We are the keepers

Scanning and posting back issues of the Gaslight News has been an eye-opening and humbling experience.

Eye-opening because I am discovering so many bits of Riverton history that further illuminate topics I have dealt with here since making our first post in January 2011.

Humbling because I realize what a debt we owe to those many pioneering founders, leaders, and members who preceded us for preserving our local history.

As noted in this Jan. 16 post, I started to upload to our website recently scanned back issues of our newsletter, The Gaslight News, and had just reached issue #100, published in March 2001.

Working backwards, I just reached another milestone – issue #50, published in May 1988 – and am now headed toward the earliest issues of the Society.

Delaware River frozen over 1935, screenshot from video Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton

While I have written about cold spells and the Delaware freezing here before, no account paints a picture of how frigid weather affected old Riverton better than this research that Betty Hahle recorded in one of her signature Yesterday columns in the March 2000 Gaslight News. (Searching our records, I found some images to go with her article.)

On a different note -January’s wintery weather has brought to mind an article found in a newspaper during the winter of 1917-1918. For the first time in many years the river had frozen all the way across.

Ice Skaters on Delaware River – Lee Cook, Sonny Wright, Mr Allen 1908 PHOTO CREDIT: ELSIE WATERS

Measurements made by boring holes into the ice set the depth of ice from seven-and-a-half to twelve-and-a-half inches. The weekend after the deep freeze brought out large crowds of people, estimated to be close to 1000. The article said that “every man, woman and child who owns or could borrow a pair of skates helped swell the crowd.”

People were eager to be able to skate on a long, smooth surface, instead of the smaller and often rough ice on local ponds. Two young men from Moorestown came to Riverton and drove their car across the ice to Philadelphia; and one of the Biddle boys (who lived on Bank Avenue) drove out onto the ice “and put it (his car) through a number of fancy stunts.”

H. McIlvain Biddle’s iceboat PHOTO CREDIT: STEEL FAMILY ALBUM

A number of ice boats glided out and around the skaters. Biddle and Frishmuth boys had the largest ones, capable of carrying twenty passengers, and had a great time on the ice – until the wind died out.

A smaller ice boat captured the most attention and interest. It was built by 11-year-old Art Wright, who lived at 305 Bank Avenue (in the house now located at Penn and Carriage House Lane). He loved the river, and spent all possible time there, both winter and summer. When his older brother began to build an ice boat, Art gathered up some scraps of lumber and made for himself a small ice boat “that would bear his light weight, and could outsail anything on the river.”

March 8, 1934 Courier Post ice-bound RYC

The channel dug during the second World War, and stronger ice-boats ended the spectacle of the Delaware river freezing all the way across. Perhaps some “Gaslight News” readers may still remember the ice boats, and skating on the river (with clamp-on skates), and bonfires on the bank to warm up.

The above article is almost 19 years old and scarcely anyone now can remember such times.

Horse drawn wagon on Main Street, no date PHOTO CREDIT: MARY FLANAGAN

It and others like it demonstrate the critical role of the Society as it serves as a keeper of culture, preserves the historical record, and interprets the past to the public.

 

 

How else would you know how awesome Riverton is?

Look for more evidence in the back issues of Gaslight News. -JMc

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