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.


Success is sweet for RLPS Architects with assist from HSR

Santa Bell Beach

One of the more out of the ordinary requests we have received for help came from Jeffrey J. Kirchner, AIA, of RLPS Architects in Lancaster, PA in November who wanted some old postcard images of the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City so that his firm could build a gingerbread model of it for its annual holiday gingerbread display. Here’s a better late than never update on the progress of that group effort.

After Mr. Kirchner explained his project I sent him high-res images of at least four different Ocean City beachfront hotels. He sent me these photos of the completed project on Jan. 5 with the explanation that the “background buildings are “very loose” interpretations of the Flanders and the Bellvue.”

Santa Bell Beach is complete with a boardwalk, carousel, ferris wheel, souvenir store, first-aid station, eateries, and shops, and is populated by snowpeople. There are lifeguards, volleyball players, vendors, sunbathers, boardwalkers, and one guy has a metal detector.

There’s probably way more to the story of why this company has done these elaborate panoramic scenes for the last 20 years, so I invite comments of participants or visitors to the displays.

Sorry that it took so long to follow-up on that development. In fairness, Jeff did invite me to Lancaster to see the display, but I was content to have helped from a distance.

Please let us know if there is ever anything about history with which we can help you. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy New Year…almost

So I’m a bit behind the times.

There’s something about the end of a year and the start of another that gets us in a reflective mood.

When I get my hair cut, the topic of “What’s new with the Historical Society?” usually accounts for at least a portion of the conversation during bi-monthly visits to my favorite tonsorial artist.   Jeff, who cuts my hair, can trace his family tree back several generations and track their moves from Palmyra, to Riverton, and finally to Riverside.

Jack Ford and Friends: Jack Laverty, Dick Laverty, Tom Laffey, Joe Gropp, Ron Meyers

He showed me this photo of his father and some friends taken many years ago on Cinnaminson Street in Riverton.  An arrow on the photo and caption on the back identifies Jack, Jeff’s dad, but with both of Jeff’s parents now passed away, which of the others is which is unclear. I’m taking suggestions since Jeff is expecting that someone may know of his dad’s childhood chums.

Perhaps while kids are still off from school and as friends and family gather over this holiday break, conversations may drift to stories of long ago when the kids were little and parents and grandparents were young. Younger ones inevitably inquire about what life was like when you were their age.

You might want to try a virtual family visit to our recent  Museum for a Day to show youngsters about earlier times in Riverton  and to help the adults with some visual aids to accompany their “Good Ol’ Days” soliloquies.

Mrs. Mary Yearly Flanagan again shares here some of her grandfather’s photos which not only chronicle the progress of the Yearly Clan, but also help illustrate some aspects of everyday life in early 20th century Riverton.

 

Consider recording some of those moments with that new camera, smartphone, iPhone, iPad, a Fisher-Price camera, anything really, but capture them while you can because you sure can’t go back and get them later. You’ll look back on them years from now and wonder where all the time went. I can’t be the only senior for whom it seems that time has actually accelerated exponentially with each passing decade.

This website has plenty of images, text, and even some video clips which might help show the current generation how former generations lived, worked, played, and helped make Riverton the town that they have today.  Photos from a previous Joseph Yearly Photo Gallery, your own family album, other vintage images, or a screening of Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton in the 1930s or The Romance of Riverton, will also serve the purpose to  illustrate the times of earlier generations.

The result of such an epic Riverton Retrospective may just leave everyone thinking, “You know what? These are the good old days.”

Mark them well, as we warp-speed into 2012. Please pause and comment on your own good old days, whenever they may be.  - John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s one more present under the tree – The Positive Press is now online

another charming vintage postcard from Moore's Postcard Museum at postcardmuseum.wordpress.com/

I hope that Santa treated all of you boys and girls of all ages well this year, as he did those of us at our house.

There is one item left under the tree that you may find yourself enjoying throughout the New Year, particularly if you are a former resident of the Riverton-Palmyra-Riverside area and you care to keep tabs on goings on in your old hometown. Just in time for 2012, The Positive Press, a free community newspaper published in Riverside, has recently become available online.

The Positive Press masthead is its mission statement: Positive hometown news delivered free

True to the newspaper’s commendable title and masthead declaration, “HOMETOWN NEWS DELIVERED FREE TO EVERY HOME IN THE TRIPLE TOWNS,” publisher/editor Regina M. Collingsgru dispatches neighborhood news for Riverside, Delanco, Delran, Palmyra, Riverton, and Cinnaminson with a decidedly upbeat tone. Well… that’s five towns. Even better.

This month’s 40 page ad-supported December 2011 issue is fairly typical of the enjoyable monthly publication whose objective is to print only positive news and stories. Inside, readers will find community news, human interest stories, articles by several historical societies, news of interest to veterans, plus school, church, and senior news, and a community calendar of upcoming events.

