This is EPIC… if we say so ourselves

emphatic man, line art from 1925 New Era
emphatic man, line art from 1925 New Era

“All over the country the signs are ominous, and the trend of events are hastening to a period in our immediate future when great calamities are threatening to overtake us. There is a cloud overhanging our whole nation that threatens to burst upon and deluge us in a flood of convulsions which no prophet yet can foresee nor measure the consequences.”

Although this passage sounds like an excerpt from a Senate filibuster about the impending “fiscal cliff,” it speaks to us from the editorial page of the July 21, 1894 issue of The New Era. The concern then (in a very deeply buried lead) was the possession and equitable distribution of the products of capital and labor.

The efficiencies of modern manufacturing and government policies favoring capitalist classes had caused scant-paid wage earners to seek redress and defend their interests with the only means available to them—destructive labor strikes. The editorial forecast more strikes and the end of republican institutions if the masses could not be alerted.

Over a century later, the Nation is still here. And we trust that it will be here next week as well.

The New Era, 1894 logo
The New Era, 1894 logo

The Historical Society of Riverton is pleased to help make available to its readers hundreds of recently digitalized issues of four historic local newspapers—The New Era (1894-1949), The Riverton Journal (1880-1882), The Palmyra Record (1913 – 1918), and The Weekly News (Palmyra) (1887-1922).

These early periodicals contain more than just the local news. Read between the lines and one can imagine what life was like for the area citizenry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Maybe you will even read about someone you know.

A thorough reading of any issue may well pose more questions than for which one gets answers as readers face ideas, people, and places unfamiliar to Riverton’s inhabitants today.

According to amazon.com, Whispering Smith by Frank Spearman was the most popular book of 1906.
Serialized in the 1894 New Era, Whispering Smith by Frank Spearman was the most popular book of 1906, according to amazon.com. Available as a free Kindle e-book today.
Locals, New Era, July 21, 1894
Locals, New Era, July 21, 1894

This particular 1894 New Era issue contains chapters of two serialized novels, as well as household hints, various columns and features of general interest, public notices, business advertisements and classified advertising, community calendar items, sports scores, a lengthy International Press Bible Question Club Contest lesson, factoid column fillers, and lots of local news, large and small.

In what we might compare to Facebook status updates of today, the paper published details to let readers know what their neighbors were doing and with whom.

In July 1894, Horace Richmond and George Vandegrift picked 60 quarts of wild blackberries along the Pompeston Creek in two days. Two young ladies took an unexpected trip to Atlantic City one day when, returning from Philadelphia, they boarded the wrong train. Mr. Clark, of Garfield Avenue (Palmyra) and Fourth Street treated his house to a new coat of paint, and Mr. Nichols and family, of Fifth and Garfield Avenue (Palmyra), sojourned at the seashore for two weeks. One needed only to subscribe to the hometown paper for such social gossip.

New Era Clipping, July 1, 1943. See the Riverton Veterans Album for many more newsbits and photos about Riverton's military.
New Era Clipping, July 1, 1943. See the Riverton Veterans Album for many more newsbits and photos about Riverton’s military.

Later, during two world wars, those same social columns helped unify communities with news of local men and women in military service.

Coddington bicycle ad, New Era, July 21, 1894
Coddington bicycle ad, New Era, July 21, 1894

In the age before shopping malls and buying online killed off small town shops, one could purchase virtually all of the goods or services one might need within walking distance of their home. Various Riverton businesses included a fine shoe store, general merchandise store, fish market, a cigar and confectionery store, insurance agent, bicycle store, pharmacist, butcher, green grocer, dressmaker, hardware store, undertaker, and more.

Front page of the Riverton Journal, 11-24-1880
Front page of the Riverton Journal, 11-24-1880

Digitalized issues of The New Era and its less well-known predecessor, The Riverton Journal, along with The Palmyra Record and The Weekly News (Palmyra) shall certainly prove to be valued primary sources for students of local history and casual readers alike.

The publications are a wealth of factual and anecdotal information for the person completing a genealogical record, a history student needing material about the period, or a person just wishing to better understand the past.

Business Directory from Riverton Journal, July 15, 1882
Business Directory from Riverton Journal, July 15, 1882

See how much a simple business directory illuminates our understanding of Riverton’s economy in 1882.

The words and illustrations from these hundreds of papers spanning almost seven decades chronicle the sensational and extraordinary events of the region as well as the mundane and commonplace details of everyday existence.

Bringing these digitalized files to the Internet has taken nearly thirty years and probably has involved scores of people. This is how it happened.

Newspaper Microfilm Project

In August 1983, HSR President and newsletter editor Mrs. Betty B. Hahle reminded readers of The Gaslight News to locate copies of The New Era so that the Society could be get them (micro-) filmed and made available for research. The HSR and Riverton Library cooperated in conducting the Special Project.

Betty explained further in the November 1984 Gaslight News, “For the past several years we have attempted to locate copies of the New Era…so that they can be microfilmed.” By then, they had come up with enough copies of area newspapers to pursue the project in earnest, and Betty summed up the group’s purpose thus, “…our project will be a valuable contribution, making an otherwise soon lost source of area history available for anyone interested in using them, both now and in future years.”

Subsequent newsletters appealed to readers to loan old newspapers for the microfilming project and updated them on its progress. By January 1985, the drive had obtained 37 unique individual issues of The New Era, plus 11 Palmyra issues.

She's looking for yesterday's news, BCT, Feb. 7, 1985
She’s looking for yesterday’s news, BCT, Feb. 7, 1985

A February 1985 article in the Burlington County Times outlining the effort to locate and microfilm surviving copies of The New Era and The Weekly News resulted in several more loans or donations of issues by individuals. Betty Hahle, chairman of the New Era Preservation Project, called the New Era issues “treasures” and “an excellent source of information.”

The New Era count swelled to 67 by November 1985. Mrs. Hahle reported in that month’s Gaslight News that the papers were “…catalogued and awaiting their trip to Trenton for filming.” She included a list of contributors, as follows:

Following is a list of those who have contributed to this project:   The Riverton Library collection; The Historical Society of Riverton collection; Mrs. Jo Metzger; Mrs. Lynn Metzger Pharo; Mrs. Ellen Layton; Mr. Joseph Yearly; Mr. Robert Latch; Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gilmore; Mrs. J. K. Taylor; Mr. Lloyd Griscom; Mr. Harry Paul; Mrs. Alice Cook Costello; Mr. Harris Sacks; Mrs. Betty Hahle; Central Baptist Church archives; Mrs. Bobbi Centanni; Mrs. Cathy Daly; Dr. William Oliver.

Borough Council names Mrs. Betty B. Hahle official Town Historian as Mayor Bruce Gunn looks on, 1985
Borough Council names Mrs. Betty B. Hahle official Town Historian as Mayor Bruce Gunn looks on, 1985

Betty, who was named official Town Historian that year, added, “And your editor would like to add a personal thank-you to each and every person who has helped to make a long-time dream come true, to preserve these small-town weekly newspapers that are such a rich source of local history.”

Mrs. Hahle’s update in the February 1986 Society newsletter recorded that the box of newspapers left for Trenton on February 13, and she added two more names to the list of contributors –Nancy Gorman and Francis Roedig.

Betty reported the project completed in May, having received two microfilm reels and expecting to return borrowed newspapers to lenders shortly.

Jump ahead four more years to February 1990 to find the next mention of preserving newspapers in the Gaslight News.

A significant contribution to preserving Riverton’s history has been made by Freddy DeVece, who has agreed to have his collection of The New Era, which covers a wide span of years, microfilmed. It will be done at the State Archives, under the Rutger’s Grant Project to microfilm local newspapers, and will be scheduled sometime this Spring.

“Significant” was an understatement, for Mr. DeVece’s issues when microfilmed, expanded the collection from two reels to fourteen.

