Riverton Post Office would have been incomplete.

We welcome your comments, contributions, and corrections.

Please contact: John McCormick, Editor

The Historical Society of Riverton

Post Office Box # 112

Riverton, NJ 08077

E-mail:rivertonhistory@usa.com   Web: rivertonhistory.com/

Evan Kalish has been GOING POSTAL since 2008,  but in a good way, visiting over 3,000 USPS facilities  and  writing a blog which has drawn international attention. In January 2012, he visited post offices at Palmyra, Riverton, Cinnaminson, and Riverside one afternoon. Go along for the ride at -  colossus-of-roads.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

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