Election deja vu

Almost exactly a century ago, writers for The New Era, Riverton’s hometown newspaper, took stock of the recent presidential contest and engaged in some post-election analysis.

Influenced by four prior years marked by war, a global pandemic, weather’s death and destruction, terrorist attacks, demonstrations against racial injustice, a hostile reaction to the incumbent (Woodrow Wilson), a recession, and unemployment, voters went to the polls.

This was the first election in which women from every state were allowed to vote, following the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in August 1920.

Poll workers braced for the heavy voter turnout and there was concern that “ballot boxes would be unequal to the task of holding all the ballots cast.”

An electorate weary of chaotic world events chose the candidate whose slogan was “Back to normalcy.”

They chose Republican Warren B. Harding as the 29th President of the United States.

The editors of The New Era said of the voter turnout, “…it’s some record!” They also noted the impact of the women’s vote and wondered if public sentiment might “compel the Legislature to simplify the election laws…”

How will history characterize the Presidential Election of 2020?

Hmmmm…

The New Era, Nov. 5, 1920, p2

You will be called upon to decide the most momentous questions that have ever confronted our Country

Addressed to thoughtful voters, The New Era, Oct. 29, 1920, 2

“On November 2 you will be called upon to decide the most momentous questions that have ever confronted our Country.”

So stated a column in The New Era, Riverton’s hometown newspaper, one hundred years ago.

The 1920 Presidential Election was the first election held after the end of World War I and the first election after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, making that the first in which women had the right to vote in all 48 states.

In Riverton, 781 voters were registered in District 1 and 581 in District 2; more than half were women. One early estimate calculated that ballots would have to be cast faster than one per minute in order to count them all and urged folks to vote early.

The newspaper printed instructions for filling in a ballot, suggesting that men get in line right as the polls open and directed “Ladies, leave your housework and vote first.”

Porch Club ballot instructions, The New Era, Oct 29, 1920, p2

Indeed, the women of the Porch Club were so determined to exercise that right for which they had so long fought that they offered an instructional demonstration for all women wishing to navigate the complex ballot composed of seven political parties and three questions.

vote early, The New Era, Oct 29, 1920, p2

 

The polls opened from 6 am to 7 pm.

Voter turnout in Riverton was almost 84% of the total registration and in a column titledHats off to the ladies,” The New Era gave a good deal of the credit to women’s committees for organizing carpools that took women to the pools.

The election returns as published in The New Era:

1920 election returns, The New Era, Nov. 5, 1920, p2

It may be a tired cliche to claim that this year’s election is the most important in our lifetime, but the thing about cliches is that they are pretty much true.

PLEASE VOTE

 

 

 

 

War of the Worlds was a Mischief Night prank on a grand scale in 1938

Few among us today can recall the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson Welles on Mischief Night, 1938 that threw some people into a panic. The program’s format simulated a live newscast of developing events. The press later reported that the program had induced hysteria in some of the Depression Era audience already on edge with daily newscasts filled with rumors of war.

Brave New Jersey, released 2017

I was reminded of that event by viewing recently a 2017 film called “Brave New Jersey,” which is currently running on Epix, Prime Video, and Peacock. During an evening of few program choices, the movie title drew me in to investigate further.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) fi;m synopsis reads:

A comedy about a small New Jersey town on the night of Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, which led millions of listeners to believe the U.S. was being invaded by Martians.

Still looking for something good to watch an hour and 26 minutes later, I decided instead to check our online archive of local newspapers to see if Riverton was duped into believing that the planet was under alien attack in 1938.

The New Era, Nov 3, 1938, p1

There it was, on page one of The New Era’s issue of November 3, 1938.

Of course, Riverton’s hometown weekly paper claimed that the radio program that threw other New Jersey communities into a “frenzy” had little effect on the local citizenry.

The New Era, Nov 3, 1938, p11

Still, this news snippet buried on page 11 suggests that at least some who were fooled by this fake news Sunday evening broadcast had “…considerable explaining to do on Monday.”

I am reminded of times I played my vinyl recording of that 1938 broadcast to students I instructed at Riverton School. They weren’t impressed, but it was better than doing work when their young minds were on trick or treating.

