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.

Staying after school paid off in historic photos and a 1904 history of Sacred Heart

Dreer's Lilly Pads - John Strolein

I worked with John Strolein when I was a teacher at Riverton School. He is a maintenance man there, and we often chatted about history at the end of the day when he came by my classroom. He always took an interest in the American and ancient history lessons and he turned out to be a rich source of information about Riverton history. 

Riverton Fire Dept. - unknown date - John Strolein

John Strolein is a descendant of a Dreer Nursery executive and he also had some relatives in the Riverton Fire Company, two circumstances which resulted in my restoring some old photos for the Society and the fire company.

At right is one of two group photos of firefighters I restored. See what I mean about photos you loan do not have to be perfect?

George Strohlein by Lothrop Photography

You can see the framed enlargements on display upstairs at the firehouse. John also had some Dreer’s Nursery postcards and a cabinet card of George Strolein taken by Lothrop Photographers who, I believe, operated out of the Lyceum that once stood at Fourth and Main. (revised – see below)

Sacred Heart Church - John Strolein

John also allowed me to borrow a slim booklet that commemorated the Silver Jubilee of Sacred Heart Church in 1904.

Compiled and written by Reverend J.F. Hendrick, this 16-page Sketch of Sacred Heart Church traces how Riverton Catholics in the early 1870s worshiped in nearby churches at Riverside, Moorestown, and Camden before services shifted to several Riverton homes while parishioners made preparations for construction of their church.

Sacred Heart Church - 1905 Sanborn map detail

When I scanned the booklet in 2007, I made a slideshow of the pages, burned some CDs, and took them over to the pastor along with some replica paper copies that I made with a color laser printer. He was glad to get them because his one original copy was disintegrating and had to be handled with gloves. Here now was a reasonable looking counterfeit that parishioners could read without worries.

Sacred Heart Church booklet cover

Read more details of how a Presbyterian gentleman donated the land for the church after neighbors objected to the sale. Just as there has been more than one Riverton School, the present Sacred Heart Church was the first Catholic house of worship in Riverton.

Click on the following link to view the virtual booklet PowerPoint Slide Show for the 16-page Sketch of Sacred Heart Church. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

Revised 05/03/2012 I dread making errors about Riverton history on this website because, once out there on the web, stuff just hangs around forever. Thankfully, I have friend and actual professional historian (as opposed to us amateurs), who helps with damage control here at the Historical Society of Riverton. My sincere thanks to Paul for making this correction.

Paul writes:


Nicely done, as usual. Regarding the photographer, he did not operate out of the Lyceum. Rather, if you examine Plate 2 of the 1896 Sanborn maps, you will find his studio directly behind his house. The south-facing elevation of the building was glass, allowing Lothrop to take full advantage of natural sunlight in his professional work.

Best regards,
Paul Schopp

From the 1896 Sanborn Insurance Map section shown below, you can see the Lyceum at left and the Lothrup Studio at right. Fourth Street runs left and right on this map and that’s Main Street running up and down. For more about the Lyceum, use the search tool at the top right of this page.

Sanborn Insurance Map section, Riverton , NJ 1896

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HSR member and Master Gardener Jeannie Francis speak at Delran Historical Society April 17

Spring has sprung and I am already anticipating the arrival of Jersey tomatoes at the local farm stands. They are the best.

I don’t mean those genetically engineered supermarket mutants that have been miraculously bred to fit three to a cardboard cello-wrapped sleeve.  Most commercially farmed tomatoes are hybrid varieties developed to withstand the rigors of harvesting, shipping, and handling, often looking far better than they taste. You really can recapture that old-fashioned intense flavor and heady aroma of a real Jersey tomato if you seek out “heirloom” tomatoes.

three tomato and two turnip varieties from Dreer's 1880 Garden Calendar

What is an heirloom tomato plant? Definitions vary, but basically it is an open-pollinated plant with valued characteristics. You may find a school of thought that says seeds must be a hundred years old, fifty years old, date from World War II, or before 1950; in any case, the seeds for heirlooms have usually been passed down for through a family for several generations.

Master gardener and herbalist Jeannie Francis raises tomatoes from seeds that she has saved from previous seasons, and she has done it for years. Who does that?

It turns out, plenty of people do who want to stem the genetic erosion caused by commercial growers’ widespread use of fewer hybrid tomatoes, bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. Or maybe she just loves great tasting tomatoes.

308 Main St. - former home of Joseph Campbell

Come to hear Master Gardener, Herbalist, and Plant Historian Jeannie Francis talk about heirlooms, “the True Jersey Tomato and explore the history of the “Garden State” tomato, the importance of local farms, Campbell’s Soup, Dreers, and more on April 17 at 7 p.m. at the Delran Historical Society.

