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.



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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

Historic Riverton Criterium enters pages of Riverton history

Enjoy these pix from 2013 Historic Riverton Criterium. See much more on Carlos Rogers’ Historic Riverton Criterium Facebook page.

BCT Staff Writer Jeannie O’Sullivan wrote Historic Riverton Criterium cycles through town and Rob Scott of Cinnaminson Patch posted Historic Riverton Criterium Brings Out Crowds.

Find tons of professional quality photographs of the event by local Riverton photographer Christian Hochenberger at http://hochfoto.com/buy-prints/.

If you have some serious time to kill, search Historic AND Riverton AND Criterium on YouTube and you will find over a dozen vids of the 2013 crit and its two predecessors.

The 2013 official Historic Riverton Criterium results from USA Cycling.

A 18MB, 1:min 41sec video of the parts of the first race: 2013 HRC

Remember, folks, these are the good ol’ days. – John McCormick

July 4th Parade Prequel

Main Street homeowners decorate, clean up, and spruce up for July Fourth
By July 2, 2011, many homeowners were busy giving the finishing touches to the exterior of their homes and even doing some last-minute landscaping in preparation for the throngs of spectators who would be making their yearly pilgrimage from near and far to Riverton’s Main Street for its celebrated annual July Fourth parade.

It seems that everyone has their own July Fourth family rituals and cherished memories of the “good ol’ days” whether they be 8 years ago or 80. Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, Jan Hefler, profiled the swirl of activity surrounding one porch party and wrote a story which could probably be repeated in kind, if not in degree, on quite a few other porches. Here is the link for Jan Hefler’s story.

Jeannie O’Sullivan, writing for the Burlington County Times, whom I have cited here before, reminds us that memories and rituals regarding Riverton’s July Fourth celebrations are no less vivid for out-of-towners (like myself) whose vantage point for watching the parade has varied from curbside to other people’s porches. Here is the link for Jeannie O’Sullivan’s story.

My first memories of Riverton are the times when my grandparents brought my brother, mother, and me to witness the parade and the fireworks that followed at the riverbank. That fifty year old memory is dwarfed by the recollections of many others who can mark so many personal milestones by the number of parades that they have seen pass by their view.

Reviving an HSR tradition which apparently had not been done since 2004, Gerald Weaber and I handed out several hundred July Fourth Palm Cards during the parade and during the raft races. I confess that I largely plagiarized bits from previous series of palm cards and hastily printed them up the night before. Readers, in your spare time, please check your old July 4th palm cards against these dates: 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, and send me a scan of any more dates that you have. I would very much like to document what has already been done other years.

Maribeth Paige Shaffer was one of the people to whom I distributed the new cards.  She kindly responded to my request to send photos of the raft race to post. Thank you, Ms. Shaffer for the brilliant photographs .



There will be more posts and photos forthcoming on the subject of Riverton’s July Fourths, past and present. In the meantime, if you care to tell a bit of your story here, please leave a comment, or contact me. John McCormick, Gaslight News editor


Bicycle Races – Past, Present, and Hopefully, Future

History may indeed have been made on June 12, 2011, if the recently held Historic Riverton Criterium turns out to become another borough tradition as many hope.

HSR member Mrs. Pat Solin had a ringside seat for the main event from her front door at Fourth and Main .

She writes:

photo by Lee Rogers

“…all cars had to be off the streets.  Police set up barriers and town maintenance folk cleaned the street of debris to ensure a safe ride for the participants.  The weather was beautiful for the race… We could hear a live band, and folks lined the street along the route to cheer for their favorite riders.  Our neighbors had company over and made it an ‘event.’  We watched the riders from time to time either from the curb or from within the house because, as you noted, they sped by directly in front of the house.”

I knew that the race was coming because  HSR President Gerald Weaber had copied me on an email that he had received. Someone helping with organizing the Historic Riverton Criterium had a question about the age of a house.

Riverton Athletic Assn. quarter-mile bicycle track – note roof of old passenger PRR station in distance at right; roof of present-day Zena’s near center

First off, I had to look up criterium.” in the dictionary.