Especially noteworthy features include the eighth monthly serial installment of Joseph P. O’Donnell’s “The Shoe Leather Express,” the inspiring story of survival and valor of World War Two prisoners of war, and “Back in Time,” Will Valentino’s popular nostalgic column which looks back fondly at Palmyra’s yesteryear.

The online edition further includes more information and photos that didn’t make the paper due to timing or space limitations. A cool value-added benefit for advertisers is the extra online exposure to potential customers that includes a link back to the company’s website.

Please check out The Positive Press and tell your friends “across the miles” who will no doubt thank you for its upbeat messages and reporting of events guaranteed to counteract the gloom and depression of the 6 o’clock news.  Publisher Regina M. Collingsgru welcomes reader input (as we do as well, here at the Historical Society of Riverton), and the miracle of the Computer Age makes it possible for contributors to send information, comments, stories, and news from almost anywhere.  - John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

P.S. I recently blogged at length about the our December 3rd Museum for a Day, but HSR President Gerald Weaber also posted a story about our one-day show at the New Leaf from his perspective along with 40 image photo gallery on the Programs & Events page here.

 

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s do this more often.

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, 207 Bank Ave., Riverton, NJ courtesy brynmawr.edu

Charles Miller Biddle Residence, 207 Bank Ave., Riverton, NJ courtesy 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.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who will you look up in this 1928-1929 Riverton-Palmyra phone book?

vintage Bell telephone ad from May 1939 Popular Science Thanks to http://blog.modernmechanix.com

Riverton-Palmyra phone book cover, c 1928-1929

I promised two weeks ago to post a scan of Carl McDermott’s c.1928-1929 Riverton-Palmyra telephone book, but I knew that I’d better do my homework first. When I speak to Carl, it reminds me of that Kevin Bacon game—Six Degrees of Separation— because, like so many Rivertonians, he can probably be connected to someone you know in just a few steps, or degrees.

Carl’s mother gave birth to him at 721 Cinnaminson Street—on Riverton’s own Irish Row—90 years ago this past October. His mother, Mary McDermott, worked for the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company as one of Riverton’s switchboard operators for 35 years.

 

Mary McDerrmott, 2nd from left, 1926

Here are Mrs. McDermott and some co-workers as they appeared in the 1926 film, The Romance of Riverton, which Town Historian Betty B. Hahle helped preserve some years ago. Click here to view a 33 second clip from the 43 minute video that was made from the rescued film.  The following description of that scene appears in the booklet that accompanies the DVD:

The Price building, on Broad between Church Lane and Main on Broad, was erected in 1891, on the former site of the Episcopal Church and churchyard. Many businesses started here. The Telephone Exchange moved to the 2nd floor soon after the turn of the century, and soon occupied both the 2nd and 3rd floors. Four young ladies shown near Church Lane are: Mary Bell, Mary McDermott (who identified both groups), ( ? ) Hanson, and Betty Steinbach. The telephone operators are: Hazel Woolford, Ethel Hanson, Mrs. Radcliffe (supervisor), Ruth Hanson, Oc1ey Ebert, and Frances Reidenbaker.

As a lad during the late 1920s, Carl spent several evenings at his mother’s side one summer on the third floor of the Price Building, now the upper level of Zena’s dining rooms at Broad and Main. Working evenings alone, she had been alarmed by someone trying the locked door at the back door to the fire escape, so Carl and his two brothers took turns at guard duty and slept on a cot.

vintage Bell telephone ad from Oct. 1927 Popular Science Thanks to http://blog.modernmechanix.com

vintage Bell Telephone ad from Feb. 1929 National Geographic Thanks to http://blog.modernmechanix.com

While safeguarding his mom from midnight prowlers, young Carl picked up some on-the-job operator training. She showed him how she listened through her headset for the caller’s request for a number, and then manually matched a cord to a jack in order to connect the parties. She also recorded times for some calls on yellow slips of paper.

 

This story all unfolded because I remarked to Carl about the short phone numbers of only 2-4 digits and I asked how the caller dialed the number.

 

Here’s the listing for Schwering’s Hardware Store, an establishment which has served the region since 1922.

listing for Schwering's Hardware in Palmyra, NJ

“Dial! They didn’t dial,” Carl explained. The caller rang for the operator and they told her the number of whom they were calling. I won’t even try to explain a party-line and a world without call-waiting, voice-mail, and texting to the smart-phone generation.

For others like me who may need a refresher on the state of communication technology of the late 1920s/1930s I included these great old print ads from periodicals of the day, courtesy of modernmechanix.com.

Click here to download the Riverton-Palmyra phone book , c. 1928-1929. Two pages/one sheet on Palmyra are missing. Thanks so much to Carl for letting me borrow his phone book so that it could become part of our website. (revised 12/5/11 some viewers reported difficulty with original link)

Now, who will you look up in the pages of this old phone book? – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment