Riverton’s 116th Children’s Parade – a classic that never gets old

Elsie and John Showell, July 4, 1920
Elsie and John Showell, July 5, 1920

As families and friends again congregated on Independence Day in Riverton, inevitably many paused to reflect on other Fourths of days gone by.

No doubt this year’s Parade Marshal Mrs. Elsie Waters has stored up many memories since that photo was taken of her and brother John sitting in wonderment at the 1920 July Fourth celebration.

FUN FACT: As July 4 fell on Sunday in 1920, Riverton’s Glorious Fourth was held on Monday the fifth.

1920 Fourth of July Celebration Program
1920 Fourth of July Celebration Program

Previous posts have addressed the origin and changes in Riverton’s Glorious Fourth over the past 116 years since the parade began in 1897, much of it gleaned from the research of Mrs. Betty B. Hahle, Town Historian, now passed. More than 100 of her signature “Yesterday” columns written for the Historical Society of Riverton’s newsletter, the Gaslight News still serve as the most authoritative record of our town’s early days.

July 4, 1920 program details, New Era 7-2-1920, pg2This previously posted four-page 1920 Program (above, right) details the activities enjoyed that day. HSR member Gerald Blaney generously allowed us to scan his rare eBay find and display it here.

The July 1920  New Era issues, just digitalized through a joint Riverton Free Library and HSR project late in 2012, provide new insights into Independence Day festivities for that year.

WWI signet ring top
WWI signet ring top

The clipping at left from the July 2, 1920 New Era newspaper advises readers of two added features to the program that included a presentation of gold rings to veterans of World War I.

Later, the New Era recapped the results of the many  games and summarized the patriotic observances witnessed by “fully five-thousand men, women, and children.”  The Children’s Parade had 792 kids vying for prizes such as best decorated baby coach, velocipede, or kiddie car.

July 4, 2013 Palm Card

Children gathered on the riverbank and scrambled as a Curtiss F. Boat hydroplane brought over for the occasion showered them with hundreds of tickets good for merchandise at either one of three local stores.

You can see the issue as a PDF file just as it appeared to Rivertonians 93 years ago. (You will need the free Adobe Reader program if you do not have Adobe Acrobat.) Scroll down to see PDF page 3 For the July 2 issue and PDF page 7 for the July 9, 1920 issue.

Follow the Leader
Follow the Leader – photo by Susan Dechnik

Were they the good ol’ days? Absolutely.

However, we do not dwell on the past, but simply acknowledge it as we value the contributions of those countless citizens who have helped Riverton develop into the unique place it is today.

The following photos and video demonstrate that for many, the experiences of this July 4, 2013 may just as well be recalled in the not too distant future as “the good ol’ days.” Absolutely!

 

Photographer Richard W. Pringle, Jr. kindly sent these photos that include a few great close-ups.

 

Here is a 4min:11sec, 239MB Windows Media Video File showing some highlights of the parade.

Wade McDaniels, the Snow Cone Man, brings cool treats and cheer to the Riverton Parade.
Wade McDaniels, the Snow Cone Man, brings cool treats and cheer to the Riverton Parade.

You never know who you will meet on the Fourth. Here is my former Riverton School colleague and snow cone entrepreneur, Wade McDaniels. After selling the frosty confections here for over twenty years, I guess that feat qualifies Mr. McDaniels to be included in the record of Riverton history.

Read more about my friend Wade in the phillyburbs.com  post by Burlington County Times Staff Writer Peg Quann. She interviewed the coolest Riverton School maintenance supervisor who has been moonlighting on this summer job since his first gig selling at a Beach Boys concert in Philadelphia during the 1976 Bicentennial. Chilly treats a tradition on Riverton’s Fourth by Peg Quann

The image gallery below illustrates what we remember in any typical Riverton Fourth of July observance: family, friends, flags, festivities, fire engines, fun, and food. What does a Classic Riverton Fourth of July mean to you?

The Fourth is often a time for reconnecting with others who have put some miles and years between themselves and their old hometown. Palmyra native and PHS alum Gary Weart stopped by to see Phyllis Rodgers and family while vacationing from his home in South Carolina. Here he is talking to Phyllis as she tallies the 320 children participating in this year’s parade.

Gary Weart, standing, pauses from taking photos to talk to Phyllis Rodgers, HSR President.
Gary Weart, standing, pauses from taking photos to talk to Phyllis Rodgers, HSR President.

