The Philliesare playing in Clearwater now, and fan anticipation is high as the team prepares for another run at the World Series. With the re-signing of Cliff Lee, the Phillies now have in Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, and Co. what may arguably be the one of the best starting pitching rotations ever assembled in the history of major league baseball. Years from now, a generation will look back fondly upon these as the “good ol’ days.”
Few today can remember grandparents’ tales of Riverton’s heyday of baseball during the late 19th century, but there was a time when the “Riverton Nine” was so highly regarded that Henry Chadwick, the “Father of Baseball,” recalled an 1890 game in which they played as one of the best he had ever seen. A June 4, 1895, New York Times article stated, “During the old days of baseball, perhaps no amateur club in the country was so well known as the Rivertons.”
The team first organized in 1865, and played in Biddle’s apple orchard. When the interests of the group grew to include the sports of cricket and tennis in 1881, they leased land from the Miller Grounds and improved it with about 250 train carloads each of Pennsylvania sod and soil.
Baseball, particularly, flourished in those days and the players ultimately outgrew even that setting. Consequently, in 1885, they purchased 6¼ acres of the Lippincott property and moved there in April, 1887. In 1894, the more inclusive name change to the Riverton Athletic Association seemed appropriate for the band which was just then adopting the next new American craze—bicycling.
The newly invigorated association built “…one of the finest quarter-mile (bicycle) tracks in the world” with stands that seated nearly 3,000 spectators. (For more details see the September 2009 issue of Gaslight News for Pat Solin’s feature story, “The Fine Grounds of the Riverton Athletic Association”).
In 1895, the club hosted the New York Times Tri-State 150-Mile Relay Bicycle which included 163 cyclists. All preparatory aspects of the event were closely followed in the pages of the New York Times for weeks preceding the event. The race started out from the offices of the Times in New York City and climaxed with the winner crossing the finish line at Riverton’s own quarter-mile track.
Riverton’s long and illustrious sports tradition includes much more, of course: the sailing competitions and regattas at the Riverton Yacht Club, founded 1865; the live-pigeon trap shooting competitions held at the famed Riverton Gun Club (1877-1906); the individual efforts of athletes in national swim meets held at the Yacht Club during the 1920s; the play of men and women golfers of the Riverton Golf Club; as well as the stunning performance of 1923 women’s AAU track phenomenon, Frances Ruppert.
Look for images representing some of these accomplishments on the Images Page. We welcome the submission of photographs, programs, printed material, schedules, team rosters, and personal anecdotes or family stories which may serve as topics for future postings. John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor