The Porch Club of Riverton Presents Garden Tour 2021. Visit 9 Private Enchanted Gardens. Friday, May 21st 3PM-8PM, and Saturday, May 22nd, 10AM-4PM. Box Lunch Pick-up Sat 11AM to 2PM. Tour $20. Tour & Lunch $30. All tickets valid both days.
While organizing our archives, HSR member Mrs. Pat Solin found an old photo of everyone’s favorite library, which we added to some other old and new depictions of Riverton Free Library for the slideshow below.
Got a vintage photo or artwork of your own? Please send a scan to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lenore Probsting provided the hand-drawn illustrations to accompany Louise Vaughn‘s and Betty Hahle’s text for the first Walking Tour of Historic Riverton in 1981. They revised it in 1989.
The informative and straightforward double-sided leaflet guided hundreds of visitors and residents for over thirty years in their exploration of the history and architecture of our village. (See the entire printable copy here.)
The HSR shall be forever grateful for the pioneering historical research of Riverton and the preservation efforts of those early members of our organization.
In 2012, the Society made available the first of two new Riverton Walking Tours. The idea was to make two individual loop routes that added together would total more than the original 27 stops.
The first one covered 17 stops on a route that started at Broad and Main, went toward the river along Main to Third Street, turned right to Howard, and finished back where it started.
The intention was to produce a second Riverton Walking Tour that would go along Bank Avenue, circle back along Carriage House Lane to Penn Street, to Third, and finally along Main back to Bank Avenue.
To say that we got stalled is an understatement.
Nine years later we can offer two Riverton Walking Tours comprised of 17 and 24 stops respectively. Together they encompass an area from Broad Street to the Delaware River.
Folks can now view each Riverton Walking Tour online, download printable copies, or pick up one of a limited number of hard copies available at Riverton Free Library, Tillie’s Trinkets & Treasures, and Nellie Bly’s for a one dollar donation.
411 Lippincott Avenue is for sale:$174,900 The Frederick S. Groves Mansion – 1901
A significant example of American “Colonial Revival” design
by Philadelphia Architect Frank T. Mercer, 1901
Want to live like a steamboat company mogul did 120 years ago? Here’s your chance!
Big picture: why it’s so cheap but why we think it’s worth restoring
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Frederick S. Groves Mansion has a great pedigree.
It is right in the middle of the desirable Riverton Historic District on our widest and most beautiful street, Lippincott Avenue.
On a deep lot (190′) of 1/3 acre, this once-grand house is just under 5,000 sq. ft. and has 6 bedrooms.
All other houses on this street, nearly all of them historic, have been beautifully restored. Now this one awaits someone with serious renovation experience.
The interior was once stunning and can be again. It has been badly neglected but all its good natural woodwork from 1901 is not so worn that it can’t be refinished.
In particular, the front hall and stairway have the potential to be stunning. The walls are all wide boards, either oak or chestnut (they’re very dark, so we’re not sure which), and have never been painted! Need refinishing? Yes, probably. You can’t buy wood like this today but you can find folks who will refinish it.
The first floor has amazing 1901 parquet flooring that hasn’t been abused. The first flight of steps has already been scraped of old finish.
Most of the hardwood floors on the upper floors seem pretty good, too. Only a couple of areas up there show staining from roof leaks (and the wood there is not fancy, so it is simple to replace with new).
We see a few structural issues, though not major, in our amateur opinion. Two columns in the basement probably need replacing and an upper landing needs to be leveled and reinforced (due to a framing oversight from 1901 that didn’t age well after a century …)
The big good news is that the rest of the interior probably needs everything, including lots of plaster repair.
Wait, that’s good news?
Yes, that’s good news because once you’ve protected the floors and stairs from further damage, you can bring in multiple crews at once to open up walls as much as you need, to easily run new electric, water, HVAC, add/rebuild bathrooms, etc. (That freedom is like a dream for those of us who have tried to do this piecemeal while living in such houses!)
And that low price should make a full blitz rehab attractive, we think.
The Historical Society of Riverton (HSR), including its officers and board, has no financial stake in this property. We bring this home to your attention, with our opinions and observations, because it is our mission “to discover, restore and preserve local objects and landmarks” – and what a landmark this house was, and can be again!
The property is presented by Janet Brandenburger, brokered by BHHS Fox & Roach, Moorestown, (215) 669-6562. Or call your favorite Realtor.
There’s always a mystery
This house was reconfigured in many ways in 1901 and two newspaper accounts of the time refer to the work as “large brick and stone additions.” Is it possible that there really is a brick and stone house hiding behind that aluminum siding? You could be the one who finds out!
The History of the Groves Mansion
Historical records indicate that the house which now stands on this property is quite different from when it was originally built in 1882-83 for Frederick Stanley Groves, Sr. At that time, Mr. Groves was the adult son of the wealthy Philadelphia shipping executive Anthony K. Groves, who had founded the Baltimore and Philadelphia Steamboat Company, called the “Ericsson Line.” Their stylish boats carried passengers and some freight through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal between those two bustling cities.
The only known image of the original house is the one shown on the 1890 “Bird’s-Eye View of Riverton, New Jersey“. That rendering indicates that the structure began modestly, appearing to be a rectangular block, capped by a transverse, pitched roof with four end gables, a front porch, and a single-story shed addition at the back. It would have been an attractive two-and-a-half-story Victorian dwelling, typical of, if less impressive than, similar houses being constructed up and down Lippincott Avenue at that time.
In 1891, the founder of the steamboat company died, passing ownership of the lucrative enterprise on to his eldest son, F.S. Groves, Sr. Firmly established in Riverton by then, Mr. Groves chose to remain in our community, commuting via steamboat from here to the company’s offices at Pier 3 South on the Delaware in Philadelphia, located where Penn’s Landing is today.
His steamboat company flourished.
Groves would soon become a prominent figure in Riverton, serving, among other things, as one of the six founders of the Riverton Country Club, in 1900.
By then, his entire family was mingling with the cream of Riverton society, including the Fitlers and the Dorrances. His son and daughter were coming of age (and in 1905 his son would marry Ellen Therese Dorrance, daughter of Arthur Dorrance, the extraordinarily successful president of the Campbell Soup Company). Apparently, Mr. Groves decided that it was high time to create a house that would match his stature.
The house as we see it today
Groves acquired both of the adjacent vacant lots and hired a Philadelphia-based architect, Frank T. Mercer, to transform his modest dwelling into something truly grand, which the architect did, creating what was then one of the most imposing houses in the area … the building which now stands.
For his client, Mercer envisioned, designed, and oversaw the construction of a grand residence in the “Colonial Revival” style, a form of architecture that had been inspired in anticipation of the nation’s centennial celebration in the mid-1870s and which would remain popular for the ensuing fifty years.
Contracting the work in January 1901, Mercer incorporated virtually every hallmark of a high-style Colonial Revival residence including not one, but two “Dutch Colonial” gambrel roofs, probably covered in slate; either beveled or cedar shake siding (currently obscured behind aluminum); an expansive “wrap-around” porch, encircling a two-story rounded corner bay and adorned by simple, paired Doric columns.
The entire structure is dominated by three tall, arcaded chimney stacks.
From the outside, many additional, essential Colonial Revival features may be noted; including an impressive single-leaf, beveled glass and wood-paneled entrance door and fenestration which incorporates large single, double-hung, and three-part windows displaying upper sashes comprised of leaded glass panes, over single-light lower sashes.
Those on the rounded bay are curved to conform to the bend. Remarkably, all of the leaded glass windows remain intact and are in good condition today, approximately 3 dozen sash.
Finally, the oval window on the second-floor landing is also of leaded glass in a wonderful spider-web design.
The interior, although ravaged by time and neglect, still exhibits many elements of a high-end “Edwardian” house. These include: fine hardwood floors throughout, those in the principal rooms are laid out in beautiful parquet patterns; handsome dark oak paneling covers all of the walls in the grand entry hall and extends up along the open, balustraded staircase to the second floor.
From there, a wide, light-filled central hall proceeds to a similarly appointed open staircase, leading to the spacious third floor. The expansive entry hall also features dark oak ceiling beams and a massive brick corner fireplace.
Many of the other fine rooms throughout the house contain interesting period fireplaces, turn-of-the-last-century lighting fixtures, and some furniture that is obviously original to the house. Kitchens and bathrooms were evidently “modernized” in the middle of the 20th century and will require complete remodeling now, the sorts of projects that inevitably come with the renovation of every historic property in Riverton, or anywhere.
And the house has a little mystery: two newspaper items in January 1901 mention the architect engaging a builder to create the house we see. But … both items describe the work as “large brick and stone additions.” Did they switch from masonry to frame at the last minute, or – could it be? – is there really a brick and stone house hiding behind that aluminum siding?
These and many other original features of this house make it an exciting survivor and a unique restoration opportunity.
Preservation Opportunities and Requirements
The Borough of Riverton is preservation-friendly
Apart from demolition restrictions (see below) the Borough of Riverton has no other construction requirements which apply to historic structures specifically.
There are no regulations about paint colors, interior changes, or specific approvals for historic materials.
To assist restoration, the Borough provides the volunteer services of the Architectural Review Committee to help owners with non-binding recommendations and advice. Renovators have found their guidance invaluable for design choices and in finding skilled contractors and sources of unusual materials. (We at the Historical Society of Riverton are also eager to help – please see the HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF RIVERTON INFORMATION below.)
Prohibitions to demolition
Because the Groves Mansion is a Contributing Resource to the Riverton District on the National Register of Historic Places, the public policy of the Borough of Riverton makes it very difficult for a buyer to demolish this – or any – building in the Historic District.
This reassures you, as the renovator of this home, that the surrounding homes are similarly protected, so your restoration investment is unlikely to be harmed by future tear-downs of nearby historic homes.
The Borough’s Master Plan and the planning section of the Zoning Code, in place for more than a quarter-century, are unequivocal about the importance to the residents of Historic Riverton of the architectural character of homes just such as this and their overwhelming desire to keep the Historic District intact.
No applicant has been successful in demolishing a Contributing Resource structure such as this in the 24 years since this National Register District came into existence.
Historical Society of Riverton Information
The Historical Society of Riverton is an active, volunteer organization that has now celebrated its 50th year of “discovering, restoring, and preserving” Riverton’s rich history.
If you ever stumble into a stash of old local newspapers, a single copy, or even some cut-out clippings PULLEEEESE rescue them and give them to the Historical Society of Riverton, or at least let us scan them. -JMc
As reported in the Dec 2020 Gaslight News, Riverton resident Jerry Blaney generously donated to the Society a box containing his ten-year collection of historical collectibles. Jerry knew that we’d really appreciate his gift because I had been outbid by him on eBay for one item in particular – a rare 1920 July Fourth Program.
For a century-old publication, this one sure took a circuitous route to get to us.
It once belonged to Mrs. Mary Jane Mento, widow of Mr. Dante Mento, a popular local musician. When she passed away, her daughter living in the South inherited it, and she placed it on an eBay auction.
In 2010, Gerald Blaney moved from Palmyra (PHS Class of ’64) to the marvelous converted carriage house at 109 Penn Street. Later, in 2014, he prevailed as the high bidder for the 1920 July Fourth Program and he generously allowed the use of the image seen here.
It was indispensable in writing a 2013 website post that cross-referenced old New Era newspaper articles and archival photos to describe Riverton’s 1920 Independence Day celebration. Too often, when ownership of such items changes the information contained within is lost for public use.