It turns out the former teacher, whose great-grandfather James Taylor Weart served as Palmyra’s first mayor from 1923-1928, is a keen photo enthusiast who captures images with a truly memorable perspective.

Enjoy this slideshow by Mr. Gary Weart, book author, former social studies teacher, administrator, and athletic coach who founded Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), and received the Presidential Service Award from President Bill Clinton.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is still a little room left here for your own memories and recollections of July Fourth – actually for any year at all that you wish to share. Just contact us at rivertonhistory@usa.com – John McCormick

P.S.: This just in from Tracy Hansen Foedisch – more photos at http://riverton4thofjuly.com/photo_gallery2013.html

Anticipation builds toward Riverton’s 115th Glorious July 4th

Bouquets of patriotic red, white, and blue decorations have burst into bloom this past week as Riverton readies for its 115th “Glorious Fourth.”

Patriotic displays have sprouted up all over town – Jim McQuaide, manager of Tristate HVAC, has decked out the landmark building for its first Independence Day under new ownership.
Now if the predicted thunderstorms will just hold off, the shoreline (shown above on July 2) should be awash in a flood of spectators viewing the Sixth Annual Great Riverton Raft Race at about 5:30 p.m. tomorrow.

2012 July 4th Program – Click on image to download PDF file of entire booklet
You can see the entire schedule of events in the 2012 July 4th Program found here. Click here for the official website of the July 4th Committee.

The cover illustration from this year’s July Fourth Program shows an image of the famous “Riverton Nine” baseball team of 1872 taken from the baseball memorabilia collection of Bob Beishline of Palmyra.

 

 

Bob Beishline’s original photo of 1872 Riverton baseball team
In  2002, Bob, Mike Robinson, Betty Hahle and a few others were among the first to help me start what has eventually grown into a huge virtual online collection of vintage images by kindly letting me scan their postcard collections.  

 

Bill Hall’s Sporting Life clipping
Later, Bill Hall provided me with a Sporting Life magazine clipping showing the same team. When I showed the photos during a presentation at a Society meeting, it was William Harris who explained the caption in the photo. FREDERICK K. MOORE CENTER simply meant that Moore was in the center.

 

“Frannie” Cole, 1938 Riverton Athletic Assn. baseball team

All of this concern about baseball is because Mr. Fran Cole, HSR member and lifetime resident of Riverton, who is Parade Marshall this year, used to be quite a baseball athlete and remains among the most fanatic of Phillies fans. He was even inducted into the Palmyra High School Sports Hall of Fame.

As a result of interviewing Mr. Cole about his memories as a young man working for his grandparents’ Cole Dairy during the 1930s, I had several photos of Fran from his baseball playing days. (See related 2010 Gaslight News story here and his oral history interview in three segments here:  Mr. Francis Cole Remembers Cole Dairy Part 1Part 2Part 3. )

Fran Cole – photo by Bennett Landsman

 

So by an extraordinary amount of luck and best laid plans we here at the Society just happened to be able to help out July Fourth Committee Chairperson, Mrs. Tracy Hansen Foedisch, when she asked for a hand with supplying some images for this year’s program booklet. It’s nice when we can help reveal some part of Riverton’s past with what we have collected. In a past post I compared the task to completing a jigsaw puzzle.

It is an extraordinary privilege, and no small responsibility, to be able to curate the archives of the Historical Society of Riverton for the use of Rivertonians.  As family and friends congregate during this July Fourth celebration, may I interrupt for a commercial message?

Please help preserve Riverton history by donating your Riverton related photos, collectibles, documents, and memorabilia, or at least send us a scan or photo. If you can help us in this endeavor, please contact us.

2012 July 4th Palm Card – both sides

During the parade HSR members Paul Daly, Gerald Weaber, and myself will be distributing this year’s edition of the Historical Society’s July 4th Palm Cards. The earliest one I have of these is from 1987. Former HSR President Dan Campbell may have started the tradition which  seems to have continued through 2004 when it apparently stopped.

We resumed the tradition again last year when HSR Treasurer Paul Daly wondered out loud, ” How come we don’t give out those cards on July Fourth anymore?”  (See more July 4th Palm Cards here.) If you have any cards for years not shown in this list, please send us a scan of both sides. July 4th Palm Cards: 1987-1990, 1993-1995, 1997, 1999, 2000-2004.

Tristate HVAC, a former post office, decked out for Independence Day
If you have some time to kill, type “July 4” or “July Fourth” in the search box at the top right of the home page. That should result in many hits for earlier posts and images related to the holiday.