We welcome any first-hand recollections of that dramatization and offer a way for the modern audience to imagine what it was like to gather around the family wireless in the fall of 1938. Hear the 57 minute recorded broadcast on YouTube:

The following 3m36sec video investigates the reports that Welles’ program caused mass hysteria.

Stay safe, kids, on this Halloween to remember. -JMc

What is the deal with this Palmyra dollar found on eBay?

And why does the bid start at $145?

eBay item number:254757380125

The auction ends on Nov. 2.

I hope that some numismatist who sees this can shed some light on the purpose of printing such scrip.

Revised 11-3-2020:  We are indebted to our Facebook community for adding to this developing article.

Palmyra Depression scrip, Courier-Post, Mar 22, 1933
Palmyra Depression scrip, Courier-Post, Apr 22, 1933

Soon after posting, Rick Grenda offered this explanation and a news clipping.
Issued by dozens of towns and counties during the height of the depression 1933-36.

His submission got the ball rolling and enabled me to find another clipping on the subject.

Another reader, Jim Simons, checked in with this anecdote about his grandfather.

My grandfather, Clyde Ellzey, spent his career as a teacher at Pennsauken Junior High School. I recall “Pop” telling me that he was paid in “township scrip” (note spelling) during the Great Depression. The only stores that accepted the scrip were those located within the township, so they took advantage of situation by price gouging. It was a no-win situation, in essence you “owed your soul to the company store” as the old song once said.

Every once in awhile this website works as the collaboration we intended it to be when we established it in January 2011. Thank you to all have contributed information to the Society and supported our efforts with your donations and membership.

Circling back to Jim Simons, the last part of his comment offers another opportunity to pool resources and find some information about his grandfather. He writes:

Shifting off-topic……My great-grandfather was Walter Miller, Chief of Police of the Riverton Police Department. If anyone has any photos or stories, I would love to learn more about the man as his background before moving to Riverton is something of a family mystery.

Here is a bit I found in our online newspaper archive about Chief Walter Miller, and also Officer Miller.

I’m gonna rename this column, “You Asked For It.”

You are showing your age if you know that reference.

 

 

Concrete concept boat floats… but not for long

We know that vessels of wood, fiberglass, steel, and even papyrus can float. But concrete? Seems implausible, but it happened.

vintage postcard, concrete ship “Atlantus,” Cape May Point, NJ, built 1918, sank 1926

The Concrete Ship – “S. S. Atlantus”
Cape May Point, New Jersey
by Harlan B. Radford, Jr.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, Jan 26, 1919, p10

The remains of the concrete ship now situated at the foot of Sunset Boulevard in Cape May, NJ was one of an experimental lot of 12 freighter ships built by the United States Government during World War I. The rather unlikely concrete construction technique was brought on by the critical wartime shortage of steel.

Launched in 1918, not only did the “Atlantus” float, she was used as a coal steamer until being decommissioned since the concrete vessel proved a disappointment by her sheer weight and slow speed.

Later, promoters purchased the “Atlantus” for use as a ferry landing for a proposed route from Cape May Point to Lewes, Delaware. But one night a nor’easter broke it from its mooring and beached it before proper placement could occur.

Attempts were made to raise the ship and re-position it but to no avail. Consequently, the proposed ferry project did not materialize. Over many years, millions of visitors have traveled to see her sink deeper and deeper into the sand. Eventually, the “Atlantus” will disappear entirely and be just a distant memory.

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COVID-19 symptoms alert

A symptom of the current COVID-19 situation seems to be an onset of nostalgia by many parties and we are not immune to its effects. Based on our website comments and feedback, neither are our readers. For now, whether it’s looking through old photos, reminiscing about simpler times, or returning to one of our favorite interests, nostalgia mostly seems to be offering people a way to cope during the pandemic.

Here are some examples of the reminiscence therapy that website visitors found here.

