Changes at the Point
Patricia Smith Solin and John McCormick
The Point at Main and Howard Sts. in Riverton has been a town feature since its founding in 1851. Using information in our archives, maps, and new research, we compile several changes the location has seen over the years and invite our readers to add more material to amplify the story.
Before Riverton was a new town, the Lippincott, Toy, Thomas, and Morgan families owned most of the farmland in the area. Riverton’s Quaker founders, members of the urban mercantile aristocracy, sought to establish a picturesque refuge in a rural setting removed from the pressures of city life.
The founders wanted it to be more than just a summer haven for their families; they envisioned a community with other families and services to enhance their proposed village. The founders purchased 120 acres from Joseph Lippincott, and they engaged Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan to develop the town plan and design Riverton’s first buildings.
A map, likely published in early 1851, with the cumbersome title of Plan of the New Town of Riverton, NJ, beautifully situated on Cinnaminson shore on the River Delaware, Eight miles above Philada. shows the early street and plot plans in what was once all farmland.
American architect Henry Russell Hitchcock declared that Riverton was “the first wholly planned subdivision in America.” The town would not simply be a row of grand villas along a waterfront, but the founders also planned to include spaces for churches, schools, and businesses.
A similar but much larger map on display at the Porch Club, likely published later in 1851, clearly shows a practical building with the auspicious central location at the point of Main and Howard Streets – Riverton’s first general store.
The Riverton Improvement Company (RICo) thoughtfully recognized that with most of the early founders living in Philadelphia, they needed a local community agent to help manage inquiries as well as provide “licenses and limited supplies.” (“Robert’s Brick Store,” July 4th Program, BBH, 1998).
RICo built the store directly across the street from the Camden & Amboy Railroad station, already located on Broad Street, and designated two men as contacts for the new community: George W. Shinn and Chalkley Gillingham.
George Wolfe Shinn (abt. 1835 – after 1920)
The Riverton Improvement Company hired sixteen-year-old George W. Shinn, a local farmer, to manage the store when it opened in 1851. As agents, he and Chalkley Gillingham (1807-1881), who lived near Moorestown on a large farm that he managed, provided information about the town. Gillingham was one of the founding investors of the village but chose not to live in Riverton.
A carpenter, Shinn may have helped build the store, and from the map caption, we may infer that he lived in a room on the premises. Shinn was an employee of the RICo, not the owner of the property or the business. Shinn also acted as a rental agent for homes in town, such as Rodman Wharton’s home on Main Street.
Chalkley Gillingham (1807-1881)
Chalkley Gillingham was a Quaker minister whose ancestors came to this country with William Penn. He moved from Frankford, PA to manage the Benjamin Warrington farm in Moorestown. Chalkley married, as they say, the farmer’s daughter; he and Keziah Warrington met here in NJ at her father’s farm. Quaker Meeting Records show that he wed her in 1833 when he was about 26.
As one of Riverton’s ten founders, the plan earmarked the lot at 100 Main Street for Chalkley Gillingham. He chose not to move to the new village but remained a stockholder for several years.
The US Census records them in Moorestown in 1840 and 1850. However, they moved in December 1852 to Virginia to seek hardwood forestry opportunities and run a slave-free farm during the Civil War. He established Quaker Meeting Houses and schools for white and black children. On January 22, 1881, he died and was interred at Woodlawn, VA.
Just eight years after its founding, a detail from the 1859 New Map of Burlington County by Parry, Sykes, and Earl shows houses scattered throughout the town from the railroad to the river and several buildings including the store managed by G.W. Shinn.
By 1870, James Brown (1839-1894) managed the store. The 1880 US Census shows him as immigrating from England with his wife, Alice, whose occupation was grocery storekeeper.
In 1872 the RICo’s incorporation ended, and “the Biddle brothers” purchased all unsold Riverton properties, including the store.