Then I anticipated that the organizers might want to know that Riverton once held bicycle races and even had a bicycle track, now long gone. I didn’t hear anything further after I sent along a link to Mrs. Pat Solin’s September 2009 Gaslight News article, “The Fine Grounds of the Riverton Athletic Association,” and another link from the New York Times archives showing a map of the old bicycle track near Thomas Avenue and Broad Street.

In her September GN piece, Pat traces the development of the Riverton Athletic Association from its beginning in July 1865, just after the Civil War, as simply some amateurs playing baseball in Biddle’s apple orchard to its involvement in an array of other popular sports, including bicycling. A highlight of the story is the account of a contest that will probably never again be duplicated, a 150-mile race from the steps of the New York Times building in New York City and culminating at Riverton’s packed to capacity bicycle stadium. Click here to read the whole incredible story.

1890 map detail – Riverton Ball Club Grounds at Broad and Thomas later became the bicycle stadium

In any case, I imagine that the information eventually made its way to Jeannie O’Sullivan, staff writer for the Burlington County Times, who wrote a delightful story cleverly contrasting the old and new races.  You can find the complete article, photos, and a YouTube video by clicking on this link.

You can read the chatter between the members of the Historic Riverton Criterium Facebook group as the event progressed from planning and development, to race day, and posting of the results. In addition, there are dozens of photographs of the day’s activities, posted by several different photographers. The students of Mr. Christian Hochenberger’s Shawnee High School Photography Club posted over 300 photos here. Do not miss viewing the set taken by Lee Rogers, owner of Bicycle Therapy, a race sponsor who posted on Flickr, the photo-sharing site.

If you’d like to see more New York Times articles of yesteryear, use the advanced search option of the New York Times archive to search issues from 1851-1980 for Riverton-related articles. Browse at your own risk, however, as it can not only become addictive, but hours can fly by reading about those times past.

graphic for 1890 bicycling column in The Sporting Life

Another place to look for sports news of all sorts related to Riverton is in the pages of The Sporting Life, a weekly sports news publication printed in Philadelphia from 1885-1917, and now found online at the sports research library of the LA84 Foundation. There you can read about the famous Riverton Gun Club, the legendary “Riverton Nines” baseball team, yacht races, football, bicycle races, swimming–even cricket. Here is the link for the LA84 search page.

In addition to enlarging my vocabulary, further investigation into this cycling phenomenon has resulted in finding yet another “Yesterday” column written by Mrs. Betty B. Hahle over thirty years ago for the May 1981 issue of Gaslight News which sheds more light on those bicycle races of the late 19th century. Following is an account of the opening of the Riverton Athletic Association’s new quarter-mile track in 1894. As Betty wished, the re-publication of her work which follows is printed exactly as it originally appeared:

“As bicycling grew in popularity, Wheelmen’s Clubs were formed and meets became a part of the growing interest in athletic events.

Bicycle Century Run under auspices of Riverton Athletic Assn. Camden to Atlantic City via Gloucester – Gloucester-Woodbury Turnpike, Westville Toll Gate – Sept. 8, 1894

Riverton’s team used a track on Fulton street, below the railroad, and then a larger one above the railroad, where Lippincott, Thomas, and 7th streets are today. June of 1894 saw the new track completed there, in time for the riders to begin training for the big meet on July 4th. It was the widest 1/4 mile track in the world, designed by O.S. Bunnell of Philadelphia, a much-respected cycler who would also be the referee on the big day.

Night Bicycle Race Medal – July 1, 1895

And what a day it must have been! Riverton, with a population numbering only a few hundred, had an attendance of nearly 4000, according to the papers. There were 8 class-A events, trick riders, an exhibition ½-mile ride by Harrison Barcus, a 5-year-old, on a 10 lb. wheel, and a 5-mile event that ‘kept spectators at fever heat from start to finish’. Julius Blauberg, a prominent caterer from Philadelphia, had charge of refreshment stands, and prizes–oh, the prizes…5 diamonds, gold and silver medals, jewelry, and many other valuable articles. A.J. Briggs, Riverton’s Athletic Association manager, kept things moving and was careful that all activities and decisions were fair. Soon color was introduced into the meets by having riders wear brightly colored shirts instead of numbers to identify them–and shortly there followed items of vandals breaking into the athletic building on the grounds and making off with ‘articles of clothing’. Fireworks were held at the bicycle grounds after the races.