Finally, in December 2020, because Jerry was downsizing and hopscotching to yet another Riverton address, he emailed us and offered to give the 1920 July 4th Program and other items to us.
I really must commend Mr. Blaney and thank him for ensuring that this unique piece of Riverton history wound up with the Historical Society of Riverton rather than being offered for sale on eBay, only to land who knows where?
What irreplaceable bit of Riverton history do you have that would help fill in another page of Riverton history? More to come in another post about the interesting items that Jerry donated. -JMc
The page lists the names of 16 local artists, past and present. Clicking on a name displays an article with a brief bio and examples of their work, if available.
Have we missed anyone? Almost certainly. We need you to suggest someone and provide contact info, a bit about the person, some scans, and photos so we can showcase the work and connect our audience with artists and craftspeople who have works to sell. Nominate yourself if you wish.
We welcome comments, suggestions, and corrections. -JMc
And now, a word from Heather MacIntosh Huffnagle, our Membership Chair…
As a Riverton resident and Historical Society of Riverton (HSR) board member, I am extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in 2020, thanks to your support. Here are some of the highlights.
We continue to expand our excellent quarterly, Gaslight News, which is now digital. Our Facebook page receives between 500 and 1000 views each month and we have produced 35 new articles on our website’s blog this past year, and 14 more just since January.
Our board helped realtors understand the history, architectural significance, and zoning restrictions for the amazing mansion at 106 Lippincott. This extraordinary house, attributed to architect Frank Furness, now has new owners with experience renovating historic houses. The previous owners, Bob and Aggie Kennedy, now deceased, were great supporters of the HSR and generously included the Society in their wills.
We also commissioned a high-resolution scan of the original 1890 birds-eye view of Riverton so that residents can once again it can soon be available to residents to display in their homes.
We assisted the Porch Club in commissioning a similarly high-quality scan of their large, ca. 1851 map of Riverton, the earliest known map of the town.
This year, the 1926 film, The Romance of Riverton, will receive a high-quality digital scan as well.
Thanks to your donations in 2020 and an unexpected but welcomed wreath fundraiser, we will have 19 beautiful glass plate negatives from 1910 professionally scanned at high resolution.
Board members have been extensively researching two upcoming interpretative markers for early Riverton houses. One of these houses was built for the man who ran the Antislavery Society in Philadelphia for 25 years. This abolitionist opened the crate in which celebrated slave Henry “Box” Brown shipped from slavery in Richmond, VA to freedom in Philadelphia. The full history of that house is now over 200 pages. I can’t wait to see what else they will turn up!
On behalf of the board, I hope you will continue to support us in the new year!
Heather MacIntosh Huffnagle
If you find something of value in the nearly 500 posts and over 8,500 media items on display here and wish to help illuminate Riverton’s past and preserve its history, please support the Historical Society of Riverton with your membership or a donation (see PayPal DONATE button at lower left.) -JMc, Editor
We finally get a sunny day and a break in the temps and folks start to have visions of the Jersey Shore dancing in their heads. Nothing could be more emblematic of the beach than a lighthouse – in this case, the Cape May Lighthouse, constructed in 1859. Fully restored and open to the public since 1988, this stalwart sentinel of the Jersey Cape is the very epitome of a historic preservation success story. -JMc, Editor
CAPE MAY LIGHTHOUSE, CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY
by Harlan B. Radford, Jr.
One of the largest lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast standing at 157 feet, Cape May Lighthouse still serves as an active aid to navigation. It was built in 1859, succeeding two previous lighthouses that were lost to the sea by erosion. The lighthouse is located at the southern-most tip of Cape May Peninsula in Cape May County, New Jersey, and is geographically positioned where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.
