A former resident remembers a childhood spent at 109 Bank Avenue

109 Bank Ave, 2008 PHOTO: JMc

We get questions – lots of questions – here at rivertonhistory.com, and most fall into one of two categories. Many website visitors are looking into family trees and finding clues to ancestors that lead them to the Historical Society of Riverton for answers. Another kind of question often comes from folks who want to know more about a home.

Such was the case with Rosalind Smith Edman, a reader from Williamstown, NJ, who grew up in Riverton, and inquired of us about her childhood home:

I grew up in Riverton. My parents owned 109 Bank Avenue from about 1948 to 1971. I am particularly interested in the history of our home… I love the Riverton History website. Thank you to you and all who give to it!

After sending Ms. Edman what we could about her former residence, she responded by writing the following first-person account on what she remembered about the home and growing up in Riverton. What we sent her about the property appears at the end.

I’ve just now been able to read the references and view the photo. I cannot tell you how appreciative I am of your having provided these for me! You may be interested in a little background from my vantage point – not of historical interest, but perhaps interesting – if you do not date back as far as I do in Riverton. I’ve attached a few pictures that give you an idea of the house when we lived there.

In 1948, my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph P.T. Smith, purchased 109 Bank Avenue as an entire package that included the small cottage, the pool, tennis courts (on which International Tennis Hall of Famer Bill Tilden is said to have seriously injured a finger, and the carriage house at the corner of Carriage House Lane and Thomas Avenues (all included in the references that you sent).  The Biddles – descendants of the Biddles so often mentioned in Riverton histories – were our neighbors across the street.

As a very young child (about 5 or 6), I can remember being fascinated by the carriage house – which contained a large sleigh among other things. My parents sold the carriage house to the Devery’s who converted it into a duplex – their own and a second property. They did such a magnificent job on the conversion that it appeared in (I believe) Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

I do not remember if the small cottage was occupied when my parents purchased the property. I do know that Marcy Lippincott and his wife (who may have been a Ruff), purchased it from my parents, along with the large area in front of the cottage that had been the tennis court. It took years to grow grass, since the tennis court had been constructed so well with layers of sand or gravel to prevent grass growing on the clay court! 

My parents retained the large house and the pool. They had the home converted into 4 residences – 3 apartments and our own residence. There was a very large, lovely apartment that took up the entire third floor with beautiful views of the river. There was a smaller apartment on each of the other two floors – both facing Thomas Avenue and Carriage House Lane.

Our own living area  – the front of both first and second floors – included the billiard room (a professional pool table had been found in the carriage house that my father had refurbished and moved into one of the two large front rooms on the first floor). I recall that Willie Mosconi (famous professional pool player) must have worked with the company that refurbished the pool table and he came to the house for the final touches. My Dad always enjoyed telling that story.

The other large room in the front of the first floor was our living room. In between the two was a hallway and a beautiful staircase. Behind the living room was the original dining room – I think 30′. We did lots of entertaining there! There were something like 7 fireplaces in the house. Our area had one each in the living room, billiard room, dining room, and an upstairs bedroom. Our kitchen was a bit small – having been converted from the original butler’s pantry. (I remember having great fun while the house was being converted – checking out all the bells (under the dining room table and in each of the rooms) that had been used to summon the servants. There was also a wonderful “dumb waiter” that went from the first to the second floor.

wrap-around porch, early to mid-1960s

On the second floor, we had two large bedrooms in the front that corresponded to the billiard room and living room on the first floor. Each had large walk-in closets. The third bedroom corresponded to the dining room below – huge. Our two bathrooms had marble showers and, of course, large claw-foot bathtubs.  One could get lost in the 7-room basement which included a wonderful wine cellar room.  As you can tell, we kept the best of the house for ourselves. The large wrap-around porch was fabulous for entertaining – which, as I mentioned, we did quite a bit. In fact, my sister’s wedding reception was held under a large striped tent on the front lawn with dancing on the porch.

porte cochère (coach gate) at left, mid-60s-1970

The porch extended from the porte cochère all the way around to about 10-15 feet on the side of the house. It had pillars and a slate roof on the half of the porch that wrapped around from the left of front door (as you are facing out) to the side of the house.

house without the roof on the porch, mid-60s-1970

Around 1965, my mother and a friend had just gone inside the house, after having been sitting on the porch when they heard a huge sound. The entire slate roof had collapsed onto the porch! It was a miracle that they had not been killed. We have home movies of the roof being removed. The porch, however, was not damaged, or, if it was, it was repaired. We were sad to see that subsequent owners had the entire porch removed.

oldest pool in Riverton, early to mid-1960s

The pool provided hours and hours of fun. Hard to believe that it was installed for only $50 in 1920!! It required 40,000 gallons of water. In the early years before filters were available, my Dad would insist on emptying it and refilling it about every two weeks (in addition to, of course, keeping it chlorinated). It had two huge, magnificent long needle pine trees on either side which prevented it from getting a lot of warming sun. The water came from an artesian well and was, literally, about 50 degrees when it came into the pool. It took close to two weeks to reach a really comfortable temperature and at just about the perfect temperature, my Dad would say it was time to empty and refill it!! I think it took about 30 hours to fill.  We were ecstatic when we were able to have the filter installed and leave the water in all season!! 

my parents, Helen and Joseph Smith, on porch, early to mid-1960s

Our views of the river, the sailboats, the famous Riverton 4th of July celebrations – our own sailing and boating on the river – could not have provided a more delightful place in which to grown up.  We even named two subsequent, cruising sailboats that we owned “109” or “One-O-Nine”.  As my parents were growing older and we three children had all grown and moved away, my parents decided the time had come to sell the house, which they did in 1971.   

