HSR Board Members Mrs. Cheryl Smekal (left) and Mrs. Nancy Hall (right) make displays ready for our Museum-for-a-Day
A longer entry follows than most, but it’s been awhile and I have some catching up to do.
A week ago Saturday (Dec. 3) evening from 4-9 p.m. the Historical Society set up shop at the New Leaf for a one day only exhibition of seldom seen treasures from its collections and the consensus among visitors was, “You should do this more often.” People stopping by during their Library sponsored six-stop Candlelight House Tour examined the various displays and often left us with as much information as they took away.
Daniel Goffredo as scanned and restored
I set up my laptop to run the Riverton Veterans Honor Roll Album which reminded our hostess, Mrs. Phyllis Rodgers to loan me a copy of her father’s service photo.
One woman who came through our Museum-for-a-Day found some vintage postcard reproductions that evoked a memory for her, and she paused by my laptop to look at the veterans’ photos, some of whom she knew.
McDermott Bros L-R - Bill, Paul Carl
The conversation drifted to Irish Row when we came to the photos of the McDermott brothers. (I only recently obtained these photos of Carl and his two late brothers when he answered our website appeal asking for veterans’ photos)
I have since updated the Riverton Veterans Honor Roll Album to include the names added this past Veterans Day and scanned in several more photos of vets. If you can help by adding a photo or clipping to go with any name on the Memorial please contact me so that we can add it to the online album. Regular visitors will recall that eligibility for inclusion on the Honor Roll now reads:
Any present or former resident of the Borough of Riverton, living or deceased, who served on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, during a time of war, is eligible to have their name placed on the memorial.
Charles Miller Biddle Residence, Bank Avenue, Riverton, NJ PHOTO CREDIT: brynmawr.edu
She casually mentioned that her mother had been a house maid for the Biddle household and that she had lived on Cinnaminson Street.
I showed her some of Joseph Yearly’s photos of Riverton’s own Irish Row stored on my computer and she became very animated, adding a running commentary. She pointed out people and places she knew in Mr. Yearly’s photos. I will have to get them posted after the New Year. We may hear some more from a Riverton Irish maid’s perspective in an upcoming post when the woman locates some of her late mother’s possessions.
Ezra Lippincott wedding party, Niagara Falls 1862
HSR Board Member Mrs. Nancy Hall is a granddaughter to Ezra Lippincott, one of Riverton’s founders. She brought a treasured family photo of granddad’s wedding party at Niagara Falls in 1892 to display.
Later at home, I scanned it and did some restoration on it, but I was a nervous wreck working on a glass photograph. The result is at left. Where are all the tourists and souvenir stands?
display of local antique bottles
Mr. Bill Hall, Nancy’s husband, related a story about his days selling Millside Farms milk. It seems that the creamtop bottles with many of us are familiar were not just a novelty but also served as a salesman’s pitch in the days before homogenized milk.
After witnessing Bill beat up some fresh real whipped cream from the few tablespoons of high-octane milkfat which he had poured of from the top of that cleverly designed bottle, the lady of the house was often convinced to try his product.
former location of Cole Dairy raw milk depot at 501 Main, three Cole bottles in foreground
The milk bottle display must have prompted Mrs. Helen Mack to ask about buying a copy of the remarkable interview we did with Mr. Francis Cole last year about his experiences as a young man working in his family’s raw milk business at 5th and Main right in Riverton during the 1930s.
I had none for sale, but she did motivate me to post the video which Mr. Cole so graciously recorded with us in August 2010, partly because it so perfectly illustrates why the oral histories of Riverton’s people are part of what makes Riverton’s history.
Francis "Franny" Cole August 2010
You can see the November 2010 Gaslight_News article about the interview, but until now I had difficulty posting the huge video file. So here it is in three parts, about 30 minutes total. Mr. Francis Cole Remembers Cole Dairy Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. If you would like to leave a comment about Franny’s interview, I’ll be sure that he gets to see it.
Another woman visitor has her ancestor’s Civil War diaries and wants to know if the Society is interested and would we take care of them? WOULD WE? I pointed her toward Gerald and am hopeful that we can connect with her again.
Since the nation is observing the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the HSR has made it a goal to try to document Riverton’s role in that conflict. Can any family historians out there with Riverton roots help with supplying individuals’ names, anecdotes, documents, etc. which might help us reconstruct what must have been varied responses of citizens? We are interested in Civil War veterans, of course, but also want to research the actions of women, Quakers, and how various groups and the business community contributed to the war effort.
One man spent at least two hours carefully examining the vintage postcard reproduction prints that we brought in to sell. Like a kid in a candy store, he pored over nearly every image category in the boxes until he settled on a handful of pictures to buy. During lulls in the museum traffic I went over and talked with him about his selections. He had a story about every picture.
What is it about these old photos and artifacts which induces us to reminisce and wax nostalgic? The times to which we look back may not be more comfortable or safer than now, but being in the past, at least they are known. The recollections that I saw seemed more wistful and pleasurable and not melancholy, even though the holiday season can also a time for reflection and remembering those whom we miss.
At one point I heard Bryan Rodgers say emphatically, “I want it back,” as he gestured toward what was in his hand.
I looked at him puzzled since he obviously already had it, but he went on to explain.
“I want back what is in the picture – the town’s train station.”
Riverton, NJ PRR Station late1930s
Now I get it. Yeah, I know. Wouldn’t that have made a great permanent museum. I do get jealous when I see that the Riverside and Moorestown stations have survived. Bryan and Gerald and I all agreed that it would be cool for Riverton to have an old train depot like those towns, and we wondered what happened to it.
Later, at home I consulted Betty, as I always do on such matters, and opened my file of Gaslight Newsback issues. The waaay back issues.
There on page 3 of the May 1980 issue was another one of Betty Hahle’s long-running and informative”Yesterday” columns. The answer is there if you care to look.
Business District of Palmyra, N.J., Broadway Theater marquee at left
In it, our first and only official Riverton Town Historian, the late Betty B. Hahle, also describes the Broadway Theater in Palmyra since the Society had recently shown the Romance of Riverton film to a capacity crowd at the Porch Club.
There are many more pearls of wisdom and historic information hidden away in those back issues. If there is interest among readers we can post more issues, perhaps scanned with some word recognition software so that readers can search the contents. What do you think?
The problems and dilemmas of historic preservation are not confined to Riverton, nor were they concluded decades ago. One person’s redevelopment and renewal is another’s demolition of culture and tradition; one’s preservation is another’s impeding modernization and dwelling on the past. It’s finding a balance which can prove elusive, and decisions once made may be regretted later. Staying informed about the history of one’s community is a step in the right direction.
Say, I really do wish we could do this more often. - John McCormick, Gaslight News editor
P.S. I’ll have many more photos of our Museum-for-a-Day displays posted shortly under the Programs & Events section. As always, leave a comment, a question, or correct an error that you find.