Have a Glorious and Safe Fourth of July wherever you find yourself. Check back here later for more July Fourth posts.  – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

Treasure Day 2012 and revising the Riverton Walking Tour

If you picked up a cool collectible or Riverton related artifact at Treasure Day, please tell us about it by email or facebook. Send a scan or a photo so that we can at least share vicariously in enjoying your bargain.

While browsing through the great yearly Riverton town-wide yard sale that is aptly named “Treasure Day,” a man selling flowers by a table in front of Christ Church told me a visitor had asked him about the Riverton Walking Tour leaflet .

1989 Riverton Walking Tour pamphlet

Funny you should ask. We’re working on revising the 1989 publication. But first, some history.

In a blog entry for January 2011, called Betty’s Sage Advice I posted scans of the informative Riverton Walking Tour leaflet that has been available for many years at the Riverton Free Library for a quarter. The suggestion to produce a self-guided walking tour first grew out of an October 1979 Society meeting. HSR members Lenore Probsting and Louise Vaughn collaborated on producing the straightforward guide that debuted in May 1981.

By 1989, Betty Hahle weighed in with additional research and that revised edition has served our purposes well, but after more than twenty years, it too needs an update.

Betty wrote in 1981 that the Walking Tour “…. is by no means a complete list of all there is to be seen, but it is a good place to begin…”

After some discussion, several interested members met to discuss revising the Walking Tour. Still a work in progress, we have a draft of the text for the first tour and could use some input about what other information we could include.

Betty once told me to not forget to record the history that is happening today. Accordingly,  we would like to include some facts about these properties and their occupants for the times in which we live as well as for the times of their construction and original occupants. If you know of a feature not listed in a place’s description, or a tradition, event, anecdote, or a famous or infamous person connected to an address, please submit your suggestions  by email.

1. Historical Marker, Broad & Main Sts. (This will have a brief general history of Riverton.) Proceed along Main St.

2. 501 Main Street c.1860. Who would guess that this charming Gothic style home was once the site of F.C. Cole Dairy c. 1903-1940?

3. 410-412 Main Street c.1874. Second Empire brick dwelling with mansard roof. Front bay has round-top windows with ironwork cresting. Elaborate cornice with rosettes between brackets. Note the iron fence.

4. 408 Main Street c.1856. Italianate style, Eastlake front porch.  First floor had been doctors’ offices from 1909.  In 1930s the upper floors had a “lying-in” hospital in which many local births occurred. Now a private residence undergoing renovations.

5. 406 Main Street c.1855. Clapboard house with mansard roof.  Turret with conical roof and curved windows on left side was originally an open porch. It was converted to office/waiting room when Dr. Marcy purchased it in 1887 (for $7500.!) Later it became a music room. Notice the use of narrow clapboard and shingles, complimenting each other. On right side is an oriel window, with scrolled brackets beneath. Notice also the chimney—it is wider at top than at bottom. Brick walk, herringbone pattern.  Res. of Dr. Alexander Marcy starting 1887; remained in the family for almost a century.

6. 404 Main Street 1868. Italianate style, clapboard house.  This house and its next door neighbor – No. 402 – are “sister” houses; both designed and built by local entrepreneur/ realtor/census taker/Civil War veteran, Edward Hackney Pancoast in 1868.  Front door has fan-light and sidelights.  Floor to ceiling windows with small iron balconies, added when veranda was removed.

7. 402 Main Street c.1868. Second Empire style. Concave mansard roof; floor to ceiling front windows; paneled shutters. For many years the Pancoast lived at 404 Main and operated this popular boarding house that was known as the “Home Mansion.”

8. 400 Main Street c.1853. Late Georgian style, clapboard home; mortise and tenon construction; front porch removed. Built for home of Squire Louis Ourt.

9. 305 Main St., Christ Episcopal Church 1884. Gothic style, Trenton brownstone, slate roof. Architect, John Fraser. Note genuine Tiffany window, west wall, given in memory of Louis A. Godey, publisher of Godey’s Lady’s Book, seven different iron and stone Celtic crosses on roof, boot scrapers on step, and wrought iron fence. (Electrified replica gaslights are new). Christ Church Rectory 1868. Second Empire style, Trenton brownstone, mansard roof and dormers. John Eraser, architect. Porch added 1883. (Parish House behind rectory by Fraser’s son, 1895.)