The early attempts to build lasting lighthouses along New Jersey’s coast have proved costly and unsuccessful. As we have seen in the case of the Barnegat Lighthouse, the Cape May Lighthouse was no different. Erosion, lack of proper maintenance, and poor construction have been among the culprits that have thwarted the early efforts to build these navigational beacons.
The first known lighthouse at Cape May was built in 1822 and came to life the following year. Standing 70 feet tall, this particular sentinel did not last beyond 1847 when it was decommissioned due to its collapse into the ocean.
Then a second tower was constructed a bit further inland and was operational between 1847 and 1859 whereupon it too was overcome by storms and the constant battering of waves.
A third lighthouse which is the present lighthouse was built in 1859 and this time It was set back considerably further from the ocean. In addition to the erosion, the wind at Cape May Point was considered a major problem. To combat the wind this third structure was constructed of double brick masonry walls. Added strength was accomplished by building two concentric walls with the outer wall more than 3 feet thick at the base and the inner wall a foot and a half at its base with a space left between the two.
Shortly after this tower was built, two keepers’ houses were constructed. In 1893, and in order to reduce the risk of fire in the tower, a brick oil house was built for the safe storage of all-important oil supply. By 1902, one of the keepers’ houses was expanded and was able to house three keepers and their families.
Cape May Light House N.J. 1908
Cape May Lighthouse
The routine for the keepers consisted of their nightly 4-hour watches spent in the watch room situated just below the lantern. During a watch the keepers were responsible for rewinding the clockwork weight mechanism, trimming the wicks when needed, replenishing the fuel or the oil level in the lamps, actually lighting the lamp a half-hour before sunset, and extinguishing the lamp a half-hour after sunrise. When there was limited visibility, the lamps had to be lit.
There were numerous other duties such as carefully and frequently cleaning the lamp as well as general maintenance of the property to keep everything in good working order. Clearly, being a lighthouse keeper back in the day carried a great deal of responsibility.
Another important feature of the lighthouse is the lantern which is the enclosed or roofed-over room completely surrounded by windows. This housing most importantly protected the entire light apparatus including the lens and the lamp. The lantern itself was 12 feet high with 16 large glass windows and a diameter of 12 feet.
The actual lens originally was a first-order revolving Fresnel lens and this was state-of-the-art for that time period. Seacoast lights of this era stood 7 feet 10 inches tall with a six-foot diameter which enabled the keeper to actually access the inside and service the lamp itself. Today that very Fresnel lens is on display at the Cape May County Historical Museum, which is located a short distance in the nearby community of Cape May Court House.
Today, Cape May Lighthouse bears its characteristic solid white daymark paint job in order to serve as a daytime identification aid allowing mariners to distinguish between the lighthouses.
The beacon flashes every 15 seconds with a range of 24 nautical miles. There are 217 steps from the ground to the top and access can be made by a cast-iron spiral staircase.
In 1938, the lighthouse was updated and electrified and when World War II commenced in 1941, the light was extinguished for the duration of the war. In 1946 the Fresnel lens was dismantled and replaced by another but updated light unit. After 56 years of service yet another more modern and efficient light beacon device was installed in 2002. That light continues in operation today thanks mainly to ongoing maintenance by the U. S. Coast Guard.
In 1973 the Cape May Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Then, in 1986, the Cape May Lighthouse underwent a much needed major restoration project. Presently the lighthouse is owned by the State of New Jersey after ownership was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1992. The State, in turn, leases the structure and grounds to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), a non-profit which raised funds to restore the tower and open it to the public in 1988.
Last April 2020, MAC announced that COVID-19 restrictions had canceled its tours, activities, and events until further notice. Since its budget is largely dependent upon admissions, memberships, and donationsthey will appreciate your support.
Starting March 13, 2021, the lighthouse is open on Saturdays and Sundays for an admission charge from noon-3pm and is open daily beginning March 26 at reduced capacity. Climbs to the top are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views. If you can’t go in person, take MAC’s virtual climb.The Oil House on the grounds contains a fully accessible Visitors’ Orientation Center and Museum Shop.
