When Keith Betten served as Church Warden at Riverton’s Christ Episcopal Church about twenty-five years ago, he wrote The Story of the Family of Christ Church, Riverton. Adapted from Chapter 5 of that work, this article holds some detail about the impact of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic on services at the church in November of that year.
Chapter 5 – 1915-1945
War and Peace
by Keith W. Betten, Warden
In the research which has been undertaken to prepare this short, serialized history of the Parish Family of Christ Church, this chapter has proven to be the most difficult to write for the very good reason that precious little has been unearthed in the way of source material. There are no detailed vestry minutes for this period and no historical sermons have been discovered to shed light on the 1920s and ’30s, decades which differed so very much, one from the other.
I think, however, that the experiences of the Parish Family over the course of the First World War, and during the bitter-sweet peace which came at its close may be used to capture the essence of the period under discussion. The Christ Church News (which seems to have ceased publication after 1920) has been used as a source of this description of the life of the Parish Family between 1915 and 1920.
The commencement of hostilities in far off Sarajevo in 1914 had attracted little attention at home. There was no official reference, at first, to the conflict in the pages of The News – only a poem entitled “War” appeared. It read, in part:
In This World which Christ died to ransom
Two thousand long years ago,
The fruit of our peaceful progress
Shall War’s bloody sickle mow?
O ye, who trust still His promise
And long for His peace in our day
By the Christ who died in torment,
Let us fall on our knees and pray!
Through 1915 and 1916 there was little hint of disruption in that “peaceful progress.” The practice of celebrating the Holy Eucharist twice each Sunday was introduced, a new organ was purchased, installed and dedicated and the Sunday School boasted a staff of fifteen to tend its 129 scholars. By October 1917, however, the names of 18 members of the Parish who were ”serving with the colors” were posted on the Church porch and all members of the Parish Family were asked to commend them to earnest prayer.
The winter of 1917-18 was a bitter one (the coldest it was reported, in 98 years), forcing the closure of the Parish House to conserve coal. The Girls’ Friendly Society, which was wrapping bandages for the Red Cross, met in a private home, and the Rector of the Parish traveled to “Camp Dix” two days each week to minister to the departing troops and the injured, returned.
By Easter 1918, twenty-seven of the Parish Family were serving their country; none to that date had been killed or wounded. A great patriotic Service was held in the Church on May 30th, a day that President Wilson and the Bishop had requested be observed as a day of “humiliation, prayer, and fasting.”
An overflow crowd, including the Mayor and Council, the Home Guards, the Boy Scouts, and the Red Cross, the latter all in uniform” filled the Church and spilled out onto the front lawn. “The procession, headed by the Cross and flag, filled all with a deep sense of pride and abiding hope” that the war would soon end, with Christian democracy triumphant. But at what price?
In June came the news that Thomas Roberts Reath, a son of the Parish and the grandson of long-time vestryman and warden Thomas Roberts had been killed in France; he was not yet 21. By fall, two others, Walter M. Kennedy and Raymond Pratt were likewise reported killed in action. The Parish Family, in deep mourning over these losses, was further traumatized by the onset of the great influenza epidemic of the autumn of 1918: the church was obliged to remain closed on three consecutive Sundays in October, a dreadful month which witnessed the death of eight of our communicants.
The anguish came, mercifully, to an abrupt end in November when Riverton was awakened at 4:30 on the morning of November 11, 1918, by the ringing of our Parish bell–the first in town to announce that the armistice had been signed. The war, at last, was over. Tears of joy and sorrow surely flowed together as the Parish Family gathered one Sunday that month to honor their dead and to dedicate the brass tablet which adorns the wall behind the eagle lectern to this day. It is a memorial to the late Thomas Roberts for his half-century of service to the Parish and “to his well-loved grandson, Thomas Roberts Reath, 1897-1918. Born and baptized in this Parish, Sergeant, U.S. Marines; killed in action, Bois de Belleau, France, June 12, 1918.”