Delran Historical Society meets in Community Room 3 of the Delran Municipal Building at 900 Chester Avenue, Delran. - John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

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Only 27 more lost RPS 8th grade class pictures remain to be found

RPS Class of 1969 - scanned from Cindy Klabe Robertson's original

In anticipation of the 100th Birthday of the present Riverton Public School in 2010,  I collected scans of eighth grade graduating class photos that were missing from the display in the school hallway for several years and gave prints to the principal.

You would think that the school would have a record of all of those photos but, when I started, over half of the photos were missing. I appealed to HSR members in the Gaslight News to lend us their old school photos to scan, and Mrs. Mabel Kloos did the same during a presentation she made to mark the school’s 100th Birthday.

Just when I thought we had all the RPS eighth grade graduation pictures that we could find, Cindy Klabe Robertson brought this Riverton School Eighth Grade Class of 1969 photo to my attention. A few minutes of photo-editing restored the 43 year-old photo to mint condition. I gave an 8×10 inch print to Mabel to take into school the next time she went in to sub.

Years for which we still need RPS 8th grade class photos

Shortly afterwards, Mabel knocked on my door with a list of the remaining photos that are still needed for the school’s hallway display of eighth grade graduation photos. Please contact me if you can donate an original or loan one so that I may make a copy.

I still hold out the hope that some these photos will show up in an old family album, a forgotten trunk, or grandmother’s attic.

The pictures don’t have to be in perfect condition either. If you find one of the absent photos and it is showing its age, please don’t hesitate to contact me as I can often restore even torn and faded photos.

RPS Class of 1935 - original scan

RPS Class of 1935 - edit

Here’s one that was a particular challenge. The whole top part of the photo was gone so I borrowed a top from another similar picture and blended them together to make a passable photo of a Class of 1935.

As Betty Hahle so patiently pointed out to me in 1985 when Principal Rip Kilne was organizing the 75th Riverton School Birthday, the brick school that was built in 1910 was not the first Riverton School.

1903 RPS Grads, 1903-06-10, Philadelphia Inquirer, pg 3

Recently, I found this account of the RPS   Class of 1903 in a newspaper archive. So definitely please contact me if you find any class photos, graduation programs, newspaper articles, etc. about Riverton student activities prior to 1910 that you want to donate or loan for scanning.  - John McCormick, Gaslight News editor



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More of Clara’s postcards from near and far

Best Wishes 1909 postmark " I am in Colorado and wish you were here."

The majority of the over 200 postcards that once belonged to Miss Clara Yearly, Riverside, NJ,  date from the Golden Age of postcards, roughly 1907-1915–a time during which the sending and collecting of picture postcards became the rage.

The scans displayed here are a diverse mix of greeting and travel postals received by from Clara from nearby and far away.

Plain non-pictorial message postcards for simply sending correspondence had been around for some time, but the first picture postcards in the United States began with the souvenir issues sold at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Each postal had a picture and space for a message on one side, with the other side reserved for the address and cost only one cent to mail.

Philadelphia, Devil's Pool, Wissahickon 1906 both sides

The card at right is from a time when postal regulations required that only addresses be written on the back of the card. The 1907 postal rule change which allowed “divided back” cards and writing on back launched the Golden Age of Postcards. Divided back postcards came along later in 1907, with the image on one side and, on the other side, a section for a message and another for the address.

The divided back postcards allowed for short messages, not unlike the  text-based posts of up to 140 characters known as “tweets” posted by twitter  followers today. Many vintage postcards have very short messages or none at all, and some are “postally unused,” having never been mailed.

Mountain Scenic Railway, Willow Grove Park, PA 1907 front and back - 5 hours in transit - printed in Saxony, then a kingdom, part of the German Empire

Note the two postmarks on this divided back postcard. One postmark was imprinted when the postcard was mailed, canceling the stamp, and another was imprinted when the postcard was received. Do the math and you will see that the postcard left Willow Grove at 11 a.m. on Jun 1, 1909, and a mere five hours later landed in Riverside. Remarkable postal service for a penny!

Can any reader verify that back in the day (don’t ask me how far back) towns along the Delaware enjoyed two mail deliveries daily?

With the increased mobility brought on by the automobile, people traveled more and the penny postcards were an inexpensive alternative to telegraph or long-distance telephone rates for sending brief messages. Improvements in photography and printing technology, and the growth of a middle class with more money to spend on non-essentials are other factors that contributed to the picture postcard craze that exploded across America during the early 1900s. US Postal Service records show in 1908 that the population of 88,700,000 Americans mailed 677,797,798 postcards; that’s an average of over seven for every person!

Friends High School, Moorestown, NJ 1908 - Litho Chrome Leipzig Berlin Dresden

Germany had a lock on producing the finest quality color lithography postcards until the onset of World War I curbed the  civilian German printing industry. Most of this area’s superior color postcard views are consistent with this development, having postmarks before 1915.

