That is a “Then & Now” view of the monolithic commercial building that suffered heavy damage from a fire in May 2022.
The Williams-Wright Building has dominated the Broad and Main intersection for a century.
I briefly mentioned the Williams-Wright Bldg. in a recent post entitled “1923,” and return here to add some details to the history of that building that has seen so many businesses come and go.
The building was erected in 1923, but planning started in 1922. A New Era clipping reports that work started, and L.F. Lowden won the construction contract.
Well over a year away from completion, tenants were already lined up, including Riverton-Palmyra Water Co., a Knight & Company novelty print shop, an American Store, and Woolston’s auto dealership.
Except for one building that variously served as a grocery or candy and cigar store, that corner of Main and Broad Streets had remained undeveloped for more than the prior 15 years. That store, known as Adolph’s Cigar and Tobacco Shop in 1900 and later, Theobald Schneider’s, was razed to make way for the construction of the Williams Wright building.
News articles in May, June, and July 1922 associate Charles A. Wright and E.L. Williams with the property at Broad and Main, which is at odds with…
…the information in two entries of Riverton’s 1999 Historic District Application that, taken together, imply that the Williams referred to is Edward H. Williams, a baseball payer and holder of various local government positions.
While plenty of supporting references show that an Edward Williams of Riverton was indeed a baseball player, local government official, and even an amateur thespian, it appears to be a different Williams – Edward R. Williams, not Edward H.
The Williams involved with the William-Wright Building is more likely the brother of Edward R. Williams, E.L.Williams, AKA Earl L. Williams.
E.L. Williams served as president of Cinnaminson Bank and treasurer for Riverton Country Club. As their building was nearing completion, he and Charles A. Wright served as officers of the Riverton-Palmyra Water Company at the same time. Williams was a charter member of the Riverton Improvement Association, an organization conceived with the aim of improving Riverton’s streets.
Williams’ position as a banker put him in a position to influence the growth of businesses for many years, including his selection later as treasurer for Evans Coal and Lumber in 1938.
Williams joined with Wright to become an early supporter of establishing a ferry service.
He established the Standard Index Card Co. at 701-707 Arch St. in Philadelphia and served as its president.
Wright served as a director of the Tacony-Palmyra Ferry Co., masterminded the building of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, and was on the original Cinnaminson Bank board of directors. He was an early supporter of the Riverton-Palmyra Water Co. and later served as its president, in addition to being active in many other civic and social capacities.
In 1942, in his 82nd year, he had 23 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Two years later, an automobile struck and killed him on his way to work.
Each gentleman was a pioneering mover and shaker of Riverton development.
One might assume that Riverton was ongoing a lot of building activity then because builder Louis F. Lowden was working on five residences at about the same time.
Back then, folks kept up on the progress of projects, politics, the comings and goings of neighbors, sales deals, and local affairs by reading weekly hometown newspapers.
For the kids in the audience, newspapers were printed publications usually issued daily, weekly, or at other regular times that provided news, views, features, and other information of public interest, often carrying advertising.
Kind of like the Facebook and Twitter of today, but no thousand-dollar device or batteries were required. This link will open a PDF file for the March 1924 issues of The New Era newspaper. It’s searchable (CNTRL+f), but the character recognition is not great.
Moving the Williams-Wright story along, The American Store, a grocery chain, was the first to enjoy the new digs in February 1923.
The store is visible in the background of the 1944 PHS photo shown earlier.
We hear complaints today about the high cost of eggs. According to dollartimes.com, those 45¢/dz eggs would be $7.72 today! The actual US City average cost per dozen for large Grade A eggs for Feb. 2023 (latest available data) is $4.21.
The next month, Theodoro’s Shoe Repair set up shop in the new building. Lawrence and Blanche Keating’s Drugstore opened its doors on the corner in May.
Perhaps no other business in the Williams Wright building has evoked such a flood of nostalgia from our senior generation than this long-gone gathering place.
Keating’s Drug Store carried “…a full line of patent medicines, gifts, stationery, toilet articles, candies, tobacco, greeting cards, ice cream, etc.” Keating’s Drug Store may have continued operation through the mid-1950s.
In July 1923, Riverton-Palmyra Water Company moved from across the street at 522 Main to a second-floor office in the Williams-Wright Building. Pretty shrewd business move, considering that Williams and Wright were officers in the company at the time, along with two other Wright relatives, Robert Knight and Walter Wright. The water company moved its office to Palmyra in 1929.
Clinton B. Woolston’s Star auto dealership came on board in January 1924. The accommodation provided for a 1369 sq. ft. showroom, 1040 sq. ft. workshop, and a 3190 sq. ft. car storage room.
The Woolstons were old hands at sales of vehicles, starting with his father, Charles T. Woolston. He made and sold carriages in Riverton on 7th St. near Main and later transitioned to selling automobiles in about 1905, just in time to shrewdly usher in the Dawn of the Motor Age.
In 1915, Clinton, Charles’ son, having spent ten years learning from his father, started out on his own in the industry at Front and Penn. Outgrowing that, he moved to Broad and Lippincott briefly and then to the new Williams Wright Building.
As indicated by Woolston’s late 1932 ads in newspapers, Clinton Woolston supplemented his sales of Plymouth, DeSoto, and Hupmobile autos by adding a line of refrigerators and radios; he added washing machines three years later.
Can you believe that in 1937, Riverton had three automobile dealerships and a service station within its borders?
Carvel Sparks, another car sales dealer, occupied the space in the Williams Wright Building left vacated by Woolston from about 1944 to 1958.
We covered many more details about his auto dealership in 2020 during the COVID lockdown. See more about Carvel Sparks here. He and his wife were very much an active part of the community from c1940-1960.
Over the years, other businesses have resided in the Williams Wright Building.
The Main Street side currently houses the law office of Thomas H. Ehrhardt at 527 Main, and The Nellie Bly Old Tyme Ice Cream Parlour at 529 Main. Ownership of Nellie Bly’s has changed hands since its opening in 2005.
Other establishments have come and gone… Lamon Associates Realtor, Loretta Turner Dance Studio (at least 1980-1983), and Yoga Tree have each previously occupied the corner location (531 Main). Also disappeared are Once Upon A Canvas, and Noreen Turner Photography on the Broad Street side, and on the Main Street side, Thomas H. Ehrhardt Law Offices, American Furniture (c1971-1974), and Salon Premier.
The May 2022 fire displaced numerous families from the upstairs apartments (#525-531), shuttered Revive Cafe and Bella Buds & Co. Floral Design Studio, and caused Nellie Bly’s to only sell pre-packaged pints for a time near the gazebo on Main Street. Dynasty Exteriors at 527 Main Street remains in business. Building repairs are underway, but it could be several more months.
Building owner, Joe Ranier, tells us, “Construction is coming along (although a little slow). We are currently reframing the entire 2nd floor. The roof is done, and we should be installing a new cornice soon. With any luck, the building should be back in service before the end of this year.
Did we miss any? What Williams Wright business do you remember? Send a comment and a photo if you can. -JMc
ADDED 3/18/2023: We did mistakenly omit a storefront from the current list. Dynasty Exteriors at 527 Main Street specializes in doors, siding, windows, and roofing.
ADDED: We mistakenly included Thomas H. Ehrhardt Law Offices at 527 Main, but the office had moved across the street to 524 Main in 2019. Thank you to Margaret Augustyn O’Donnell for pointing out that Loretta Turner Dance Studio was on the corner.