Our Museum for a Day came and went

Aggie Kennedy
Aggie Kennedy clothes a dressmaker’s form.
Susan Dechnik
Susan Dechnik took most of the photos here.
Cheryl Smekal, closest;  Aggie Kennedy, at right; Susan Dechnik, back
Cheryl Smekal, closest; Aggie Kennedy, at right; Susan Dechnik, back

The reason for the recent inactivity here on the website is that we have prepared for our display of artifacts that we call our Museum for a Day at the New Leaf Tea Room in cooperation with the Riverton Free Library’s biennial Candlelight House Tour.

The items come out to play for a day, then are packed away until we get another offer for some free exhibit space.
The items come out to play for a day, then are packed away until we get another offer for some free exhibit space.

Once every two years we get to break out of storage some choice HSR treasures to exhibit to the public. Afterwards, the items get packed away, and until the next time, this online virtual museum will have to do until we get a real permanent one.

We brought out some familiar chestnuts such as some Dreer’s Nursery items, our vintage clothing, and the Riverton Gun Club history book.

New additions to our exhibit repertoire include displays about Riverton’s War Memorial and Riverton’s military veterans, Riverton Yacht Club, and Anne Knight Ruff.

museum for a day_37I only just found a box postmarked 2011 in our storage space full of donated items relevant to the Yacht Club, particularly the Duster, that former resident Marty Carhart donated.

More details of the remarkable contents will be forthcoming in a later post, but for now, blueprints for building a Duster and two reels of 16mm movie film taken of the 1949 Duster Championship race were just two of the more notable items.

RYC 100th Anniversary book 1965
RYC 100th Anniversary book 1965

Also in that box, a 1965 book published for the 100th anniversary of the Riverton Yacht Club now serves as a startling reminder that 2015 will be their 150th anniversary. I made a poster outlining some of the milestones in the RYC’s history to go with the table display.

“Tempus fugit,” as my Latin teacher used to say. Tempus fugit, indeed. I think time has even picked up more speed after I passed sixty.

HSR Board Member Bill McDermott also pitched in as a Museum Guide. Turns out he had never heard the story about how Ed Merrill built the Duster in a workshop on the third floor of a house at 301 Main Street. There are probably many things we could all learn from each other if we could pool our resources. We have the bandwidth here if you have something to share.

Readers, please search those boxes tucked away in attics and basements for anything you may have that would help to piece together a history of the RYC’s last half-century. Something spectacular is sure to be planned to commemorate that milestone, and with so many knowledgeable people now living far afield the internet is a great place to collaborate.

I made another poster that explained about Anne Knight Ruff’s book, hoping it would result in some sales, but no luck. This book is a treasury of Riverton history c.1890-late 1900s and should be required reading for anyone living in this zip code.

museum for a day_17An exhibit about Riverton’s veterans included a poster with all the original names plus the names added since 2011. Longtime Riverton resident Daniel Goffredo lent us his World War II service uniform for the day.

Earlier this year the HSR bought a presentation projector that we could use for just this type of situation, so we set it up with a screen to show the much expanded Riverton Veterans Album.

Those old hometown newspapers that we got online in late 2012 have yielded a lot of anecdotal information about the people mentioned on the original War Memorial Honor Roll. Additionally, the newspaper files have been the source of many more news clippings about military personnel whom they described as being from Riverton.

museum for a day_13museum for a day_02That might be the reason if you were to find a person mentioned in the pages of the Veterans Album, but their name is not on the War Memorial Honor Roll.

I showed the presentation to our own HSR Board members Nancy Hall and Elsie Waters, but the best part was listening to them give the color commentary as they watched.  – John McCormick

revised  12/22: added ten photos to gallery below



Your November 2013 newsletter is in the mail

Animation stuffing GN Nov 2013Santa reads GN (779x768)It seems everybody can’t wait to get their hands on the latest Historical Society of Riverton newsletter.

The November 2013 Gaslight News is in the mail. Our newsletter staff (actually the Mrs. and I) picked up the copies from the printer in Pemberton this morning, stuffed them into 150 envelopes, and posted them this afternoon.

You can also find a PDF file online.

In it you’ll read how an 1895 news clipping triggered Carl McDermott’s endearing remembrance of his grandfather, who worked at Dreer’s, and his grandmother, a Riverton telephone switchboard operator. Animation HSR 2014 dues

Patricia Smith Solin’s timely article on the Candlelight House Tour traces the history of this enduring Riverton tradition, now in its 53rd year.

A bit of publicity for the next meeting and updates about some other Society efforts round out the four-page issue.

Returning HSR members will recall that November is the month to pay dues. Members will find a form in the envelope with their newsletter. We invite you to join wherever you are and urge you to add your voice to this growing community resource. Find a printable PDF form here. – John McCormick


Gingersnaps recipe and two milestone photos from a lifelong Riverton fan

Mrs. Elsie Waters on right; Mrs. Susan Dechnik on left; fast disappearing cookies on table
Mrs. Elsie Waters on right; Mrs. Susan Dechnik on left; fast disappearing cookies on table

In the summary for the last HSR meeting held at Riverton School in October I mentioned the scrumptious homemade gingersnaps that HSR Board member Mrs. Elsie Waters made for the refreshment table. You may have missed the post if you never check out the Programs & Events tab.

gingersnapsElsie is always making something unexpected yet so perfect for the occasion.

Case in point –  those delectable spicy ginger cookies were just the thing to get us all in a fall mood for the first meeting after the summer break. Click on this link for the PDF file for Elsie’s Old Fashion Ginger Snaps. You can print out a facsimile of Elsie’s two-sided recipe card.

Very classy, Elsie.

Elsie Showell and brother John, Riverton July 4, c.1920
Elsie Showell and brother John, Riverton July 4, c.1920
Elsie Showell Waters, 2013 Riverton July 4 Parade Marshal
Elsie Showell Waters, 2013 Riverton July 4 Parade Marshal

My two favorite photos of Elsie.

Fittingly, she is in a carriage in both shots.

She has fit in a lifetime of Riverton memories and experiences in between those two moments.

Mrs. Elsie S. Waters, Riverton fan 95 years
Mrs. Elsie S. Waters, Riverton fan 95 years

Readers may recall seeing pictures and references to Elsie before, as she is a vital part of Riverton and exemplifies what being an active member of the Society means.

Very classy, indeed.

The search box, above right, will point you to more references on this website about the Showell, Waters, and Wright families. – John McCormick

A souvenir folder of pre-WWII Camden, NJ

Camden Souvenir Folder cover
Camden Souvenir Folder cover

The south wall of Camden City Hall’s gray granite façade bears the uplifting inscription, “In a dream I saw a city invincible,” a reference to a line from this poem by Walt Whitman.

I Dream’d in a Dream
Walt Whitman

I dream’d in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth,
I dream’d that was the new city of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love, it led the rest,
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.

Started on the cusp of the Great Depression in 1929, and completed two years later, that neoclassical house of government for the City and County of Camden still dominates the Camden skyline over eight decades later.

Souvenir Folder of Camden c.1930s
Souvenir Folder of Camden c.1930s

This Souvenir Folder of Camden, New Jersey, probably dating from the early 1930s, has a description of an industrial and commercial metropolis of seemingly unlimited potential (PDF of description here.)

Ironic, I know. Many have recounted and analyzed reasons for Camden’s long descent into its current despairing state.

However, I have not come here to bash Camden, but to praise the Camden that was my hometown for my first 21 years.

These Depression-era old postcard photos predate my memories of growing up in North and East Camden in the late 1940s through early 1970s, to be sure, but those experiences truly shaped the outcome of this baby-boomer’s life.

View at full screen all 22 Camden Souvenir Folder images in this PDF slide show (1.99MB).

What buildings, places, or landmarks do you think would make it into a Souvenir Folder of Riverton, New Jersey? Let us know here, on our Facebook page, or email to rivertonhistory@gmail.com – John McCormick

Scandalous rumors and gingersnaps served at HSR fall meeting

HSR Vice President Mrs. Pat Brunker welcomes members to the October meeting.
HSR Vice President Mrs. Pat Brunker welcomes members to the October meeting.

HSR members converged on Riverton School’s library to reconnect with colleagues after the summer hiatus and hear Society Vice President Mrs. Pat Brunker outline some of the organization’s projects for the coming term.

One agenda item of particular interest to homeowners may be the revival of awarding historical plaques. Many Riverton homes and buildings have displayed these badges explaining the structure’s historic pedigree for some time, but the HSR has not granted any new plaques for several years.

Pat Brunker (l.) and HSR President Phyllis Rogers (r.) display a new plaque.
Pat Brunker (l.) and HSR President Phyllis Rogers (r.) display a new plaque.

Now available—the Historical Society of Riverton will award historic plaques for qualifying structures, minimum 100 years old, of particular architectural significance or of local historical significance. Call 856-786-8422 for an application which the HSR will review. Plaque donation: $150.

Further details on the simplified application process, program particulars, and an online application will be forthcoming in an upcoming post.

Then, Vice President Cheryl Smekal (yes, we have two VPs) told of an upcoming Dickens Tea by returning presenter Alisa DuPuy at the New Leaf on Thursday, November 21 at 7:00 p.m.  Your $15 includes tea and dessert, an evening’s diversion and entertainment, and supports the preservation efforts of the HSR.  Call 856-786-0323 for reservations.

Cheryl Smekal, 2011 Museum for a Day Curator
Cheryl Smekal, 2011 Museum for a Day Curator

Cheryl further explained that on December 7, in conjunction with Riverton Free Library’s Holiday House Tour, Phyllis Rogers and the New Leaf Tea Room will again host an HSR Museum for a Day, last done in 2011, in which the public may inspect rarely displayed artifacts, ephemera, vintage clothing, and photos from the Historical Society of Riverton’s archives. She invited anyone with something to loan for display to contact her at 856-829-9375.

Indentured servant Dorothy Stanaitis shocked this audience with scandalous tales of colonial society she overheard while serving tea.
Indentured servant Dorothy Stanaitis shocked this audience with scandalous tales of colonial society she overheard while serving tea.

Cheryl introduced our evening’s presenter, essayist and certified Philadelphia tour guide, Dorothy Stanaitis.

Speaking from the perspective of a colonial-era indentured servant who has eavesdropped  while serving tea to her well-to-do Philadelphia employers, Ms. Stanaitis divulged scandalous tidbits about American and British figures of her day.

She surprised even the most ardent of history buffs among us with some of the revelations included in her well-researched soliloquy that the history books left out.

Propriety, however, prevents me from repeating such gossip here. You may have to book this chatty domestic for your next club gathering and hear her Scandals, Rumors, and Dirty Rotten Lies for yourselves.

fall refreshmentsAfterwards, light refreshment accompanied many spirited conversations as members resumed that familiar society pastime as though the summer had not interceded at all.

Palmyra Police Officers
Palmyra Police Officers

Meanwhile, Dr. Cliff Johnson obliged by identifying some Palmyra police officers in a scan of a photo that I have had since 2004 when Betsy Ransome kindly let me scan about two dozen old postcards in her choice collection.

Elsie Waters treated us to homemade gingersnaps.
Elsie Waters treated us to homemade gingersnaps.

She used to hang them in her store, Grayson’s Flowers, on Broad Street in Palmyra. Betsy was one of the generous contributors who got the virtual image archive displayed on these pages off to its start.

Eventually, most discussion threads intersected on the wonderful contents of the refreshment table and, in particular, the remarkable homemade gingersnaps that Elsie Waters brought.

The recipe, you ask. I’ll check with Elsie and get back to you.

Please join the conversation about Riverton history here or on our Facebook page. – John McCormick


Our September newsletter content runneth over

steedle submarine (1280x1269)Imagine “Pat” Steedle, Riverton expressman, politician, Rotarian, song leader, former Boy Scout and what not, sitting in the darkness along a Pennsylvania highway in his X Y Z’s drying his clothes over a bonfires.

That is how the April 23, 1931 issue of The New Era recounted for its readers’ amusement  an experience that George Steedle had with his moving van. Sandy Steedle sent us this great story about her great-grandfather, the subject of the feature article in this last newsletter, “Geo. D. Steedle moved millions with Steedle’s Express & Philburco buses.

Tacony-Palmyra Ferry Cert edit1 (734x1600)Enjoy this humorous essay from an over eighty year old edition of The New Era, “Pat Steedle and His Truck Imitate Submarine on Highway at Reading.” The necessary concession to the budgetary restraints placed on the Gaslight News which limits each issue to four pages sometimes results in some good stuff not being able to get past this editor’s desk.

Such was the case with this article and the scanned images of a Tacony-Palmyra Ferry stock certificate I bought off an eBay auction last January.

There are many more stories about local characters in the old Riverton and Palmyra newspapers preserved here. Let us know if you find a topic which you would like to see  further explored here or in the Gaslight News. We welcome readers’ submissions. – John McCormick

Tacony-Palmyra Ferry Cert edit2 (1600x1185)

Riverton’s new grandstand shapes up as another construction milestone passes

photo grandstand 9-27-13 01 (1024x1024)photo grandstand 9-27-13 02 (1024x1024)photo grandstand 9-27-13 03 (1024x1024)photo grandstand 9-27-13 04 (1024x1024)The construction of the new grandstand for Riverton Memorial Park reached another milestone with the fitting of the concrete joists to the configuration that is shaping up for completion, possibly in a month or so.

Borough Councilman Joe Creighton passes on these shots of a crane lowering the joists into place on September 27.

photo grandstand 9-24-13 02 (1024x1024)

Keith Herndon

Just days before, Keith Herndon joined his brother, Mark, and son, Korey, as the family business proceeded to raise courses of perfectly aligned brick veneer on the cinder block structure.