Ultimately, Riverton Free Library, as well as certain other library branches, received 19 reels of microfilmed Riverton and Palmyra newspapers as a direct result of the preservation efforts of the HSR and the RFL. However, difficulty of access and being unable to browse easily for any given topic relegated the microfilm reels to the use of only the most perseverant of local history enthusiasts.

Newspaper Digitalization Project

Mrs. Patricia S. Solin
Mrs. Patricia S. Solin

One of those perseverant persons is Mrs. Patricia Solin, whose articles appearing in the Gaslight News have informed and entertained both our print and online readers. (“Genealogy and Internet Searching,” March and May 2008, “The Fine Grounds of the Riverton Athletic Association,” September 2009, The Lyceum Instructed, Entertained, Cultivated, and Amused Riverton’s Elite, September 2011, and “Special Delivery – Riverton’s USPO,” February 2012)

At some point during her last research project, she wished for the ability to view images and search for topics in our historic newspapers on her computer. She wondered aloud if it would be feasible to digitalize the newspapers, making researching easier.

With the actual newspapers no longer available, that wish sparked the pursuit of a new goal in historic preservation for the Riverton Free Library Association, on whose Board she serves as vice-president, and the Historical Society of Riverton —digitalizing the microfilm reels of newspapers and making them available free online to the public.

Pat consulted experts at the NJ State Library Archives as well as her son, Michael, a Systems Administrator at Penn State to begin her research on the project.  With her initial questions answered, and the enthusiastic support of the Archives, she began to enlist the support of both local organizations in order to move forward with the project.

The April 2012 RFLA Board meeting attended by HSR President Gerald Weaber and Editor John McCormick resulted in a vote endorsing the project and named Mrs. Patricia Solin the chairperson.

In short order, Mrs. Solin found that three of the newspapers are in the public domain—they each stopped publication prior to 1922 – but The New Era copyright was still held by the Burlington County Times. After hearing from Mrs. Solin, Mr. Stanley Ellis, vice-president of the publication, generously granted approval for the digitalization of those files as well.

Knowing almost nothing about the technical aspects of scanning microfilm prior to starting this project meant consulting with vendors, contacting technical and administrative staff at the NJ Digital Highway, and Googling—lots of Googling. Pat had to seek reliable information on how to go about getting microfilmed newspapers scanned and changed into PDF files with OCR—optical character recognition—so that text could be searched.

By September 2012, Pat had sorted out several competing vendors’ solutions and she approached the RFLA Board with her HSR collaborators, Gerald Weaber and John McCormick to ask for funding, which they enthusiastically gave.

We acknowledge the essential and valuable technical expertise of Mr. Isaiah Beard, Digital Data Curator for the Rutgers University Libraries, who advised us on project specifications. There were the inevitable delays and miscommunications, but Royal Imaging delivered two duplicate hard drives containing the files as TIFF, JPEG, and PDF files in early December.

paperboyNow, how would we get the files on to the Historical Society’s website?

Enter, techie Michael Solin, performing another pro bono assignment for his grateful former grade school teacher, now Gaslight News and rivertonhistory.com editor web John McCormick. The Systems Administrator at Penn State University took time from his holiday break at home and went right to work. He uploaded files to our website’s server, made the new menu tab on the homepage, and designed the new page layout for displaying no less than 486 PDF files.

Mike is the master mechanic who has kept this website rolling along, making backups, doing updates and upgrades and generally bringing to reality every vision we have had for it. From the beginning of his involvement with our website’s reboot in late 2010, Mike has made it possible for us to offer more and better content than ever before. He has been extraordinarily generous with donating his expertise, and we are truly grateful.

We especially thank the Riverton Free Library Association, the Riverton Free Library Friends, Carlos and Adrienne Rogers of the Historic Riverton Criterium, the Historical Society of Riverton, and the Palmyra Cultural and Historical Society for their financial support of this endeavor.

Please enjoy using the files on our newly created Historical Local Newspapers page.

Respectfully submitted,
John McCormick. Patricia Solin

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” –  John of Salisbury, 12th century theologian and author

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