Ye Olde Swimming Hole, Camp Lenape, Medford, NJ c.1954

Harlan Radford‘s post about Camp Lenape (Summertime evokes memories of Burlco’s Camp Lenape) made in June 2016 has attracted at least eight remarks from former scouts and spun off another post (Memories of Wartime Scouting in Beverly) made by Don Ulmer, a website visitor. Joseph Hackett recently added his recollection of the long-gone Boy Scout camp:

I attended Camp Lenape 1952-54. The post cards pictured in the article brought back many memories. While the article mentions sleeping in wall tents I remember sleeping in a lean to which had two sides, a back and a slanted roof. The front was open and there was a floor. Like some of the others who have commented I also went through the speechless weekend being initiated into the Order of the Arrow. Had to sleep “under the stars” in my sleeping bag. Woke up in a huge puddle of water as it rained most of the night. Many of my memories of Camp Lenape have faded but some are vivid. We had the luck to grow up during the best of times.

Should something here rekindle a memory of your “best of times’ please leave a comment.

We can thank Mary, AKA Meg, (Espinosa) Lario‘s brother Gene for putting rivertonhistory.com on her radar. She wrote us a fan letter and included a few questions. We’ll help with her question about 616 Thomas. Maybe a reader can supply more information about Rogers News Agency and its former owners.

Rogers News Agency, Google screenshot 2019

Hello, good afternoon to all the team there. My name is Mary. I grew up in Palmyra and my grandparents lived in Riverton. May I ask several questions? I worked at Rogers news agency in high school for several years. The owners Joseph and his wife were lovely people. My whole family knew Mr. Rogers from the store. Does any team member know where the family is now and how they are doing. The store was amazing, and had a little telephone booth in it. Mr. Rogers was a kind person to all who visited the store for their morning chat or newspaper and candy pickup. He treated everyone like family. He was a great boss. We also wondered if there is any history on the house built at 616 Thomas Ave. My grandparents and all our family gathered there for many celebrations! I know it has been sold several times over the years. Thanks for considering my questions, all the best, Stay safe, and we love your website! Thanks also for the wonderful work you are doing! Sincerely, Mary Lario Ps my nickname was Meg. maiden name was Espinosa. I had 5 brothers Rich, Jim, Phil and Gene and my late brother Joe died at 31. My sister Eileen was 5 when she passed. We loved Riverton….beautiful town. It reminds me of Cape May in its elegance. My brother Gene sent me your information and history.

Someone younger today might well ask, “What’s a phone booth?” An interior shot of that store might clear it up and serve to further illustrate what people once experienced here.

Our Research Your House page has a link for Riverton’s 1999 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form which contains information about many properties. This came from page 96.

National Historic District Registration Form, 616 Thomas, p96

Perhaps the pandemic has awakened in some of us a long-dormant interest in baking, photography, or genealogy.

Earlier in the summer, Joann Sanderson found the Research Your House page helpful when she was doing a deep dive into the history of her house, coincidentally also on Thomas Avenue.

Hi, The research your house information is fantastic. I already started researching online the book and page of deeds… 

In June, two visitors (one local; one from Texas) who visited our Store page inquired into buying our Romance of Riverton DVD, but we had to wait until August, when we were allowed to finally get to our inventory in the Riverton Free Library’s basement to get them.

Seither home, 417 Lippincott, Aug. 23, 1947

Christopher Klabe used his visit to our comfort station to comment on a photo he found in our post of June 2018, “Duster origin photo – local legend or fact?

As a former owner of Duster 100, the boat hanging from the 3rd floor window. I have heard of this photo from Mr. Robert Lundstedt but never did see it until now. The boat was in our family from the late 60’s until my wife and I sold it in the mid 80 after doing some extensive rebuilding of the boat in the winter of 81-82. Thanks for the great posts of long-ago memories and the great picture.

This stressful time has robbed us of the opportunity to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Historical Society of Riverton with you.

For now, the Historical Society of Riverton has no immediate plans to hold meetings or offer presentations. Look for a Gaslight News newsletter in October in which we will lay out a plan for the fall and winter.

Until then, try looking through almost ten years of website posts, or browse five decades of back issues of the Gaslight News and reams of news from Riverton’s and Palmyra’s old hometown newspapers. We hope that the experience proves to be a diversion from the daily news. Please know that we welcome your comments, feedback, and submissions. Feel like writing about your experience? Send it to rivertonhistory@gmail.com or use the contact form below.

