Ask someone what things in town they think symbolize Riverton, and somewhere in that top ten list will probably be the Riverton Yacht Club and the old-time gas streetlamps. Here are both in the same photo, taken on a sunny August day in 2007.
There is just no place else which has this picture postcard look.
We here in Riverton may be “used to” the gaslamps illuminating our streets. To an outside visitor, though, it must seem as if a Hollywood set dresser has placed these nostalgic fixtures throughout this charming town in order to evoke an elegant Victorian mood.
Whereas most American cities had gaslit streets in the early 20th century, only a handful have retained the type of old-fashioned gas streetlights which have become such an integral part of many people’s memories of Riverton.
It is hard to imagine Riverton without its cherished gaslamps. Yet, there was a time during the late 1970s when it looked like Riverton’s gas streetlamps would be snuffed out for good.
In November 2007, Mr. Jeff Cole, a HSR member and Riverton resident, presented a comprehensive presentation on the Welsbach Street Lighting Company which manufactured the original lamps. In it, he traced the history and development of the Welsbach Company, explained the technology of the incandescent gas mantle, told of the battle against the state Board of Public Utilities to keep the lamps, and showed some his collection of Welsbach publications and collectibles.
Jeff is uniquely qualified to assemble such a project since he is the grandson of Mr. Robinet Cole, a Riverton resident who worked at Welsbach for a remarkable 68 years. In a true Horatio Alger story if there ever was one, the elder Mr. Cole worked his way up from being a 15 year-old office boy to the president of the company.
In case you have wondered about those gaslamps, or missed that Historical Society meeting almost four years ago, here is that same PowerPoint and the notes that explain the slides. Click here to download the 43.4 MB PowerPoint slide show and click here to download the PDF file of explanatory speaker’s notes. In addition, several rare publications used by Jeff in the preparation of the project can be seen in greater detail by clicking on the following links:
- Gas Street Lighting, 40 page booklet, 1904
- History and Development of Gas Street Lighting Maintenance, 6 page booklet, 1936
- Municipal Street Lighting, 6 page booklet, undated
- Improved Royal Gas Machine and Mixer, 20 page booklet, 1899
- Welsbach News, “Robinet Cole Retires”, May-June 1968
- Welsbach Lamps of Distinction, 4 page sales brochure
- Welsbach Veritas Post Lantern, two-sided sales flyer
- Welsbach Boulevard and Victorian Lamp Diagrams
- Welsbach 1960 Price Lists
- Four Welsbach sales leaflets
As always, we welcome your comments, additions, or corrections.
John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor
PS – Despite these damp chilly days which have no business being here at the end of March, my thoughts wander to warmer temps and past summers at the shore. For me, it was LBI. I worked there several summers through high school and college at Surf City Hotel, first as busboy and then as a waiter. Look on the Images page for recent uploads of 87 Long Beach Island images, 40 Ocean City images, 10 Seaside Heights images, and 5 Avalon images. Those great linen-era postcards depict a number of things which aren’t there anymore, and most pre-date even my serving days at Surf City Hotel during the 1960s.
PPS – 06/13/2012. A visitor named Anthony has a torch stamped “Welsbach Street Lighting Company of America” and he left two comments about it below. Since then, he sent in two photos which we display here in the hope that someone may be able to offer more information about it.