Around 1878 William M. Thomas (1846-1920) and Howard H. Thomas (1850-1907) purchased the business and property. They were the sons of William S. (1808-1888) and Rebecca Thomas (1810-1881), owners of the farmland that extended from Thomas Avenue to Elm and from the river bank to the south line of the original County Club property.
In 1882 the Thomas brothers later sold the general store to Joseph M. Roberts. The manager, Henry Roberts (1845-1916) (no relation), a bookkeeper, worked in the store.
Joseph Middleton Roberts (October 15, 1855 – June 28, 1932)
Born in Chester, NJ, Roberts married Anna Margaret Shaw (1857-1942) on December 25, 1878, in a Quaker Sealing and had four children: Anna Shaw Roberts (1881-1968); Gertrude Shaw Roberts (1885-1976); Eugene Walton Roberts (1888-1964)-dentist; and Joseph Middleton Roberts, Jr. (1894-1984)-farmer.
After purchasing the general store, Joseph M. Roberts purchased a plot of land from Edward Lippincott’s undeveloped farmland parallel to Main Street. There, he built a house in 1885 at 407 Lippincott Avenue, next door to the Groves Mansion. He and his family lived there for 62 years before his heirs sold it in 1946.
A side note: HSR Board Member Mrs. Nancy Hall recalled for the Gaslight News (#139, March 2010, p. 5) a family story about Robert’s Store and her Great-Grandfather Ezra Lippincott’s Irish cook named Kate McGlinden.
Ezra Lippincott and his son J. Lawrence Lippincott developed much of the enlarged town of Riverton at the turn of the 20th century. Ezra built the house that is today the central building of the Baptist Home, now Riverview Estates.
It seems that Kate purchased for the household from Robert’s Store a box of Strike-Anywhere matches—and they wouldn’t!
She returned them to the store owner, who promptly took one of the wooden sticks from the box and, to prove the performance of his merchandise, he struck it on the rear of his pants.
Kate the Cook responded, “Sure’n I should be carryin’ Joe Roberts’ arse around all day.”
Kate returned to her kitchen with a new box of matches.
Segway to a spectacular fire for which the village was not prepared. It destroyed the store and led to the formation of the Riverton Fire Company.
From Lloyd Griscom’s Tales of Three Towns (p.48):
“On January 11, 1890, a disastrous fire broke out in the stable adjoining the old Shinn store operated by Joseph M. Roberts in the center of town, destroying the store, William Wolfschmidt’s barbershop, and the home of Rebecca Faunce. A bucket brigade concentrated on saving Louis Corner’s home nearby, the fire in other buildings being out of control.”
The inferno destroyed the 1851 store and other buildings because the fire hose was too short of reaching it from the hydrants.
The loss of property was estimated at $12,000, or $368,000 in today’s dollars.
Within the next two months, the volunteers purchased a small hose shed at 5th & Main Sts., adopted a constitution and bylaws, elected officers, and became incorporated as The Riverton Fire Company of Riverton, NJ.
Meanwhile, the undaunted 26-year-old merchant continued to sell goods from a temporary structure on the site while builder Edward Pancoast promptly replaced the old store by the fall of the same year with a large, multi-story brick building.
Barber Wolfschmidt also replaced his structure with one of brick. It remains there today as a residence.
Roberts named his new modern beauty, The Brick Store, as he also had another brick store in Palmyra.
Roberts’ new “Flat Iron” store at The Point in Riverton provided fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, “satisfaction guaranteed.”
He offered a wide variety of groceries, meats, and dry goods such as notions, chinaware, hardware, tinware, paint, glass, and other general merchandise. Camden’s Morning Post said of the store, “…you could get anything from a safety pin to a sewing machine at his store.”
The second floor had a large room that served as a meeting place for local organizations and a venue for entertainment and athletic events.