Get the latest on their activities and hours open on the official Facebook page for Cape May MAC. No matter where you are, you can celebrate Cape May with the virtual tours and educational lecture series on Cape May MAC’s YouTube Channel.
The following selection of picture postcards shows the important role and the prominence of this lighthouse to Cape May, New Jersey. It certainly can be said that this is a place where memories last a lifetime!
Lighthouse, Cape May Point, hand-colored
Light House, Cape May Point, Cape May, N.J., hand-colored, prior to 1920
message side of Light House, Cape May Point, Cape May, N.J., prior to 1920
Cape May Light, Cape May Point, N.J.
Cape Point Lighthouse, Cape May, N.J.
Light House, Cape May N.J.
Light House, Cape May, N.J.
Cape May Light, 1906
U.S. Life Saving Station and Cape May Light House
U.S. Life Saving Station, Cape May Point, N.J.
U.S. Life Saving Station, Cape May, N.J.
Souvenir of Cape May, 1901
message side of Souvenir of Cape May, 1901
Greetings from Cool Cape May, 1904
U.S. Life Saving Station and Light House
U.S. Coast Guard Life Saving Station and Light House, Cape May Point, N.J.
Recently we heard from Wisconsin visitor Keith Buchert who commented on one of our oldest posts – one from 2010. He was looking for the book on the history 1877-1906 of the Riverton Gun Club so he could buy one.
The catch up on the uninformed, the famous Riverton Gun Club (RGC) held trapshooting contests by releasing and shooting live pigeons. Members paid entry fees to compete for prizes. (The RGC was covered briefly in Slides #103-106 in a PowerPoint I presented to a meeting in 2011 called “Do You Remember?“)
The trophy pictured on the site I once owned and sold 3 or 4 years ago. I am an advanced sporting collector and would like to know more about the historical part of the Riverton Gun Club. I have a gunning box that belonged to T. Dando and has the date of 1885. The Riverton Gun Club must have been a well-respected club because of the shooters that shot there and the quality of trophies that were given out.
After another email exchange with Keith, I revised that 2010 post and added more information on the organization: a scanned Riverton Gun Club History 1877-1906 book and two other publications by the Club.
He responded with more information that adds to our understanding of the RGC:
Thank you for providing all that information. I acquired the gunning box from a collector friend that purchased it at an auction in Maryland years ago. I will send you pictures of the gunning box. He definitely used it and it looks like a prize won at the Riverton Gun Club.
What is also interesting to me is the association T.J. Dando had with Sporting Life magazine as I did not know this. I also collect advertising smalls which include advertising pins from Sporting Life. Sporting life was the Magazine that covered both trap shooting and baseball.
Trap shooting two words signifies pigeon shooting. Trapshooting one word is used for clay pigeon shooting. But you probably knew this.
(He gave me too much credit – I did not know the distinction)
Sporting Life used celluloid pinbacks to advertise the magazine…
I would appreciate any help you could provide locating Dando’s Book on the Riverton Gun Club.
Well, we have one of the 100 limited copies and we are not parting with it, but maybe someone else seeing this can respond.
More Gun Club minutiae, if you can persevere…
Seeing that gunning box roused me to search the RGC book for Thomas Dando; it received over 400 results.
One was this high-stakes match that he won in March 1896. It required a $100 entry fee and awarded $1,300 first prize. The shooters killed 485 pigeons in this one match.
(According to officialdata.org, $1,300 in 1883 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $33,668.97 today!)
In 1883, the Club secured bragging rights when The New York Times reported that New York backers of a British shooter retreated from a $5,000 bet on a match with Riverton’s Charles Macalester and Westmin
American sharpshooter and star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Annie Oakley refereed a contest on the grounds of the RGC between a New York marksman and Riverton’s crack shot, Charles Macalester.
Who wants to see more about the Riverton Gun Club? -JM, Editor