“Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton” shows boroughs the way they were in the 1930s and 1940s; Creator, Matt Gideon seeks public’s help with new project

Selected screen captures from “Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton Volume I”

It seems that Palmyra has its own version of “Romance of Riverton” called “Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton,” and I recently had the pleasure of screening for the first time Volumes I and II of these classic 1930s-1940s home movies of Palmyra and Riverton. The late Dr. Dean LeFavor, a Palmyra family physician, captured on film many seemingly everyday scenes with his 8mm movie camera while out making house calls. Needless to say, much of the everyday 1934 is no longer with us.

Some of those scenes in the over one hundred aptly named “glimpses” in Volume I include period cars, trucks, and buses, the Delaware River frozen over, a few vehicle accidents, and several types of fire trucks, as Dr. LeFavor often responded to fire and emergency calls where his medical skills would be called for.

Three fleeting clips of the Nellie Bly steam engine passenger train roaring up the tracks en route to New York contrasted sharply with two other sobering scenes which showed the aftermath of an automobile and a milk truck which tangled with the speedy Nellie Bly and lost. Dr. LeFavor even took his camera with him on road trips to New York City and to check out the beached hulk of the Morrow Castle passenger ship at Asbury Park in 1934.

The old Palmyra and Riverton train stations each are hubs of activity in their respective towns, and the bright dancing lights on Palmyra’s Broadway movie marquee beckon couples to come inside to see the 1934 American musical comedy film Twenty Million Sweethearts starring Pat O’Brien, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. With so many locations and landmarks so transformed over the years, this film could just as easily been titled, “Things That Aren’t There Anymore.”

I had seen many of the film’s subjects as the static images in the old postcard views, but seeing these same locations reanimated with people in a real movie is just an extra bonus. After searching so long for photos of the Nellie Bly, seeing a clip of her steaming through town was, in itself, worth the price of admission.

These DVDs are sure to appeal to local history buffs, as well as those who enjoy antique fire equipment, steam engine trains, or vintage automobiles, and anyone who wants to see what this place was like “back in the day.”

All of these priceless motion pictures could have been lost had it not been for Mr. and Mrs. Walter W. Poulson who allowed the Palmyra Fire Company to reproduce the films which Dr, LeFavor had given them. In 1989, Matthew Gideon of the Palmyra Fire Department arranged for the film to be transferred to DVD.

Big band and swing background music accompanies Volume I which comes with a scene by scene account developed from notes taken by Dr. LeFavor. “Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton in the 1930s and 40s, Volume II” contains the last reel of Dr. LeFavor’s films around town, still photos of Tacony-Palmyra Bridge under construction and of the Tacony-Palmyra Ferry Company, and still photos taken from Dr. Lamb’s Picturesque Palmyra booklet. It is fully narrated and accompanied with piano music played by Dr. LeFavor. Click here to view a short trailer showing four scenes from Volume I. (Check out the gasoline price on the sign in the Mutt Parade.)

Matt reports that limited quantities of both titles are available for $25 each;  include $5 postage and handling, if you need yours mailed. Specify if you want Volume I or Volume II. Send your check or postal money order to: Mr. Matt Gideon, 116 Mt. Vernon Drive, Cinnaminson, NJ 08077. If you are local, please arrange for pick-up at the firehouse in Palmyra.

(DVDs are no longer available)

Independence Fire Co. No. 1, 20th anniversary in 1907

Another reason for today’s column is to publicize 40 year Palmyra firehouse veteran Matt Gideon’s newest history project—a detailed history of the Palmyra and Riverton Fire Departments from the founding of each in the late 19th century up through about 1920. He requests that the public contact him with old photos, newspaper articles, programs, memorabilia, and such which will serve to supplement his search of borough records, minutes of firehouse meetings, and logs of fire calls.

Matt plans to use the collected research to plan a talk and presentation he is planning to use as a fundraiser for both fire companies. Please contact Matt at 856-816-4330  and make arrangements to share your old photos and collections which will help him document fire locations and supply background material that will set the tone for the time period from 1886-1920.  – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor



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John McCormick

Teacher at Riverton School 1974-2019, author, amateur historian, Historical Society of Riverton Board Member 2007-2023, newsletter editor 2007-2023, website editor 2011-2023

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