10. 308 Main Street c.1870. Second Empire architecture. Mmmm..good! From 1872, until his death in 1900 it was the home of Joseph Campbell, founder of Campbell’s Soup Company. Beautiful frame house with mansard roof covered with hexagon shaped tiles and edged with elaborate iron cresting. Notice carriage mounting block and hitching post at the curb.

11. 306 Main St., Riverton Library 1855. Small Carpenter-Gothic board and batten style cottage. Built for Dr. A. Willits; res. of George Senat 1863 to c.1900. Mrs. Sarah Morris Ogden purchased it in 1907, and donated it the next year to the Riverton Library Assn. in memory of her late husband, Riverton’s first mayor, Edward H. Ogden (1894).

12. 304 Main Street 1858. Victorian home of indeterminate style. Eastlake style decorative woodwork added to front porch in recent years. The town’s first telephone (1886) was installed there. Sara and Milton Cowperthwaite purchased the home in 1888 and promptly opened a combined drugstore and US Post Office in a room on the first floor.

13. 301 Main Street c.1852. Italianate style. One of Riverton’s earliest homes. In the 1930’s, owner Owen Merrill designed and built a simple sailboat in a room on the 3rd floor. He and some friends lowered the craft from a window, took it down to the river, and christened it a “Duster”. It became a world class sailboat.

14. 207 Main Street 1884. Queen Anne style 2½ story frame residence with hipped roof and cross gables. Note patterned shingles over clapboard, elaborate projecting bay windows, floor length windows on first floor, right side, and sweeping veranda. This house won an award in 1992 Burl. Co Freeholders for restoration,, rehabilitation, and preservation and planning.

15. 213 Howard St., PORCH CLUB  1909. This is the Adirondack style clubhouse of the Porch Club of Riverton, formed in 1890 by eight young women. Today it has about 170 members. The name was suggested because of the earliest meeting places; it is one of the oldest women’s clubs in NJ. The Club’s interest in the health and education of children brought about many positive changes.

16. 600 Fifth St., RIVERTON PUBLIC SCHOOL 1910. Riverton’s first one-room frame public school was built in 1865 on the site of the present school’s blacktop; a larger one replaced that in 1892. This brick structure was erected for $40,000. Additions came about in 1933, 1955, 1973.

17. 505 Howard Street, Riverton Fire Company 1890. In 1886 volunteers from Palmyra and Riverton formed Independence Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 of Riverton and Palmyra, headquartered in Palmyra.  After a disastrous fire destroyed Roberts General Store at Howard & Main Sts. and consumed several homes along Main Street in 1890, Riverton saw the need to form its own fire company— Riverton Fire Company No. 1.

Yes, this list has fewer items than the original Walking Tour, but we want to include a little more content for each place on the tour. A tour with ten fewer stops might be completed in less time. It looks like we’ll need to plan for at least one or two more tours and have a separate Children’s Tour. This first set of Walking Tour stops are mostly along Main and Broad from Broad to Third Street.  Remember, it is a work in progress, and suggestions, corrections, and criticism are invited.

John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

 

As citizens dealt with the Great Depression in 1933, Dreer’s prepared for the Philadelphia Flower Show

New Era masthead March 23, 1933

Marge Habernn’s recent donation of a rare 1933 New Era newspaper proves here to be grist for the first of several posts from this blog mill.

Readers of that nickel weekly hometown gazette in the first quarter of March 1933 were no doubt hopeful to receive some good news that would release them from the grip of economic hardships brought on by the Great Depression.

An upbeat editorial titled “American Morale” supported the recent “bank holiday” and remarked on the amazing power given President Roosevelt during this “new deal,” calling it a “great event.”

Apparently, the Palmyra National Bank was reopening after being put into the hands of a conservator.  The article explained that old accounts were restricted— “no checks against them will be honored.” The good news—the bank recorded $33,000 in deposits from Saturday to Tuesday.

Historical note: President Roosevelt had only just assumed the presidency of a nation in economic chaos on March 4. Prior to his taking office, there had been a month-long run on banks. He immediately declared a nationwide bank holiday that shut down the banking system for a week. Congress introduced the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 on March 9 and passed it the same evening. Roosevelt appealed directly to Americans to prevent a resumption of bank withdrawals in his first Fireside Chat on March 12. The following week banks reopened on as depositors stood in line to return their hoarded cash.

Riverton’s slashed tax rate made the front page—down fifty-eight cents to $3.60 from $4.18 the previous year. Borough and school taxes took hard hits, with employees taking a ten percent pay cut. They even pared down the fund for Riverton’s beloved Fourth of July celebrations. The dire situation downstream prompted Palmyra to issue scrip with which to pay teachers and town employees that was acceptable for payment on taxes, sewer fees, and other such borough indebtedness.

Philadelphia Flower Show, New Era, March 23, 1933, pg 3

Elsewhere in the paper, the Welfare Committee urgently appealed to the generosity of Riverton and Cinnaminson for more funds so that it could aid 133 registered unemployed. They also needed children’s and men’s shoes of every size.(Riverton population would decline during the decade from 1930-1940 from 2483 to 2354, a 5.2% drop)

Things were tough all over, kids.

An ad on page three for the Philadelphia Flower Show was a familiar sign of spring. If one could not live like a millionaire in these tight times, for a 75¢ admission, at least they could go to the Philadelphia Flower Show and see “a million dollars’ worth of fragrant blossoming plants, many in varieties shown for the first time.”

The Philadelphia Flower Show had been a Philadelphia tradition since 1829 when twenty-five Pennsylvania Horticultural Society members showed off their horticultural treasures in a building on Chestnut Street. Billed as “largest indoor flower show in the world,” the Philadelphia Flower Show continues this week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center from Sunday, March 4 – Sunday, March 11, 2012.

Dreer Flower Show, New Era, March 23, 1933, pg 2
New Dawn 1932 Dreer Garden Book pg 134

The employees of Henry A. Dreer very likely must have prepared for some time for the upcoming Philadelphia Flower Show. A page two column, “Dreer’s Exhibit at the Flower Show” gave New Era readers an insider’s preview of the elaborate display of water lilies in a pool encircling a piece of statuary and a full 6,000 square feet of space devoted entirely to a garden of Dreer’s famed roses.

Among rose growers, the announcement of a new hybrid was, and still is, a highly anticipated event, even in tough times. The first patented plant in the world was “New Dawn,” introduced by Henry Dreer in 1930. Decades later, the repeat-flowering climbing rose remains a classic choice for gardeners today.

Mrs. J.D. Eisele Rose Dreer Garden Book 1934, pg 166-167
The star of the show in 1933 was the sensational new dark cerise-pink, Mrs. J. D. Eisele, named in honor of the wife of then-president of the Dreer firm.

For the rest of this post, I refer you to what former Riverton Town Historian, Mrs. Betty B. Hahle, wrote for her “Yesterday” column in the December 1977 Gaslight News about the impact of Dreer’s on Riverton. Betty’s column follows exactly as she wrote it 35 years ago.

– John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

Yesterday

Dreer greenhouses

Dreer’s Nurseries in Riverton were known throughout the world. It was founded in Philadelphia in 1838 as a seed and plant farm, prospered and grew, moved, and in 1873 located permanently in Riverton.  It became the town’s largest industry, and was instrumental in its development from a tiny resort area to a bustling community of families who built homes and churches and who were active in a large number of clubs and civic organizations.

Original Calvary Presbyterian Church

The site had been selected 5 years before, influenced by available land, proximity to major cities, and excellent transportation (railroad and boat). It spread northward from Cinnaminson St., on both sides of the railroad, to cover about 100 acres. On the river side of the railroad were greenhouses covering almost 8 acres which, in the early 1900s, required 3000 tons of coal per season to heat. At the same time, 150 men were regularly employed in gardens, packing sheds, and other parts of the Nurseries, and in the busy season the number increased to 200.

Mrs. Dreer presented a pulpit to the Presbyterian church, a memorial to Henry A. Dreer, which both had been instrumental in founding the year after the nursery came to Riverton.

Dreer lily ponds – Riverton

The Nurseries became an integral part of the town. Dreer’s whistle sent many a housewife scurrying to have a meal on the table when her husband or son came home for lunch, and was a dependable check on the old parlor clock.

A leisurely Sunday afternoon found many people, visitors and residents alike, strolling through magnificent greenhouse showrooms of rare specimens from all over the world, or through the rose gardens, where over 500 varieties of standard and hybridized roses bloomed.

Philadelphia Flower Show medal – Mrs. J.D. Eisele Rose

Or to the lily ponds, over 8 acres of them along the creek and on both sides of the railroad, where some specimen plants had pads 6 feet across and could support a man’s weight, and where not only goldfish swam, but also some tropical varieties accidentally imported along with the water plants. In the 1930s it was even possible to fly over the acres of flowers in bloom in a small open plane (remember the little airport on S-17). Helen Van Pelt Wilson illustrated her garden books with pictures taken at Dreer’s Nurseries, and in some of the local gardens. And at the Philadelphia Flower Show, Dreer’s roses were consistent 1st place winners.