Mark tells me that an electrician and plumber have started their work as the masonry work continues, but I have not been by at the right time to catch them.

photo grandstand 9-24-13 03 (1024x1024)Find other references to Riverton Memorial Park’s original grandstand and this new one by searching for “grandstand” in the search query box at the top of the page.

The following photos illustrate the exacting work of these skilled masons as well as another step in the progress of this much-anticipated borough project.  – John McCormick

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Fall brings a new season of HSR programs and newsletters

did not know thatIf fall is in the air, then it must mean that the Historical Society of Riverton will rev up its meetings and programs soon, and their newsletter will resume publication. By now the September Gaslight News should be in members’ hands.

I don’t consider a newsletter issue a triumph unless I have made at least a serious grammatical error or typo with bonus points for misstatements of fact. The PDF file linked above fixes my misspelling of the name of my longtime teaching colleague, friend, and now HSR President, Mrs. Phyllis Rodgers.

There goes my Christmas bonus.

Come see what else is new at the first meeting of the season on Thursday, October 10 at 7:00 pm, at Riverton School when Scandals, Rumors, and Dirty Rotten Lies will be the presentation.

As always, Readers, do let us know about errors or weigh in with your own reaction to any topic or image seen here.

Welcome back. – John McCormick

One less tree in Tree City

town tree near Cedar Street 1
town tree near Cedar Street 1

I was at work (my excuse for infrequent posts this summer) when one of our rivertonhistory.com  stringers, Susan Dechnik, sent me a text message:

“An enormous tree fell, just missing my house. If you aren’t at work you might want a pic. It’s a town tree, mr. Edmonds says…”

Don’t you love autocorrect? That had to be Barry Emens. Mr. Emens is the authority on all things of the arbor variety since he is chairperson of Riverton’s Shade Tree Board.

I wrote back:

“If you get any more details or take photos pls forward. I will try to post them.”

town tree near Cedar Street 2
town tree near Cedar Street 2

Susan lost several shrubs when the tree fell, but she managed to save three cucumbers, two tomatoes, and one black swallowtail caterpillar from the wreckage.

Later, she confirmed with Barry Emens that the black oak tree was the biggest town tree in Riverton.

At right, you see May Tree Service cutting up and hauling off the fallen tree. Part of it remained standing.

The preliminary forensic examination shows that the tree fell about 12:30 a.m. September 16 because it had rotted inside and was not due to storm damage.

There is a flattened garden under that fallen tree.
There is a flattened garden under that fallen tree.

tree-city-logo[1]This whole episode gave me reason to check out the Shade Tree Board’s page on the Borough website. Clearly, Riverton is a place that takes its trees seriously. The National Arbor Day Foundation has recognized Riverton as a “TREE CITY USA” for the past 25 years.

Among other things, the Shade Tree Board conducts a census of our trees to tell us the species, location, size and health of each one in town.

The garden before the tree fell
The garden before the tree fell


So if we are keeping score, Riverton’s tree population of 2474 just diminished by one.


Lucky for Mrs. D that it was a town tree. It means that it is on town property so the removal will not be at her expense. It was fortunate, too, that it happened at night and not when she was out tending her beautiful garden.


True or false?

  • A homeowner may fertilize a tree at the curb.

    Tree City sign, Riverton Rd.
    Tree City sign, Riverton Rd.
  • It is OK to attach a ‘lost cat” sign or a yard sale to a tree advertising a yard sale to a tree in the park.
  • It is OK to plant a tree at the street to replace one that died without a permit.
Tree City sign on Broad near Nat'l Casein
Tree City sign on Broad near Nat’l Casein


We’ll make this easy. They are all false. Chapter 35 of the Borough of Riverton’s Tree Ordinances explaining the organization and function of the Shade Tree Board and the care and maintenance of town trees may make for dull reading, but the information you find there may answer some questions you may have about what one may do, or not do, regarding the trees at the street.


Tree city sign on Broad across from Stan's Auto
Tree City sign on Broad across from Stan’s Auto


It’s not all rules, though. There is a Homeowner’s Guide to Beautiful, Safe, and Healthy Trees in Riverton, and information on getting a federal tax deduction for making a donation for the purchase of new street trees and how to get free wood chip mulch.

DSC01009 (Copy)


According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, planting trees around your home doesn’t cost, it pays off in increased property values and lower fuel costs. Just seeing a tree can help reduce stress. And don’t forget all of those eco-science benefits you learned in junior high about absorbing carbon dioxide and pumping out oxygen.

There may be one less tree now in this Tree City, but it is good to know that the ones left are in good care. – Gaslight News editor, John McCormick