I’ve attached a few pictures that give you an idea of the house when we lived there. I have lots more, but the focus of most of my pictures is on the people in the pictures more than on the house or grounds. The attached pictures show the house with and without the roof on the porch, a view of the side lawn looking toward the pool (apparently after a storm took down a large branch on a tree near the pool), two of the pictures show my parents on the porch. 

Anyhow, thank you so very much again for sending the interesting information.  I just learned about a year ago that our home had been built in 1865. We had always thought that it had been built at the turn of the century.

Many wonderful memories!
Appreciatively,
Rosalind

We responded with…

It was my pleasure to find the house info for you. Receiving your first-person recollection of what it was like to live in that marvelous home when you did was a bonus.

What we sent to Ms. Edman about 109 Bank Avenue follows:

109 Bank Avenue – Google Maps

Riverton’s 124 page 1999 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form has a few references to 109 Bank Avenue. Excerpts appear below.

PAGE 7: …Where the original houses had been of frame, denoting their role as summer “cottages”, the later river front houses were more frequently of stone… The gray stone Gothic house built for William M. and Rebecca Lippincott Thomas at 109 Bank Avenue, in 1865… differ from their older cousins on the river bank in the permanence of their building materials both because their more imposing dimensions were enhanced by their stone construction and because several of them were intended to be used as year-round residences.

PAGE 17: …Gothic Revival influences would recur in Riverton as they did nationally through to the close of the century. …the 1865 William Thomas House at 109 Bank Avenue) incorporated gothic lines and motifs…

PAGE 60:
4 Thomas Avenue
Date: c. 1910 Contributing
Ownership: V. Gilbert and Ann K. Ruff Block/Lot: 204-13
Description: 1/2 story cottage
History: A very small residence, once a part of the Thomas / Fitter estate (109 Bank Avenue).
Property includes a swimming pool built c. 1920, the first one in Riverton. It was constructed by a local carpenter, following the directions of the owner, N. Myers Filler – and cost $50.00. The pool is still in use by the present owners. Mrs. Ruff is well-known for teaching children to swim here, as well as her work with blind and other handicapped children. (NOTE: The cottage described is gone now – replaced by new construction. Anne Knight Ruff passed away in 2013. See more about the pool at 109 in this earlier post from 2015, Hot enough for ya?)

PAGE 64:
109 Bank Avenue
Date: c. 1865 Contributing
Ownership: Robert & Barbara Horner Block/Lot 204-4
Description: 2 1/2 story stone, gable front mansion, asphalt shingle roof, paneled rake boards and bracketed fly rafter, stone chimneys left and right, paired dormers with exposed rafter tails and fly rafter brackets. 1/1 replacement sash, porch removed, entrance door altered. Left side porte cochere on paired doric columns, partially glass enclosed. Right side 2 story octagonal bay.
History: Residence of William S. and Rebecca Thomas, built soon after the land was devised to Rebecca from her father, Joseph Lippincott, and fifteen years before the Thomas farm was opened for development. The homestead area extended to Second Street. Dated photographs show at least three different front porches on this house during Thomas ownership. Purchased in 1905 by N. Myers Fitler, who a year later added a porte cochere and made other changes to the residence by architects Hewitt and Hewitt. Mrs. Fitler, grandaughter of Riverton founder Robert Biddle, was author of four books depicting life in Riverton between 1884 and the early 1900’s. Some estate buildings are now separate properties, including the large barn/stables at Thomas and Carriage House Lane.

Sale Adv for Greystone Bank Ave house 1927

Fellow HSR Board Member Roger Prichard sends along this 1927 real estate ad and adds:

…this is where our dear Mary Biddle Fitler raised her kids.  She grew up across Thomas Ave. at 201 Bank, married N. Myers Fitler and they moved into 109.  (They had already moved to Wynnewood when she wrote the books, though, I think.)… I attached an ad from when it was for sale in 1927…  Porch was full width at that time. …this house is where Oliver G. Willits and his wife Margaret Fitler moved… They bought it from N. Myers Fitler, her brother, in the early 20s.  They were still here in 1930, so apparently the ad for sale never resulted in a transaction.  They were still there in the 1930 Census.

I thanked Rosalind saying, “It was my pleasure to find the house info for you. Receiving your first-person recollection of what it was like to live in that marvelous home when you did was a bonus.”

Readers, please know that our page entitled, “Research Your House” suggests a number of starting points for finding out about homes in the Historic District, including Riverton’s 1999 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.

Please contact us if you can contribute commentary, photos, artifacts documents, or scans to this growing archive of information about our favorite hometown.      -JMc

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