[Surprisingly, and regretfully, little has been found concerning the experience of the Parish Family during the course of the Second World War; of the sons and daughters of the Parish who went off to defend the nation; or of the efforts, hopes and fears on the home front. Should it be discovered that written documentation of this aspect of our history cannot be found, an oral history, drawn from the recollections of those who remember those days would prove to be both an interesting and valuable venture and addition to our Parish story.]
The pages of hometown newspapers such as The New Era (1894 – 1949), The Riverton Journal (1880 – 1882), The Palmyra Record (1913 – 1918), and The Weekly News (Palmyra) (1887 – 1922) were the social media of their day.
In 1918, the news in those pages filled its readers with dread as the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 took hold of the community.
However, this covid-19 virus is writing a new page of history for us every day.
In addition, social distancing, postponements, shutdowns, and cancellations have affected us all.
On March 10, Mayor Suzanne Cairns Wells published a Coronavirus Update in which she suggested common sense precautions and said that there are “…no implications for Riverton School or any school in Burlington County at this time.”
Nevertheless, Riverton teachers are working on contingency plans and all after school activities and programs and field trips are canceled, including a planned Arbor Day presentation.
Some news sources, including the Burlington County Times are providing content online for free as a public service to their readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Burlington County Times at burlingtoncountytimes.com/subscribenow.
According to the Burlington County Times:
The New Jersey Department of Education has directed schools to update plans for outbreaks or pandemics. The state called for schools to identify leadership teams, outline communications plans, establish flexible attendance and sick-leave policies and have students and staff avoid travel to areas with advisories. The state also told school districts to prepare plans for home instruction in case they need to close.
Obviously, the situation is fluid and recommendations will change as government and institutions respond to suit conditions.
For our part, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities has asked that we cancel all programs for March, April and May. This includes “Before & After: Discoveries in Historic Preservation” by Dan Campbell scheduled for March 26, as well as our “Hamilton vs Jefferson” program scheduled for April 23rd.
Our advice – check with reliable news sources and government agencies rather than joining the speculation on Facebook. We welcome your comments, photos, and reader submissions on the topic that is evolving as we write.
As I write this I see a news alert that the President is about to address the Nation. Stay tuned to the New York Times for Live Coronavirus Updates. -JMc
Riverton Fire Company will mark 130 years of service for the town in March 2020.
Given its important role in Riverton’s history, dedicating a page of our website to the organization was one of the first things we did when we built it in 2011.
I just added the above three images scanned from slides that I won recently on eBay auctions to the Riverton Fire Company page along with several other photos and documents. Use the contact form below to contact us if you have something to add to our virtual museum.
Regular visitors and certainly, members of this Historical Society, will recall former Town Historian Mrs. Betty B. Hahle’s now familiar explanation that a group of Philadelphia merchants seeking a place to build their summer homes away from the City’s problems, yet close enough to commute to their Center City places of business, founded Riverton in 1851.
Whether that number of investors was 10, or 7, or 9 is a matter of some uncertainty that Roger Prichard will undertake at a later date. Even the names change, depending on what map, document, or newspaper clipping one references.
But did you know that two of the oft mentioned investment partners, James Miller McKim and Professor Charles D.Cleveland, were also part of the remarkable and inspiring story of how Henry “Box” Brown, who was born enslaved on a Virginia plantation, mailed himself to freedom in 1849?
Both were right there unpacking Brown’s shipping crate when he arrived at 5th and Arch in Philadelphia. This was less than two years before they helped found Riverton.
Although the anti-slavery lithograph above depicts the climax of an audacious story that may be familiar to many today, some abolitionists of the era feared that publicity would only make it harder for other slaves to adopt a similar scheme with which to emancipate themselves.
The Library Company of Philadelphia’s website describes the above lithograph thus:
Antislavery print celebrating the moment fugitive slave Henry Box Brown emerged from his crate in Philadelphia. Brown, with the assistance of the Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, escaped slavery by having himself shipped to Philadelphia where he emerged in the presence of abolitionists C.D. Cleveland, J. Miller M’Kim, William Still, and Lewis Thompson. Depicts Brown just emerging from his box with Still holding the crate’s lid labeled, “Wm. Johnson, Arch St. Philadelphia, This side up with Care;” Cleveland with a saw in his right hand; M’Kim with a hatchet in one hand and using his other hand to help Still hold the lid; and Thompson pointing to Brown with his right hand as he holds in his free hand a walking stick.