In 1903 Eastman Kodak introduced a type of camera that enabled the public to take their own black and white photographs and have them printed on to postcard backs. Soon, Kodak and other manufacturers marketed more postcard format cameras, thus igniting the era of the real photo post card, or RPPC. Many RPPCs  instead have a sepia tone, and they may, or may not, have a white border.

These unique cameras had a small thin door at the rear that could be lifted to allow the photographer to write a caption on the negative with an attached metal scribe. Inexpensive to produce at the time, these real photo postcard views can be among the most costly and sought after ones by collectors because of their one-of-a kind nature.

RPPC - Woodside Park, Philadelphia, PA 1909

You can distinguish between a mass-produced lithography process printed postcard and a RPPC in a couple of ways. The  lithograph process produces the image as little dots, but the photo image shows no dots when viewed closely. In a RPPC, the image has smooth transitions from one tone to another. In addition, older RPPCs sometimes show a silver sheen in the darker areas when viewed at an angle due to the silver used in the early photographic process.

Woodside Park, Philadelphia, PA 1909 detail - silvering evident in dark areas of tree trunk

The detail of the RPPC of Woodside Park in Pennsylvania at right exhibits this silvering in the darkest parts of the tree trunk above the swan.

During this time, just about any town appearing on a map had an array of hometown views to represent it. Riverton’s population was 1,788 in the 1910 US Census, and it easily is depicted in over a hundred unique postcard views of which we are aware so far.

A town with numerous postcards of its landmarks, parks and public spaces, schools and churches, government and civic buildings, business establishments, and such could promote itself as a good place to work, live, and visit to outsiders. Persons passing through the towns picked up the inexpensive cards as souvenirs of their travels as well as for jotting off a quick message to the folks back home.

Happy Birthday 1907 - embossed card with gold ink

Just as today one might point to their number of Facebook friends or Myspace connections, it was fashionable in the early 1900s for families to have a postcard album proudly displayed so visitors could browse through their social network. Postcard albums were the “coffee table books” of that era. Except for a few images, these postcards are not views of Riverton, but are greeting and travel postcards that Clara Yearly received from her relatives and acquaintances.

Bird's -Eye View of Coney Island by Night 1906

Postcard recipients carefully preserved the cards sent by their friends and family in albums, and the senders had high expectations of receiving many in return. Several of the messages on Clara’s cards mention receiving a card or say “many thanks for your postal,” so we might infer that Miss Clara gave as good as she got.  If so, then there must be a lot of Riverton postcards out there from this young woman. 

State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa 1907

Readers and visitors, know that the Society is fortunate indeed to have received so many wonderful donations over the years from generous people who have helped enrich our understanding of Riverton history with their gifts.

The many gifts of artifacts, collectibles, ephemera, vintage clothing, and scans of collectors’ postcards related to local history all combine to help to better achieve our mission to discover, restore, and preserve local objects and landmarks, and to continue to expand our knowledge of the history of the area.

Today, as in days gone by, a spirit of altruism and civic-mindedness continues to be part of what it means to be a Rivertonian.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have something you wish to add to this growing internet archive. We invite readers’ comments, corrections, and submissions of photos, articles, or research projects.  - John McCormick, Gaslight News editor





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Best Wishes from the Society

Best Wishes - undated

Whew! You’d be tired too if you just scanned over 200 old postcards.

Recently, Mary Yearly Flanagan emailed me and offered to let us display her family’s collection of vintage picture postcards.

Except for a couple of dozen postcards from the 1930s, it is an eclectic mix of greeting and travel postcards that her ancestor received from relations and acquaintances over a century ago.  We sincerely thank Mrs. Flanagan for generously allowing us to display her treasured family mementos.

A typical album for a postcard collection from the "Golden Age" of American postcards c. 1910. The album model is "The Ideal", and it was made by the J.L. Hanson Co., Chicago.

These penny postcards were the social media of the day and an easy and affordable way for folks to keep in touch.  During the so-called Golden Age of Postcards from about 1907-1915, people mailed them to friends and relatives, not just for special occasions, but also for everyday communication. Postcard sending and collecting became a huge craze and every household had its family postcard album out on display.

If you are a regular visitor to this website, then you already know that the massive photo and postcard collection shown on the Images page is mostly just a virtual collection. Of course we do have a physical photo archive, but it is a fraction of the size of the many hundreds of image scans shown on the Images page.

If you have historic photos or postcards. artifacts, ephemera, or collectibles please consider donating them to the Historical Society of Riverton. As an alternative, we also welcome scans or photos for our records if you are going to dispose of the items elsewhere.

Enjoy this first perfectly timed first installment–a handful of Easter postcards simply addressed to Miss Clara Yearly, Riverside, NJ, over one hundred years ago.  How extraordinarily lucky Mary’s family is that these “postals” (as the writers of yesteryear referred to them) have survived with their vintage images and endearing messages intact.

In this age of instant messaging, cell phones, and emails what evidence of our everyday images and correspondence will remain for future generations to look back upon a century from now? – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor


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