The late Town Historian, Mrs. Betty B. Hahle

After a century of developing improved strains of vegetables, grasses, small fruits, and many flowers and shrubs, Dreer’s Nurseries closed their doors for the last time, during WW II. In less than 30 years the stores, parking lots, houses and apartments and industries that replaced the nurseries have erased it all, making it hard to picture the beauty that was once there. – BBH 1977

(Some inf. from The New Era, Christmas, 1909)

Dreer rose trial grounds 1932 Garden Book, pg 120

Let’s do this more often.

HSR Board Members Mrs. Cheryl Smekal (left) and Mrs. Nancy Hall (right) make displays ready for our Museum-for-a-Day

A longer entry follows than most, but it’s been awhile and I have some catching up to do.

A week ago Saturday (Dec. 3) evening from 4-9 p.m. the Historical Society set up shop at the New Leaf for a one day only exhibition of seldom seen treasures from its collections and the consensus among visitors was, “You should do this more often.” People stopping by during their Library sponsored six-stop Candlelight House Tour examined the various displays and often left us with as much information as they took away.

Daniel Goffredo as scanned and restored
I set up my laptop to run the Riverton Veterans Honor Roll Album which reminded our hostess, Mrs. Phyllis Rodgers to loan me a copy of her father’s service photo.

One woman who came through our Museum-for-a-Day found some vintage postcard reproductions that evoked a memory for her, and she paused by my laptop to look at the veterans’ photos, some of whom she knew.

McDermott Bros L-R – Bill, Paul Carl
The conversation drifted to Irish Row when we came to the photos of the McDermott brothers. (I only recently obtained these photos of Carl and his two late brothers when he answered our website appeal asking for veterans’ photos)

I have since updated the Riverton Veterans  Honor Roll Album to include the names added this past Veterans Day and scanned in several more photos of vets. If you can help by adding a photo or clipping to go with any name on the Memorial please contact me so that we can add it to the online album. Regular visitors will recall that eligibility for inclusion on the Honor Roll now reads:

Any present or former resident of the Borough of Riverton, living or deceased, who served on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, during a time of war, is eligible to have their name placed on the memorial.

Charles Miller Biddle Residence, 207 Bank Ave., Riverton, NJ courtesy brynmawr.edu
Charles Miller Biddle Residence, 207 Bank Ave., Riverton, NJ courtesy brynmawr.edu

She casually mentioned that her mother had been a house maid for the Biddle household and that she had lived on Cinnaminson Street.

I showed her some of Joseph Yearly’s photos of Riverton’s own Irish Row stored on my computer and she became very animated, adding a running commentary. She pointed out people and places she knew in Mr. Yearly’s photos. I will have to get them posted after the New Year. We may hear some more from a Riverton Irish maid’s perspective in an upcoming post when the woman locates some of her late mother’s possessions.

Ezra Lippincott wedding party, Niagara Falls 1862

HSR Board Member Mrs. Nancy Hall is a granddaughter to Ezra Lippincott, one of Riverton’s founders. She brought a treasured family photo of granddad’s wedding party at Niagara Falls in 1892 to display.

Later at home, I scanned it and did some restoration on it, but I was a nervous wreck working on a glass photograph. The result is at left. Where are all the tourists and souvenir stands?

display of local antique bottles

Mr. Bill Hall, Nancy’s husband, related a story about his days selling Millside Farms milk. It seems that the creamtop bottles with many of us are familiar were not just a novelty but also served as a salesman’s pitch in the days before homogenized milk.

After witnessing Bill beat up some fresh real whipped cream from the few tablespoons of high-octane milkfat which he had poured of from the top of that cleverly designed bottle, the lady of the house was often convinced to try his product.

former location of Cole Dairy raw milk depot at 501 Main, three Cole bottles in foreground

The milk bottle display must have prompted Mrs. Helen Mack to ask about buying a copy of the remarkable interview we did with Mr. Francis Cole last year about his experiences as a young man working in his family’s raw milk business at 5th and Main right in Riverton during the 1930s.

I had none for sale, but she did motivate me to post the video which Mr. Cole so graciously recorded with us in August 2010, partly because it so perfectly illustrates why the oral histories of Riverton’s people are part of what makes Riverton’s history.