Mr. Brown adopted the moniker “Box” for obvious reasons and wrote a book, The Narrative of Henry Box Brown. He went on to became an abolitionist speaker and performer, touring the US, Canada, and England. His heroic escape from bondage has been the subject of many books, television shows, and newspaper, magazine, and web articles.
His bold escape was so popular that this lithograph was printed and sold to the public. And look – the two men on the left are our Charles Cleveland and J. Miller McKim!
In 2010, the New York Times featured one such article, “When Special Delivery Meant Deliverance for a Fugitive Slave,” that vividly details how Brown escaped and it features an eyewitness account written by the very man who accepted delivery of the precious cargo in Philadelphia – James Miller McKim.
The very same J. Miller McKim and Charles Cleveland who unpacked the exhausted but exhilarated Henry Brown from his crate would, within two years, be part of the establishment of Riverton in 1851.
Both men were key figures in the anti-slavery community, James Miller McKim served as lecturer, organizer, and corresponding secretary for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, and Professor Charles Dexter Cleveland courageously assisted fugitive slaves by operating as an “agent,” or coordinator, who plotted courses of escape and made contacts to help them connect to the Underground Railroad.
Famous African-American abolitionist William Still devoted over nine pages of his 1871 book, The Underground Railroad, to the work of James Miller McKim (pgs. 654-659), another ten pages to Charles D. Cleveland (pgs. 723-734), and six pages (pgs. 81-86) on his account of the deliverance of Henry Box Brown.
For the ways that these gentlemen connected to Riverton, we turn to the research conducted by Mrs. Betty B. Hahle who often wrote of Riverton’s founders in her signature “Yesterday” columns in the Gaslight News and temper it with a bit of our current understanding. Gaining access to Betty’s original research notes may well clear up discrepancies.
This is a detail of the earliest known map to exist of Riverton, undated, but consistent with where things stood before the end of 1851.
On this map, J. Miller McKim’s name appears on the house at the far right. It still exists today, beautifully restored, at 102 Penn Street, after a move in the 1940s.
An April 9, 1851 newspaper article in the Philadelphia Public Ledger also counts him as one of a number of “our most respected citizens” who “…have had plans prepared by Samuel Sloan, Architect, for tasty villas, and the work is now under contract and in progress.”
However, he never technically owned that house in Riverton. Prof. Charles D. Cleveland took over McKim’s interest before January of 1852. Fellow HSR Board Member Roger Prichard surmises that perhaps the other founders chose to include the esteemed abolitionist for the cachet of prestige that his name might convey to the group’s capitalist venture.
Author and schoolmaster Prof. Charles D. Cleveland headed a girls’ school called the School for Young Ladies at 903 Clinton Street in Philadelphia, a house that stands today. It wasn’t far from the business establishments of the other Riverton founders. Betty Hahle wrote that he served as director and officer of the Riverton Improvement Company.
So, now you know.
– John McCormick and Roger Prichard
Probably not the best advice for someone trying to move or declutter, but we have gotten some of the best stuff that some folks would have relegated to the trash bin.
Regular visitors to this online virtual museum that we call rivertonhistory.com know that much of it is comprised of photos and scans of items that we don’t actually have; folks often send us files or loan the item for copying. Sometimes a generous donor gives us printed material, an artifact, or a collectible related to Riverton’s history.
We have the space, if you have something to give or loan that will illuminate another bit of Riverton history.
This collaboration between the Society, its members, and visitors to the website has resulted in this ever-growing community resource. Here are some examples.
In 2008, J. Edward Gilmore, a former HSR Board Member and former Borough Councilman, showed me a cabinet card depicting a Riverton football team.
Well, pieces of a cabinet card, anyway.
To shorten the story, just know that spending several hours with PhotoShop resulted in a usable photo. Cloning a leg from one player and and applying it to another to make up for a missing piece was the tricky part.