Stay safe, kids, until we meet again. -JMc

Philately and postcards reveal the history of the first US nuclear merchant ship


N.S. Savannah, artist conception by Benjamin Eisenstat of Moorestown, NJ

THE N. S. SAVANNAH AND ITS CONNECTION WITH CAMDEN, N.J.
by
Harlan Radford, Jr.

The N.S. Savannah was the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship. The prefix letter “N” designates “nuclear.” President Dwight Eisenhower suggested the idea in 1955 and Congress authorized it in 1956.

postcard NY Shipbuilding Corp.

The New York Shipbuilding Corp. located at Camden, N.J. built this merchant ship for the Maritime Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Atomic Energy Commission.

The U.S. government provided funding to support a demonstration project that would serve as a showcase for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. The keel was laid and dedicated by Mrs. Pat Nixon on May 22, 1958. More than a year later on July 21, 1959, First Lady Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower ceremonially christened and launched the Savannah. Installation and testing of the nuclear reactor and undergoing a series of sea trials took another 2-1/2 years.

The all-important “maiden voyage” took place on August 20, 1962, and the Savannah did not enter regular service until 1964. During the spring and summer of 1964, the Savannah toured the U.S. Gulf and Eastern coast seaports and then commenced on a historic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time with visits to Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Dublin and Southampton. This ship’s namesake, SS Savannah, was the first steam-powered ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1819.

philatelic cover Savannah launching 7-21-59

The specially prepared philatelic cover at right marks the date of the actual “launching” of the N/S Savannah on July 21, 1959. Postmarked in Camden, N.J., the postcard features a pictorial postmark which reads “N/S SAVANNAH / FIRST ATOMIC LINER / U.S. MERCHANT MARINE.”

The two 1950s era postage stamps selected for this cover further relate to shipbuilding and the “Arrows To Atoms” program. The purple 3-cent stamp commemorates the 350th anniversary of the building of the vessel “Virginia of Sagadahock,” the first American-built ship used in international trade,

Elements in the blue 3-cent U.S. postage stamp commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Oklahoma Statehood further tie into the theme of atomic energy. The central design of the stamp is a horizontal arrow superimposed on a solid outline map of the State of Oklahoma and piercing the orbital emblem, which has become the symbol for atomic energy. The arrow represents the frontier days of Oklahoma prior to Statehood in 1907 and the atomic symbol represents the new frontiers.

With an overall length of 595 feet, this ship was capable of a speed of 20.25 knots. As for payload, the Savannah was capable of carrying 60 passengers and 9,400 long tons of cargo. The Savannah was only in service for an eight-year period from 1964 to 1972 and was one of only four such nuclear-powered cargo ships ever built.

While officially deactivated in 1971 and after being moved around numerous ports, the ship finds itself presently dry-docked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, yet to be officially decommissioned. History tells us that the SS Savannah was a commercial failure.  Despite the innovative nuclear propulsion system of its successor, the N.S. Savannah shared a similar destiny. It proved to be short-lived and failed to prove its commercial feasibility.

Despite this, the innovative N.S. Savannah was not only placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 14, 1982 but was also designated a National Historic Landmark on July 17, 1991.

The following five postal covers relate to N.S. Savannah milestones.

NS Savannah World’s First Nuclear Powered Merchant Ship

The first-class letter at left is marked “Mailed aboard The N.S. SAVANNAH” and bears a hand-applied pictorial cachet in black ink which also states “World’s First / Nuclear Powered / Merchant Ship. It bears a Galveston, Texas postmark dated MAR 26 PM 1964.

The officially prepared cachet imprints for the following two covers boast  “First Trans-Atlantic Voyage.” The NS Savannah carried them onboard during its first Atlantic crossing the following June.

One envelope displays a General Post Office in New York City postmark and the other was actually postmarked and dispatched from the United Nations headquarters, also in New York City.

NS Savannah First Trans-Atlantic Voyage

With 11 cents in stamps affixed to each cover and postmarked JUN 8 AM 1964, each received postal backstamps upon receipt at Bremerhaven, Germany, dated in European style “18.-6.64-11” or June 18, 1964 11AM.

Next is an example of a “paquebot” cover, which simply translated means “posted at sea.”

NS Savannah paquebot cover

This piece, destined for a United States address, originated on the NS Savannah. On arrival of the ship in a port, a private messenger transmitted the mail to the nearest post office where it was deposited, canceled, and forwarded through the regular mailstream. Accordingly, this particular cover received two postal markings, one provided onboard the ship dated JUN 16, 1964, and the other marking placed by German postal authorities dated two days later on June 18, 1964 (18.-6.64 -11).

NS Savannah two postmarks

Why two same date postmarks for this next cover? One was applied on board the N.S. Savannah DEC 28, 1964, and another, stamped “Wilmington, N.C.” bears the same date. Presumably, the ship was in her North Carolina port on that date.

The extraordinary ship was in service for a mere ten years. It eventually ended up just across the Delaware River from where it was built in Camden, in a dry-dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and finally was mothballed in Baltimore.

The previous several philatelic covers mark milestones in this innovative civilian maritime ship’s short span of existence and the following contemporary accounts in periodicals further expand the topic.

Two interesting and informative videos about the N.S. Savannah are currently available on YouTube and can be viewed by typing in the following titles:

#1 – “NS Savannah: Atoms for Peace (1962)” – Time 5:39

#2 – “NS Savannah in Drydock in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania – November 17, 2019” – Time 3:27

* * * * * * *

Historic home presents a rare restoration opportunity!

106 Lippincott Avenue, Riverton, NJ, PHOTO CREDIT: Roger Prichard
Home of Mr. Alfred Earnshaw ca. 1887 Coll. Riverton Free Library

Attributed to Frank Furness, this grand 1880 high-Victorian mansion is on a big corner lot on a beautiful street, one block from the Delaware River.

The Historical Society of Riverton, including its officers and board, has no financial stake in this property. We bring this home to your attention 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!

In a town of distinctive architecture, the 1880 Alfred Earnshaw house at 106 Lippincott Avenue is a standout for the right person to restore it.

Agent Cecilia Still of Keller-Williams Realty – Moorestown (856) 316-1100 listed the property. See more property details and photos on realtor.com.

It really needs someone who will love it. The previous owners really did, investing major effort to reveal that amazingly-intact exterior from under awful siding.

Bob and Aggie Kennedy took their stewardship of this treasure seriously for the more than 20 years that they lived here. Both were longtime members and enthusiastic supporters of the Society and were fine citizens of Riverton, who rolled up their sleeves and supported many projects on behalf of the town.

Now their beautiful paint job is long overdue for a knowledgeable painter to bring it back. Even to a casual observer, it is clear that good stewardship means much more than just a paint job. As the realtor’s listing says, this historic home “needs TLC”. Note well that the listing on realtor.com reads “This is an AS-IS estate sale”.

But with the right contractors and vision, this will be a stunner.

Lots of intact detail

It looks to us like all of the original exterior detail is still there, except that the porch has been replaced.

PHOTO CREDIT: realtor.com
PHOTO CREDIT: realtor.com

On the inside, the first thing you might notice is that a miracle has occurred – somehow no fool ever painted over that amazing 1880 woodwork.

Victorian house lovers: how often does THAT happen? Did we mention “miracle”?

If you’ve ever had to restore a staircase like that, you know how unusual this is.

The Frank Furness connection

Frank Furness in 1901, from Moses King, Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians

If you’ve ever wanted a house by a “celebrity architect,” there was no more vivid a personality in the late 19th C. than Philadelphia’s Frank Furness. He is best known today for the amazing Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,
the University of Pennsylvania Fisher Fine Arts Library,  and a dazzling array of grand suburban homes, many of which look like this one.

Furness designed over 600 buildings in his vigorous career and documentation of them can be challenging.

Michael J. Lewis is the author of the main biography of Furness, Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001).

In an interview for this post he observed:

The Alfred Earnshaw House is generally believed to be the work of Philadelphia architect Frank Furness because of its strong resemblance to some of his most distinctive houses of the 1870s.

Its cross-gabled composition is found in Furness’s Emlen Physick House at Cape May, New Jersey, as is the prominent flaring chimney. Other details recall the Fairman Rogers House at Newport, Rhode Island, particularly the bold jerkinheads and overhanging third story.

These houses and others of the period show the special attention to the expression of the wood frame that Furness absorbed from his mentor, Richard Morris Hunt. But most characteristic of Furness’s 1870s work are the elongated knee-braces of the porch, which mix angular forms and vigorous curves, incision and notching, with a muscularity that none of his imitators achieved.