Francis “Franny” Cole August 2010

You can see the November 2010 Gaslight_News article about the interview, but until now I had difficulty posting the huge video file. So here it is in three parts, about 30 minutes total.  Mr. Francis Cole Remembers Cole Dairy Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. If you would like to leave a comment about Franny’s interview, I’ll be sure that he gets to see it.

Another woman visitor has her ancestor’s Civil War diaries and wants to know if the Society is interested and would we take care of them? WOULD WE? I pointed her toward Gerald and am hopeful that we can connect with her again.

Since the nation is observing the  Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the HSR has made it a goal to try to document Riverton’s role in that conflict. Can any family historians out there with Riverton roots help with supplying individuals’ names, anecdotes, documents, etc. which might help us reconstruct what must have been varied responses of citizens? We are interested in Civil War veterans, of course, but also want to research the actions of women, Quakers, and how various groups and the business community contributed to the war effort.

One man spent at least two hours carefully examining the vintage postcard reproduction prints that we brought in to sell. Like a kid in a candy store, he pored over nearly every image category in the boxes until he settled on a handful of pictures to buy. During lulls in the museum traffic I went over and talked with him about his selections. He had a story about every picture.

What is it about these old photos and artifacts which induces us to reminisce and wax nostalgic? The times to which we look back may not be more comfortable or safer than now, but being in the past, at least they are known.  The recollections that I saw seemed more wistful and pleasurable and not melancholy, even though the holiday season can also a time for reflection and remembering those whom we miss.

At one point I heard Bryan Rodgers say emphatically, “I want it back,” as he gestured toward what was in his hand.

I looked at him puzzled since he obviously already had it, but he went on to explain.

“I want back what is in the picture – the town’s train station.”

Riverton, NJ PRR Station late1930s
Now I get it. Yeah, I know. Wouldn’t that have made a great permanent museum.  I do get jealous when I see that the Riverside and Moorestown stations have survived. Bryan and Gerald and I all agreed that it would be cool for Riverton to have an old train depot like those towns, and we wondered what happened to it.

Later, at home I consulted Betty, as I always do on such matters, and opened my file of Gaslight Newsback issues. The waaay back issues.

There on page 3 of the May 1980 issue was another one of Betty Hahle’s long-running and informative”Yesterday” columns. The answer is there if you care to look.

Business District of Palmyra, N.J., Broadway Theater marquee at left

In it, our first and only official Riverton Town Historian, the late Betty B. Hahle, also describes the Broadway Theater in Palmyra since the Society had recently shown the Romance of Riverton film to a capacity crowd at the Porch Club.

There are many more pearls of wisdom and historic information hidden away in those back issues. If there is interest among readers we can post more issues, perhaps scanned with some word recognition software so that readers can search the contents. What do you think?

The problems and dilemmas of historic preservation are not confined to Riverton, nor were they concluded decades ago. One person’s redevelopment and renewal is another’s demolition of culture and tradition; one’s preservation is another’s impeding modernization and dwelling on the past. It’s finding a balance which can prove elusive, and decisions once made may be regretted later. Staying informed about the history of one’s community is a step in the right direction.

Say, I really do wish we could do this more often.  – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

P.S. I’ll have many more photos of our Museum-for-a-Day displays posted shortly under the Programs & Events section.  As always, leave a comment, a question, or correct an error that you find.

 

SNOW DAY!

Ice Skaters on Delaware River possibly 1888 or 1889, according to The Riverton Project
SNOW DAY! Are there any sweeter words to be heard when one is of school age?  I confess that, even as a school teacher, there were days in which I welcomed that phone call. Today’s Riverton students no longer wait praying by the radio hoping to hear the name “Riverton Public School,” or even the school closing number. Instead, they receive an automated phone message triggered by the principal to tell of the glorious news directly to their home phone. But, imagine having four snow days in a row. It happened in Riverton in 1889.

The recent 14-15 inch snowfall may indeed give some of us symptoms of “snow fatigue,” but it was a minor nuisance compared to snowstorms with which Riverton had to bear during the years 1888 and 1889.  In her “Yesterday” column in the February 1979 Gaslight News, Town Historian Mrs. Betty B. Hahle cited an 1888 Receipt Book of William F. Morgan in which it was noted that…”The Great Blizzard occurred March 12th 1888.”  … “The second occurred Feb. 12 and 13th 1899. It snowed for 52 hours.”