Ed Gilmore has been a frequent contributor to this online repository of local history. He has loaned or donated several dozen items, including many old hometown newspapers, vintage postcards, and irreplaceable photos.
It’s not like we can go back and take them again.
Lorraine Gambone quite literally trash-picked these two cabinet cards from curbside collection in 2007.
For every one of these successes there are many, many times more discouraging stories of discarded items that, once lost, we can’t get back.
Like the person who told me that he threw out stacks of old New Era newspapers that were in the attic of the home when he moved in.
Or the too common story of a person’s belongings being disposed of by heirs who don’t understand their historic importance.
I often wonder how some of the items I see on eBay made their way across the miles to locations across the nation and even overseas.
In 2013, after I lost out on a winning bid for a 1920 Riverton July 4th Program, HSR member Gerald Blaney generously allowed us to scan his rare eBay find and display it here.
Such indispensable primary source material helps us flesh out the details of Riverton’s past. (Click on the thumbnail image at right to see a PDF file showing 4 pages.)
Here’s a puzzle – an eBay auction listing from a seller in Britain had a c1910 postcard of Main Street Riverton with a menu printed on the back for a restaurant in Amsterdam. I also had a Lawn House postcard with a Dutch distillery ad, but I neglected to scan the back before I sold it.
So… to summarize the lesson, kids, here is a list of the kinds of things that the Historical Society of Riverton collects (underlined terms link to examples of content; skip them if you do not want to see the images.) :
- vintage postcards and photos of Riverton. (Note that we display items for other South Jersey neighbors, Philly, and some shore points.)
- artifacts, collectibles, and ephemera, or paper items, such as business receipts, advertisements, letterheads, business cards
- printed items and artifacts related to a home such as old photos, blueprints, or an item connected to the history of that property
- work or employment records for old Riverton businesses such as Dreer’s
- photos of members of the armed forces whose names are on the Riverton War Memorial
- maps and aerial photos
- old phone books, business directories, real estate and classified ads
- old family photos, journals, writings, memoirs, etc. that offer insight to life in Riverton back in the day
- sports related items
- anything on the history and development of Riverton’s Glorious Fourth
- printed items, photos, and artifacts related to Riverton Public School, Riverton Yacht Club, the Porch Club, and any of the other service, social, civic, and religious organizations
- printed items and artifacts related to Riverton’s military members, fire fighters, and law enforcement
The primary purpose of the Historical Society of Riverton is to create an awareness of our heritage, to discover, restore, and preserve local objects and landmarks, and to continue to expand our knowledge of the history of the area.
Won’t you please help us keep it going.
– JMc, Editor
Great Party, Great Cause
On November 23, 2019 the Historical Society of Riverton hosted our first ever Historic House Party to raise funds to expand our Betty B. Hahle Excellence in History Award, a cash prize we have granted for over a decade to Riverton School’s most exceptional history students. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, we’re looking to build on our past successes. Thanks to our members and friends, we have raised $4,000 to seed an expanded award program that supports excellence in history writing using the HSR’s archives.
The Historic House
The event took place at the historic Coale House, located at 100 Lippincott Avenue in Riverton. The house, built in 1878, has seen a lot of parties. We used a photo of one of these in our publicity for the November 23 event. Before 1910, parties would have taken place in the drawing room where this 1889 photo was taken.
In 1910, Hetty Coale commissioned designs for a renovation of the Second Empire style house at the corner of Lippincott Avenue and Carriage House Lane. This update included the house’s distinctive wraparound porch. The 1910 plan also included a new stable/carriage house, fireplaces, front façade windows, and a substantial reorganization of rooms which make the house’s interior feel more like a four square of the early 20th century than a conventional Victorian house.
The original façade and porch looked very similar to those on other Victorians on Lippincott Avenue. To achieve a more contemporary look, the architects of the 1910 remodel chose round, simple Tuscan columns for the porch, as well as pine decking. In 2019, current owners Henry and Heather Huffnagle replaced the rotting porch with mahogany decking and synthetic columns identical to those in the 1910 scheme.