Along with George E. Thomas and Jeffrey A. Cohen, Michael J. Lewis is also a co-author of the exhaustive catalog of the work of Furness’ office, Frank Furness: the Complete Works (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, Inc., 1996), page 344E, catalog #660A.

Sister houses: As Lewis observes, its construction date of 1880 falls directly in the midst of several very similar Furness houses. The family resemblance is striking:

(See more information about the 1879 Emlen Physick Mansion in Cape May and the 1881 Knowlton Mansion at Rhawn St. and Verree Rd. in Philadelphia on wikipedia.org.)

Who were Alfred and Alice Earnshaw?

The couple who built this home came from influential families and their histories are well-documented. They owned the property from 1880 to 1892. According to the National Register nomination for the Riverton Historic District, the builder was Abraham Merritt of Beverly.

(If you open the PDF for Riverton’s 1999 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, note that pressing Ctrl+F opens the Find field, which allows you to search the text for “Earnshaw.”)

Alfred Earnshaw (1844-1896) was an iron broker in Philadelphia who founded a steamship line with his brother and served as its president until his death. He had recently come to the U.S. from Cambridge, England in 1872, first to New York, then set up his business in Philadelphia and commuted from Riverton.

Alfred’s father was a noted clergyman, mathematician, and physicist, known today largely for his “Earnshaw’s Theorem” of magnetic fields.

1895 advertisement from the Hand Book of the Lower Delaware (archive.org)

The steamship line was called the Earn Line Steamship Co. and it prospered despite bad luck with its first ship, the S.S. Earnmoor. “Earn more” didn’t have a chance to earn much, as it sank in a gale in 1889 just two years after launching. Of a crew of 24, only seven survived. Sensational accounts of their three weeks adrift in a lifeboat in the Gulf Stream were widely reported at the time.

The company did prosper, though, and bought at least five steamers in the next few years.

A few years after the Earnshaws left Riverton for Philadelphia in 1892, Alfred died suddenly of a stroke at 51 years of age.

Alice Rebecca Strange Earnshaw (1850-1945) coll. Susan B. Strange

The real estate was purchased solely in the name of Alfred’s wife, Alice Rebecca Strange Earnshaw (1850-1945), which wasn’t unusual for people of means at that time. Alice was the daughter of Edwin B. Strange, a wealthy New York silk importer. He had commissioned the house in Dobbs Ferry in which Alice grew up, a Gothic Revival Hudson River castle named Ingleside, designed by architect Andrew Jackson Davis in 1854. That house still exists, now owned by St. Christopher’s School.

Later owners

In a remarkable tenure, from 1910-1954, this was the town doctor’s house and office.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 8, 1914

Dr. Charles Street Mills (1878-1954) and his wife Lillie Belle Leibert Mills (1879-1970) moved here in 1910 with their 12-year-old daughter Mildred. The home was called “Twin Pines” for many years, though whether they had named it or inherited the name isn’t known.

When their daughter turned 16 they held “a small dance” in her honor here – a small dance of 75 people! Is this the right house for that, or what?

In the 1920 Census, after Mildred married and moved away, the household was just Dr. and Mrs. Mills – plus three servants, all people of color. John E. Lodine was the gardener (age 22), Charles Reed was the butler (age 23), and Luzella Davenport was the cook (age 35).

– Roger Prichard, HSR Board Member

Bygone Moorestown Airport once promoted flight on former Lippincott farmland

Waco Model 10 aircraft IMAGE CREDIT annarborchronicle.com

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MOORESTOWN AIRPORT
by
Harlan Radford, Jr.

After nearly fifty years since its closure, information about Moorestown’s nearly forgotten airport is sketchy at best. We are indebted to Paul Freeman for allowing the use of information and images from his informative website entitled “Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields” in developing the following story.

It all started in 1928 when some South Jersey aviation enthusiasts created an organization known as the Burlington County Aero Club. Just one year prior, Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean had captured the heart of the nation. Americans gained new confidence in air travel and suddenly, everybody wanted to fly.

