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.

Riverton’s one-man Polar Bear Club was a world class swimmer

Durborow, Evening Public Ledger, Feb 2, 1920 (1884x1461)Ice boats, an ice auto, and Riverton’s own One-Man Polar Bear Club sure must have made life on the Delaware interesting in February 1920.

Charles Durborow, Distance Swimmer Plunges Into Icy Waters To Keep In Trim Date 1918-02-17 Oregonian
Charles Durborow, Distance Swimmer Plunges Into Icy Waters To Keep In Trim Date 1918-02-17 Oregonian
Keating Kodak ad, New Era, August 14, 1924
Keating Kodak ad, New Era, August 14, 1924

Wouldn’t it be something to find that ice auto under a dusty canvas sitting in a garage on the old Hollingshead property on Thomas Avenue? I’d settle for some home move footage or even a couple of Kodak snapshots.

With these events happening over ninety years ago, can anyone now possibly have first-hand knowledge of either of the unique ice crafts or the extraordinary athlete pictured here in the icy Delaware River?

I say extraordinary because, evidently, this world-class  swimmer in our own backyard we may never heard of still merits occasional citation when great pioneering amateur distance swim champions are discussed.

Charles B. Durborow, Patriot, March 6, 1920,  p19

Charles B. Durborow, Patriot, March 6, 1920, p19

I have come across photos of Charles Durborow before, but clearly I did not take him seriously enough. Newspapers often referred to him simply as a bank clerk, and showed him posing in frigid water clothed in swim trunks and a top, holding a chunk of river ice.

Durborow juggles coin, October 10, 1916, Rockford Morning Star, p9

Durborow juggles coin, October 10, 1916, Rockford Morning Star, p9

One source attributed his conditioning to the development of his arms and shoulders from tossing around heavy sacks of coin in his career as a bank clerk. Further, it claimed that Durborow swam over 600 miles a year, every day of the year, even in winter.

To Riverton citizens and the community of water sports enthusiasts, however, he was much more – Riverton Yacht Club Secretary and Treasurer, Riverton Borough Clerk, Penn Athletic Club founding member, First National Bank of Philadelphia employee for 21 years, independent financial broker, amateur distance swimming champion of national and international renown, Beverly Yacht Club member, and Vice-President Middle Atlantic Association of the Amateur Athletic Union.

As Chairman of the RYC Swimming Committee he managed the annual A.A.U. ten-mile long distance national swimming championship at the Riverton Yacht Club for the years 1918-1922.

He even accompanied Riverton youths as they marked their transition from childhood to young adult by swimming across the Delaware River from the Yacht Club to the Philadelphia side.

Durborow to retire, November 2, 1912, Evening Star, p10

Durborow to retire, November 2, 1912, Evening Star, p10

Swim to Phila, New Era, June 24, 1921, p2

Swim to Phila, New Era, June 24, 1921, p2

He was so frustrated with his failure to complete a crossing of the English Channel in 1912 that he called off a scheduled 34-mile swim from Sandy Hook to Coney Island and said that he “will quit the game for good.”

But he did not quit. The record books bear witness to his incredible swimming stamina and endurance.

Writing in Sporting Life Magazine in 1916, James H. Sterrett called Durborow, “the world’s greatest distance endurance swimmer.” (The private nonprofit LA84 Foundation operates the largest sports research library in North America. Sporting Life is one of many publications archived there.)

Durborow obit, New Era, May 19, 1938, p2

Durborow obit, New Era, May 19, 1938, p2

Writing again for Spaulding’s Athletic Library 1917 publication, How to Swim, Sterrett characterized the 34-year-old, 210 lb. six-foot Philadelphia bank clerk as, “the foremost, long-distance and greatest mileage swimmer in the world.” See a list of Durborow’s accomplishments on p. 40 of How to Swim.

Searching for information about the marathon swimmer is made more difficult by the various ways writers mangled his last name. Durborrow, Durboro, Durburrow, and even Durbonard are some of the erroneous handles given to him by journalists.

One goal that continued to elude him was to swim the English Channel. A 1919 Rockford, IL Register Gazette newspaper article referred to a 1914 forced postponement of an English Channel swim “on account of the European squabble.” A planned crossing in 1919 was to be Durborow’s second attempt, according to the story, but he did not prove successful as his name is not on the list of swimmers who mastered the Channel.