Mr. Gerald Weaber reported in his November 2009 GN article, “The Fascinating Fitler Family” that during the March 1888 storm, drifts reached fifteen to thirty feet high along the riverbank. One subject of Mr. Weaber’s article, Dale Baker Fitler, was born in Riverton exactly nine months after the March 1888 blizzard.

Finally, this newspaper scan from The New Era newspaper reports that sleighs of all types made an appearance on Main Street on Friday, February 10, 1889 as the result of a severe snowstorm which cause a temporary food scarcity and closed school from Monday through Thursday.

From the newspaper account describing the town finding fun on Main Street after emerging from four days of being snowbound and the looks of joy on these skaters’ faces, I don’t think that these citizens of old Riverton suffered from snow fatigue.

I invite you to tell how you spent your Riverton “snow days,” whenever they may have been.  – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

Betty’s Sage Advice

Riverton Yacht Club 12/26/2010
On December 26, 2010, I was driving through Riverton on my way to a post-Christmas celebration when I recalled Betty Hahle’s description of how spectacular gaslight-lined Elm Terrace looks when snow falls, so I decided to take a detour and snap some photos along the way. She once told me to not forget to record the history that is happening today.

21st Century Currier & Ives - 404 Main Street
I drove to the river to capture this wintry portrait of the Riverton Yacht Club rendered in murky shades of grey standing where it has weathered the elements on this pier in the Delaware River since 1880.

On the way back, I paused at the home at 404 Main Street which looked like it had the makings of a souvenir postcard, if only anyone still produced them.

According to the four-fold leaflet published by the Historical Society in 1989, “A Walking Tour of Historic Riverton,” researched and written by Betty Hahle, there are floor to ceiling windows with small iron balconies in the Italianate style house, built circa 1855. It was once called the “Home Mansion” and was a popular boarding house.

Riverton Walking Tour - side b
Riverton Walking Tour - side a

It's a Wonderful Life on Thomas Ave. 12/26/2010
Daylight was fading fast on Thomas even though it was still only late afternoon, and through my camera viewfinder I pretty much just saw a haze of white-on-white. With numb fingers I snapped this photo of a lucky kid being pulled up the street on a sled.

You can step back in time and view many vintage photos and postcards of the Riverton Yacht Club and much more by clicking on the IMAGES tab above. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

Thank you, Mr. Daly.

Stiles Drug Store c.1916 606 Main Street
The building housing Mrs. Phyllis Rodgers’ New Leaf Tea Room and Gift Shop at 606 Main marked its 100th anniversary in 2010.  

Previous uses of the structure include a meat market for Ezra Perkins, a drug store, and a furniture store before Phyllis turned it into the highly regarded tea room that it is today. Seen below, the day after Christmas, the store looked like an icy confection, and the beribboned gaslight completed a picture which just as well might have been taken a several decades ago.  

Butcher Ezra Perkins had his shop at 606 Main Street
Probably few people realize that it is HSR member Paul Daly who has so faithfully hung the red bows on Riverton’s gas streetlights for so many years. 

I emailed him to tell him how much I appreciate it. I also asked how it was that he started to decorate the posts. He wrote back: 

1/17/2010 

I think it was …when I started (with the HSR) in 1988. Betty Hahle was our president and the Christmas (House) Tour was being held. She suggested that it would be nice if all of the gas lights were decorated. Somewhere along the way my hand went up and I said I would do my side of the tracks. …I got Harry Richman to help me… since he is tall he volunteered to put up the bows. 

The New Leaf Tea Room 12/26/2010
You should also know that Paul is our HSR treasurer and has been the go-to guy for so many essential tasks over the years. Despite setbacks caused by a serious operation in 2004, or a wrestling match with a ladder in which the ladder won, Paul has always returned to see that this tradition continues. A number of helpers over time have included Cathy, his wife, and various other persons whom could be persuaded to help. For the past several years, Paul’s neighbor, Grant Cole has shared the task. Paul continues: 

This year I asked for a dozen new bows to replace ones that were ripped off the posts and others that are worn. This did not happen and we were short six bows. Apparently, the other side of the tracks was not done at all. Is this one of the traditions that is going by the wayside? Thanks for asking.—PAUL 

A sincere Thank You to Paul and to all who have helped preserve this uniquely Riverton holiday tradition. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor 

P.S. There are more vintage images of 606 Main as well as many other places in and around Riverton. Click on the IMAGES tab near the top of the HOMEPAGE.