Across the United States that enthusiasm fostered the creation and formation of something called flying clubs, or “aero clubs.” Such private member-run aero clubs were generally not-for-profit.  The clubs offered their members affordable access to aircraft and often provided flight training opportunities along with many related services and facilities that enabled aviation enthusiasts to pursue flying as a hobby.

Waco Model 10, IMAGE CREDIT Public domain

In February 1928, the newly formed Burlington County Aero Club acquired the use of a fifty-acre rectangular tract of farmland from the Lippincott family on Westfield Road. That year the club also purchased two new Waco Model 10 biplanes. This particular airplane was for general aviation and was excellent for training purposes. A popular 3-seater with open-air cockpit, the Waco 10 was a fixed-wing aircraft with two main wings stacked one above the other.

The Burlington County Aero Club constructed a large steel hangar on the north side of the newly secured land and employed a full-time chief pilot and an instructor.

Burlington County Aero Club, Dedication Day IMAGE CREDIT Paul Freeman’s Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields
Moorestown Airport Dedication, first-day cover, collection of Harlan Radford

During the weekend of October 13-14, 1928, the Burlington County Aero Club held a special “Air Meet and Races.” On this occasion, the Moorestown Airport was officially dedicated, and to commemorate this event, the club created (as described in The American Air Mail Society/American Air Mail Catalogue – Volume One, Sixth Edition, 1998) a special magenta-inked cachet and processed some 2,000 airmail envelopes postmarked on each of these dates at the Moorestown post office. Most notably, Moorestown’s Airport was the second oldest airport in all of New Jersey; Newark’s Aviation Field became the first in 1918.

Trans-Atlantic Airship Hindenburg, Lakehurst, NJ 1936 IMAGE CREDIT collection of JMc

According to local press reports, the Moorestown Airport in 1931 was actually being considered to be a base for the German Zeppelin transoceanic mail route. Lakehurst Naval Air Station, also located in South Jersey, finally won out and was selected for the prestigious but short-lived Zeppelin mail route. We all know that on May 7, 1937, the Hindenburg (LZ-129) would burst into flames during a landing at Lakehurst and thus end for that time the promise of a global airship passenger, freight and mail service.

The early years of this country’s Great Depression took its toll on the Moorestown Airport and one source states the airport went through a period of abandonment between 1932-35 and even the 1937 Airports Directory did not list it among active airfields.

The first and probably only “official” Air Mail flight in the history of Moorestown occurred on May 19, 1938, in conjunction with the Post Office Department’s celebration of National Air Mail Week conducted all across America between May 15-21. Proclaimed as a week-long event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of airmail service, Postmaster General James A. Farley and President Franklin Roosevelt promoted and implemented an opportunity to gain wider support and usage of the Post Office Department’s airmail service.

Postal officials encouraged many cities and towns to create their own means to conduct aviation-related activities during that time by promoting and actively participating in special events. For example, 24-hour airmail duty by volunteer pilots all across the nation allowed many communities like Moorestown to get one-day of airmail service.

National Air Mail Week cover, Joseph Stow pilot IMAGE CREDIT eBay auction

Riverton Postmaster Mrs. Mervil E. Haas had a commemorative National Air Mail Week (NAMW) 1938 cover with a special cachet prepared for the occasion. Palmyra also sponsored a special cover for the event. On May 19, 1938, East Riverton’s Joseph W. Stow donated his services to pilot the aircraft that carried airmail from Palmyra, Riverton, and Cinnaminson post offices out of Moorestown Airport to Camden’s Central Airport. The cargo that day included the envelope at left bearing the new airmail stamp. Canceled at Riverton and backstamped at Camden, it is addressed to Dr. J.E. Brown at 416 Linden.

Postmaster General James Farley IMAGE CREDIT Public domain

This novel idea proved immensely popular. Trumpeting the slogan, “Receive To-morrow’s mail today,” the Postmaster General even requested every American to send an airmail letter during that week. Shown at right is a photo of Postmaster General James Farley sitting with some of the hundreds of thousands of airmail letters mailed during National Air Mail Week.