Christ Church and Rectory

Christ Church and Rectory

The Durborow family later moved to Edgewater Park after residing in Riverton from about 1907-1927. Mr. Durborow’s 1938 New York Times obituary explained that he passed away suddenly at age 56. Funeral services were held Riverton’s Christ Episcopal Church.

Long distance open water swimming still draws participants and fans. A Sept. 2013 National Geographic Daily News article, Greatest Swims: Five Epic Swims in the Wake of Nyad’s Feat, reminds us about Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old woman who became the first person ever to swim between Cuba and Florida unassisted by a shark cage. She accomplished the feat in just 52 hours, 54 minutes, and 18 seconds.

In that article, take note of Gertrude Ederle, the American swimming sensation who conquered the English Channel in 1926. Her experiences as a 15-year-old entrant in competitions at Riverton Yacht Club, among other places, helped hone her distance swimming skills.

As always, we welcome comments from anyone who can shed more light on this subject, and are open to suggestions for other overlooked Riverton characters. – John McCormick




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Century Race plans on track as historic sign fundraising revs up

bicyclist and balloonYour main source for the latest developments in the team’s plans for the race and the fundraising progress continues to be the Historic Riverton Century Facebook page and the Indiegogo page.

Still, we felt compelled to play a part in the plan to help get to that goal for the sign. I came up with a choice of two different sizes of professionally made prints and offered them as “perks” for contributors at the Indiegogo Preserve Riverton’s History by Installing a Marker at the Bicycle Track Site. That brings the total number of incentives to eight.

By now you may have heard about Rob Gusky’s plan to come back to his old hometown in June to commemorate the 1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Bicycle Race by riding from NYC to Riverton on June 8 with a few newfound friends he met on the Internet.

Undated photo, courtesy of Ed Gilmore. Riverton Athletic Assn. Bicycle track - note roof of old passenger PRR station in distance at right; roof of Zena's (now Orange Blossom Café) near center
Undated photo, courtesy of Ed Gilmore. Riverton Athletic Assn. Bicycle track – note roof of old passenger PRR station in distance at right; roof of Zena’s (now Orange Blossom Café) near center


No kidding. He is serious. If he and his buds can pedal a hundred miles and leave us with a historical sign when it’s all over, then I think I can pitch in.

In 2008, Ed Gilmore lent me his bicycle track photo to scan. Recently I retouched that classic, though damaged image, and offered two print sizes to Rob as perks for donors  who give toward the sign fund though the secure Indiegogo website page.

bike track perk, web resolution

bike track perk, web resolution

One is an 11×14 inch professionally printed photo that very closely matches the proportions of Ed’s original photo. It’s just more contrasty ( a technical term), and I left in just enough scratches and dings to give it that patina of an old sepia cabinet card.

Available for a $35 donation.

For the other, I noticed that there was a horizontal sweet spot of that image that would make a great 10×30 inch panorama. Available for a $70 donation.

bike track pano perk web resolution

bike track pano perk web resolution

I also gathered together the latest bits about the long-gone Riverton track and bike races, old and new, and put them in a special 4 page issue of the Gaslight News and include a copy with each photo.

Suitable for framing, each photo is placed on Styrofoam board and wrapped in cellophane with the newsletter enclosed in the back. (These files, obviously at a lower resolution, illustrate the proportions.)


dining room table workshop

I urge you to visit the sites for information and please tell your friends. Not to sound too PBS, but if every person who thought “Yeah, Rob, that’s cool” or “liked” something about it on a page gave a dollar, the fundraising would be over tomorrow.

bicyclist and balloon2Every and any amount gets us closer to that goal.

What will be cool, I think, is that whenever you look at that sign you will be able to say you had a part in getting it done.

Phyllis Rodgers will have a display up at the New Leaf soon. You can see the special issue newsletter (at right) and posters I made to promote the race (at left) in the above photo. Note the size of the panorama. Both 11×14 and 10×30 prints will fit in standard size frames.

Somebody asked me what I do with myself now that I am retired.  – John McCormick

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Proposed ride recreates an 1895 NYC-Riverton bicycle race

Bicycle News, 1895-04-15 Phila Inquirer

Cedar Street  2-15-2014
Cedar Street 2-15-2014

With snow on the ground in Riverton for going on a month now, the humid heat of a Jersey summer seems a long way off, but plans are afoot now to shape the first weekend of June into a two-day celebration of competitive cycling with a nod to local history.

This past December Carlos Rodgers, already a Riverton history-maker as the originator and promoter of the Historic Riverton Criterium, emailed me and explained that an ex-Riverton resident, Rob Gusky, had reached out to him with a proposal for organizing a bicycle ride in 2014.