The 1910 porch is the perfect spot for a Riverton party most months of the year. For our fundraiser, strings of Edison lights festooned the front and back porches. People flowed in and out of the house all night. Nearly 90 people took part in the event, and many helped with finishing touches.
HSR member and sound and light expert Nick Condadina volunteered to help make our event truly spectacular. The newly painted interior of the 1910 carriage house glowed in electric blue and purple light thanks to his professional grade event lighting. Kids in attendance enjoyed this heated space and the backyard bounce house.
We were delighted with the returns. Even HSR members and neighbors who were not able to attend the event donated to the cause. This overwhelming support will help as we work through the next stage of expanding the scope of the Betty B. Hahle Excellence in History Award.
The HSR board has been thinking about improving our family and kid-friendly programming for some time. The Betty B. Hahle Excellence in History Award has supported this goal for over a decade, as have a number of programs such last year’s presentation on suffragist Alice Paul that was well attended by students. At the same time, retired New Jersey State Assistant Archivist Keith Betten has been working with members of the board to improve our archives. Our space in the library’s basement has been a huge boon to this effort.
As we’re looking ahead to the future of the organization, and past successes, the Betty Hahle Award seemed like a great idea that relatively few people know about. And something that could grow to support use of our archives, especially as more and more materials become available on our website.
Writing has been one of the HSR’s strong suits since our inception half a century ago. Mrs. Betty B. Hahle was a past president and newsletter editor of the Society, as well as Town Historian, who wrote extensively about Riverton history – why not honor that legacy by rewarding students who follow her tradition and help tell local history with primary documents?
A committee made up of educators and granting specialists will help iron out the details of this program this year. We will keep you up to date as this award program comes together. Thanks to everyone who made our event a huge success!
Heather Macintosh Huffnagle, House Party Chair, Membership Chair
We over 20 mugs on hand and can take your order.
Maybe one would serve as a gift for a Rivertonian here or for one who is now far from home. Or gift yourself; you deserve it!
Click on the images below to see more detail. Or click here to see a 5-page PDF.
Special orders, no problem, but they can take two weeks. There is no handling charge and we can ship for our cost of postage. Call the number on the first thumbnail below to order or to get more details.
Some mugs now on-hand have a different color than the ones pictured… 005 is white; 009, three pink, one blue; 014 is blue; 018 is white; 042, one pink, one white; 053 is white; 058 is blue
REVISED 2/8/2020: In addition to the sold out mugs shown on the pages above, the following numbers are also sold out – #001, 002, 004, 023, 048.
The title for this card is “BIRCH ST. WEST OF 9th ST. / CAMDEN, N.J.” Here are three persons, perhaps including the proprietors of the corner store behind them.
Most prominent is the signage advertising “TAHOMA Cigars,” but note also the advertisements for Fring’s Havana Ribbon cigars and 3 Bros. 5¢ cigars affixed to the corner awning support.
What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.
I hear “5¢ cigar” and that old saying comes to mind about this country’s need for a good 5-cent cigar.
Despite the accomplishments of former governor of Indiana and Vice-President (1913-1921) Thomas R. Marshall, his most widespread fame is attributed to that remark. Although he popularized the sentiment, it was not original with him, having appeared in the press as early as 1875.
Down the street in the distance are two horse-drawn wagons. Typical row houses are shown here and the card is postmarked in Camden in December 1908 and addressed to a recipient on Bordentown Ave. in Burlington, N.J. Produced by Wm. B. Cooper, Photographer – Medford, N.J.
This google maps link shows the same approximate location at Birch Street West of 9th St., Camden, NJ, 1908 today. The old store is gone now, just like the nickel cigar.
Closer to home, clippings from our own newspaper archive testify to the existence of several area cigar stores over the years:
They have all vanished now, except for one. That is if you still count it even though it moved a few doors and changed hands several times since 1926. This 2009 Courier-Post article shows it as it looked in the late 1990s and tells more about it.
We welcome comments, corrections, and especially hope that someone can share more old photos of some of the local businesses named above. -JMc