Shopkeepers rented several smaller rooms and a third floor served as storage—an upholsterer, clothing retailer, and clothing cleaner each rented space in the building for a time. The New Era newspaper and the Cinnaminson Bank conducted business there before moving to other quarters.
Mt. Zion AME Church began as a missionary society in 1896, meeting in the Roberts Store second floor. The congregation moved to its present location at 3rd & Penn Sts. in 1909.
Shortly after its late-1890 opening, local citizens raised money to install “a fine drinking fountain for man and beast . . . a welcome addition until cars replaced horses.”
The origin of the July 4th Parade traces to 1897 when Charles W. Davis and Alfred J. Briggs organized the first Children’s Flag Parade. The procession formed at Roberts Store on the Point, each child received a silk flag, and all marched to the riverbank, where singing and oration followed. Aquatic events and then fireworks ended the day.
Roberts conducted the store until 1927 when he sold out to the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, or the A&P.
He maintained a smaller store out of the same building until his death.
Joseph Roberts died from complications of a stroke in 1932 and was buried in Westfield Friends Burial Ground.
The Roberts Store: Just a Memory
Upon Roberts’ death, the family closed his small store and sold the inventory.
When the A&P struggled to meet its expenses, the store moved across the street to 528 Main in November 1935.
Joseph Roberts’ heirs found out that they owed back taxes. Amid the Great Depression, they had to choose from dire alternatives—raze the building or sell it to a developer. Discussions arose between the heirs and the town about converting the space into a park.
Negotiations between the family and the borough to create a park broke down, and the building came down in 1938.
The Woolston family, former carriage makers, purchased the property and constructed a gas and service station at 515 Main Street to complement their automobile agency on Howard St.
Another incarnation was Reynolds’ Service Station. Oddly, because of our access to old Riverton newspapers, it is easier to research the older events than it is the newer ones.
Please contact us if you have any photos or information about that chapter of the property.
Joseph Rainer bought the property in 1994 and for a time used it for his painting business. In 2002 he tore down the structure to three walls and transformed it into the Victorian ornamented structure that stands there today. Various businesses have since rented the building, the most recent being Haven Hair Design Studio.
Marcus Tullius Cicero famously said, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” A major purpose of our Society is to create an awareness of our heritage by explaining how individuals and groups throughout our history have shaped the town of today that we cherish.
ADDED 4/20/2022: We are so pleased when a reader contributes images or information that further develops a story. We just received this email from HSR member Mary M. Flanagan:
I saw an article in the Gaslight News recently asking for information on the former service station at 515 Main St. after it passed to John “Jack” Reynolds. I contacted Allen Reynolds who is a son of Jack’s to see if he could contribute any information. Below is what Allen sent to me.
- Prior to 1947 – Charles T. Woolston was the original owner. My father was employee.
- Sept 1947 – Woolston and my father went into partnership (Woolston and Reynolds Service Station).
- Sept 1959 – Woolston opted out of partnership. My father bought Woolston out (Reynolds Service Center).
- However, Woolston continued to own the building, leasing it to my father.
- Jan 1980 – My father dies. I keep business. With my father’s death, building lease expires. I have to purchase it to keep business operating.
- 1986 – Business closed. Building sold to Robert S. Moccia Enterprises, Inc.
That was wonderful of Mary to track down this photo and information. I had to look carefully at that photo in case our old Ford Torino was in there as I often dropped off our car there for service on my way to Riverton School.
Regular visitors may recall Mary’s contribution of scans of remarkable family photos and postcards that I have previously used to illustrate website and newsletter articles. She gave us images of some people, things, and places that literally have no other representation in our records, so in that regard they are priceless. Here are three:
If you persevered to the end, how does viewing the article in this blog format compare to viewing the usual newsletter PDF?
One thought on “A Gaslight News article on Changes at “The Point” 1851-Present”
Thanks for the interesting article. Prefer the blog format. I’m sharing it with my brother, who left Riverton in 1960 and now lives in New Hampshire.