1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Race medal
1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Race medal

Since it will commemorate the 1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Race from New York City to Riverton, Carlos drafted me to help with research as part of the team he was getting together to “set the wheels in motion to help make this happen.”

HRC winged wheelDo you see what he did there? An apt metaphor, Carlos!

Research, yes. I’m in.

Just don’t ask me to bike a hundred miles from NYC to Riverton.

Rob has christened Riverton’s newest bicycle race The Historic Riverton Century. A hundred-mile bike race is known as a “century.” Also cool is that he plans for it to fall on Saturday, June 7, the day before the Historic Riverton Criterium on Sunday, June 8.

As you can imagine, the logistics of pulling off a successful bike race over roads and highways from Manhattan to Riverton in today’s traffic are considerable.

To fast-forward to developments up to this point, through conference calls, emails, texts, and phone calls, Rob Gusky soon enlisted a cadre of amateur cyclists (and one amateur historian) to strategize a plan for overcoming the many obstacles to completing such a grueling race. Too, he began to also think of ways the event might benefit Riverton and promote its image to the region.

What started as Rob Gusky’s one-man quest to recreate the 1895 New York Times Tri-State Race in June 2014 has captured the imagination of everyone who visits the Facebook page he established less than a month ago. It serves as a kind of information-central showing the organization and planning for all aspects of the race as well as to promote public support for it.

Riverton historical marker, Broad & Main

Riverton historical marker, Broad & Main

It is absolutely the best place to keep up with all the progress as various team players do their part to ensure the success of this venture. Community approval and backing builds with every day as visitors drawn in by Rob’s infectious enthusiasm affirm their support with every webpage’s coveted “like”

Riverton Athletic Assn. bicycle track, New York Times, June 4, 1895

Riverton Athletic Assn. bicycle track, New York Times, June 4, 1895

A separate piece of this ambitious undertaking is the dedication of a historical marker sign, similar to the one by the gazebo at Broad and Main.

The proposed sign will describe particulars of the Riverton Bicycle Track constructed on the old baseball field between Lippincott and Thomas Avenues and note the original 1895 race.

A foremost racing venue of its day, the Riverton track was dedicated on — what else– the Glorious Fourth of July, 1894.

Riverton's Bicycle track - undated photo from Ed Gilmore

Riverton’s Bicycle track – undated photo from Ed Gilmore

It featured a ticket office, a club-house with separate apartments and all conveniences for both men and women, bleachers, a grandstand with a 3,000 person capacity, and twelve arc-lights to illuminate night races.

(Past the fence in the distance you can see the rooftop of the old passenger train station. And through the trees, do you recognize the building that will later be home to Klipple’s Bakery, Zena’s Patisserie, and now the Orange Blossom Café?)

New York Times Bldg c1895

New York Times Building c1895

In June 1895, the Hudson County Wheelmen of Jersey City organized a spectacular 150-mile race pitting relay teams of the best amateur cyclists from New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey against each other.

The contest began on the steps of the New York Times Building (then at Park Row) and climaxed with racers crossing the finish line at Riverton’s own quarter-mile track.  In addition, five distance cyclists who competed for special prizes by going the entire 150-mile distance left New York two hours before the first relay racers started.

GN Sep 2009

GN Sep 2009

Rob found out about the 1895 race that ended right here in his old hometown by browsing through the pages here at

In 2009, my colleague Patricia Solin authored an article for the Society newsletter, “The Fine Grounds of the Riverton Athletic Association,” which described the 1895 race and the Riverton bicycle race track, characterized by experts as “the finest quarter-mile track in the country.”

Grand Bicycle Meet, 1894-07-04, Philadelphia Inquirer, pg. 8
Grand Bicycle Meet, 1894-07-04, Philadelphia Inquirer, pg. 8

The debut of the Historic Riverton Criterium in 2011, and its return in June 2012 and 2013 triggered several more visits to the HSR archives to report on Riverton’s cycling legacy.

Rob started an online effort to fund the installation of a historic marker at the site of the Riverton’s Bicycle Track where the Tri-State Relay Race finished on June 8, 1895.

Any tax-deductible amount that anyone contributes on the secure website will move the campaign closer to its goal of preserving this milestone in Riverton’s history.

Have I mentioned that Rob lives in Wisconsin? You have to tune in to this story, if only to see how he pulls it off.