IMAGE CREDIT Paul Freeman’s Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields

By the end of the Depression at the close of the 1930s, the Moorestown airfield had become a pumpkin field. However, a 1940 aerial photo and later a 1942 USGS topographic map shows Moorestown Airport open and operational with three runways. Note in the illustration at left the configuration and the lengths of the three unpaved runways along with the airport hangars, buildings, and the obvious wind-cone, or sock, for determining wind direction.

During the years of World War II, eyewitness accounts recorded the presence of military aircraft occasionally using Moorestown Airport. Unfortunately not much else is known about the role of the airport at that critical time.

After the war, two enterprising individuals ran what they called the “GI Bill of Rights Flying School” at the airport and by the mid-1950s the airport saw much greater use. Facilities expanded to include an additional hangar; one hangar  sported a painted checkerboard-roof design and the other roof proclaimed “MOORESTOWN.”

IMAGE CREDIT Paul Freeman’s Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields

By 1958, the airstrip saw the installation of the first landing lights which
enabled planes to take-off and land at night.

As the decade of the 1960s arrived, the encroachment of residential development and the completion and opening in 1965 of the new Moorestown High School that bordered on airport property jeopardized the future of Moorestown Airport. The location of the high school necessitated the closing down of the northeast/southwest runway leaving just two active runways.

2016 aerial photo IMAGE CREDIT Paul Freeman’s Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields

In addition, this photograph taken in 2016 shows the houses that have been built over the eastern portion of the former airport site while the western portion which is wetlands remained undeveloped. In the upper-middle portion of this image, note the two still-visible structures including the original circa 1928 hangar along Westfield Road.

The eventual closure of the Moorestown Airport would occur sometime between 1972-73 and with it came to the end of an interesting chapter in the history of the community of Moorestown, New Jersey.

A timeline of Moorestown Airport newspaper articles 1928-1972

We welcome your comments and especially hope that this article may serve to invite some first-hand recollections by former pilots, employees, passengers, or spectators who can add their voices to this online history of Moorestown Airport.

Wait – where was that cover photo taken?

July 4th, 2020, the parade that never was. The coronavirus pandemic achieved what other epidemics, economic depressions and recessions, and two world wars could not. It caused Riverton’s treasured July Fourth Parade to be canceled. Here’s hoping we all get to enjoy the next one.

After folks received their July Fourth Program booklets this year, the question of the cover photo’s location arose.

Roger Prichard started it thus, and cc’d the whole HSR Board:

See this year’s program/ad book? I’m drawing a complete blank on the location for the photo… I just can’t place it for any location in Riverton.

Iris Gaughan, Pat Brunker, and others posited that it was taken on Main Street, but where? Our best resources, Nancy and Bill Hall were stumped, too.

Hypotheses involving angles of the sun and whether the parade was going toward or away from the river ensued.

Knowing that the Society had supplied the July 4th Committee with the photo, Roger asked to see the original photo scan to see if it might yield more clues.

Elsie’s scrapbook page

That photo was one of several taken by Robert Knight on July 5, 1920, the year when Riverton thanked over 100 servicemen and one woman, Army nurse Amanda Faunce, by presenting each with a gold signet ring during a ceremony at the riverbank.

Several of the photos appeared previously in the May 2017 Gaslight News article, “A Grateful Community” by Mrs. Pat Solin. Our esteemed past Board Member, Elsie Waters, since passed, had donated the treasured family photos to the Society.

When Roger received the scan with the entire image, he had his eureka moment.

July 5, 1920, photo by Robert Knight, donated by Elsie Waters

AHA!!! Thank you, John! That little bit of extra detail of the house with the cool porch in the background tells the tale! Look at those distinctive double columns and brackets for the 2nd floor porch.

Here’s what Mr. Google has. It’s 101 Main and the open space in the parade picture is where Ed Gilmore’s house and the modern one next to it were built (103 and 103a).  That was always open space since the founding of the town.

Google maps screenshot, Main Street, Riverton

Thus ends another episode of history nerds group emailng each other, desperate to better illuminate the pages of Riverton history, since we have had to cancel all Board and membership meetings for the foreseeable future.

Elsie Showell and brother John, Riverton July 5, 1920

Incidentally, Elsie Showell Waters was not quite two years of age on July 5, 1920. She is dearly missed.

Please join the conversation here and on our Facebook page until we can resume normal operations. -JMc, Editor