There is so much more to know about this exciting enterprise, but discover for yourself what is going on behind the scenes now so that we might all play a small part in actually making Riverton history.

I urge you to visit The Historic Riverton Century Facebook Page  and JMc05the Preserve Riverton’s History by Installing a Marker at the Bicycle Track Site Website  and throw your support behind the establishment of the race as well as the installation of the sign. – John McCormick

PS: In case you missed it, the Programs & Event Tab directs you to the summary of the recent Feb. 12, 2014 meeting that featured a presentation by actor/historian Bob Gleason as Abraham Lincoln.

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Diaries donated to PH&CS illuminate Cinnaminson’s Civil War era

Jay Howard presents his findings to a well-attended meeting

Jay Howard presents his findings to a well-attended meeting

The Palmyra Cultural and Historical Society had a huge turnout for its free presentation on the Civil War at the Palmyra Community Center on January 9, 2014.

The publicity blurb promised material history archives and comprehensive research on the socioeconomic impacts of the war specific to Palmyra.

Jay Howard of the Palmyra Cultural and Historical Society delivered on that promise and gave a detailed analysis of Palmyra’s social and economic condition during the 1860s.

He based his conclusions on an incredible present that a very generous Cinnaminson resident gave them–a set of Civil War diaries.

one of Capt. Hall's Civil War diary volumes

one of Capt. Hall’s Civil War diary volumes

We could look at, but not touch, one ledger of the multi-volume diary written by Capt. Charles Hall, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers, which was passed down through his family. His great-great-granddaughter Virginia Harding donated it to the Palmyra organization a few months ago. .

Muster sheets list names of Union soldiers

Muster sheets list names of Union soldiers

Jay Howard, who is also a professor at the Community College of Philadelphia, has been engrossed with their contents since. He coordinated the names mentioned in the diaries with names listed on local Civil War muster sheets and consulted Adjutant General William S. Stryker’s two-volume Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865.

I confess that I went hoping to freeload some information about Riverton’s involvement in the War between the States because at that time, the towns of Riverton and Palmyra were still part of Cinnaminson Township.

While the focus that evening was definitely on Palmyra, there may be some Civil War vets from Riverton we’ll hear about later when the PH&CS finishes transcribing the diaries. We have a short list of Riverton Civil War vets compiled, but part of the difficulty is sorting out names of Riverton residents from the Cinnaminson records.

Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer Edward Colimore interviewed Mr. Howard about the author of diaries, their donor Virginia Harding, and the information he has gleaned from them.  You can find the article here.

PHCS screenshot

Palmyra & the Civil War screenshot

Here is a link to his a PDF file for Jay’s slide presentation in which he examines Palmyra society of the Civil War era. Note slide #7 which gives a general overview of the economic situation in Riverton. You’ll want to see this separate  Word .doc which includes Jay’s explanations of the slides.

This is a perfect example of the tremendous value that primary source materials serve in documenting local history. We thank Ms. Harding for her extraordinary generosity to the community and Mr. Howard and his research team at the Palmyra Cultural and Historical Society for their contribution to our understanding of the region’s history.

I certainly look forward to the next chapter in Jay’s investigation. Let us know what you think and we’ll pass it along to Jay. – John McCormick

Revised 2/10/2014: Note that the Word file explaining Mr. Howard’s slides has been revised, and if you visited earlier, you may want to see his much amplified version.



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Get used to it – more on the way

Riverton eagle surveys Broad Street

Riverton eagle surveys Broad Street

So thoughtful of you to check on the elderly here at the Society during today’s snowstorm.

I’m fine, thank, you.

Just be careful if you’re shoveling this heavy snow.

I had to go out, so on the way I took a few pictures with my phone just in case our members in California and Florida are missing the snow.HSR mailing list graph

Membership Chairperson Pat Brunker sent me the latest membership list on an Excel file and it shows 154 addresses for 11 different states – Florida to Maine and New Jersey to California. About 2/3 of the addresses are in the 08077 zip code, which includes Riverton and Cinnaminson.

Here’s a few more pictures.

You don’t have to be a Society member to check out the website or send us a comment. There must be some better photos out there, folks. We’d love to post your snow scene pix, new or old.   – John McCormick

ice - WmMcDermott

Icy Riverton Yacht Club – Bill McDermott

Added 2/8/2014: Thanks to Bill McDermott for this photo and a poem, first published in December 1920 Harper’s Magazine.

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
– Robert Frost

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