In 1894 W.F. Sims was out to break his record of a mile in 2.11. He aimed to do it in 2 minutes–and made it. (Speed on the track was one thing; it was something else along the streets and paths of town, and increasingly there were reports of children being knocked down, teeth being lost in the process, and broken bones of older victims. Tempers grew short with this behavior–even on Sunday–and there were calls for dealing more severely with the culprets.”

Saying, “It makes obvious sense to tie in the racing history and the Historic Riverton Criterium,” Carlos Rogers, a 20-year veteran competitive cyclist whose vision it was to bring the amateur cycling meet to his newly adopted hometown (by marriage to the former Adrienne Gaughn), started planning for the race late last year. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are owners and operators of the highly regarded Hush Salon in Philadelphia’s Old City District.

The novice promoter acknowledged the first-time challenges of navigating those uncertain waters of borough government and tradition and was, in the end, elated at the result. Taking stock of the event and the public’s reception to it, Carlos remarked, “By all accounts, from borough officials, riders, residents, and spectators, it was a resounding success.”

Let’s hope that history repeats itself in this case and that the Historic Riverton Criterium returns again next year. In the process we shall add another chapter to the history of cycling in Riverton, NJ.   – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor


On Saturday, April 30, 2011, friends, family, community members, and colleagues from all points gathered at historic Christ Church in Riverton to celebrate the life of Mrs. Betty B. Hahle, Riverton Town Historian, former HSR President and editor of its newsletter, and relentless champion of historic preservationist battles, who passed away Sunday April 17, 2011.

Possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of all things concerning Riverton, Betty recently expressed regret that writing her book on Riverton’s history had eluded her. Nevertheless, the body of authoritative historical works that she produced is prodigious. Renowned for her thoroughly researched articles on historical subjects, she authored Riverton’s history for the borough website, wrote the history of the Porch Club, contributed to Riverton School’s Riverton Project, consulted on community planning projects, and produced over 100 of her signature “Yesterday” columns for the Historical Society of Riverton’s newsletter, the Gaslight News.

Her tireless activism in the pursuit of preserving Riverton’s heritage has resulted in a number of victories which will stand as her lasting legacy to the town which she so adored. In 1978, in concert with borough officials, Mrs. Hahle helped save Riverton’s cherished gas streetlamps from oblivion; in 1989, she rescued the fragile vintage film Romance of Riverton by preserving it to videotape; and she was one of the main persons responsible for saving rare late 19th and early 20th century New Era newspaper issues to microfilm. In 2009, the Burlington Board of Chosen Freeholders recognized both Betty Hahle and a colleague for their work in preserving the Romance of Riverton and making it accessible to modern audiences. Perhaps her most gratifying accomplishment was her 20 year-long quest to win for Riverton’s historic district a listing on the coveted state Register of Historic Places.

Betty Bailey married Joseph W. Hahle, and they raised three daughters in Riverton. Mrs. Hahle was active in Riverton’s Parent Teachers Association, the Palmyra High School Band Parents Association and was a Girl Scout leader. In the early l970s, Betty became interested in genealogy and local history, favorite hobbies she pursued with a passion. She was a member of the Porch Club of Riverton, holding various chairs there, and in 1989, the group honored her as their Woman of the Year.

The Betty B. Hahle Excellence in History Award is given to an eighth grade student each year at Riverton Public School. Betty Hahle’s many decades of historic research and writing as Town Historian and her interest in cultivating the interest of young people in the study of history inspired the award.

Mrs. Betty B. Hahle

Always generous with her expertise, just days before she passed, Betty was dictating notes from her hospital bed to encourage one author on the content of a future Gaslight News feature story while supplying an essential fact she recalled from one of her many interviews for the writer of another article. No one can deny her passion for pursuing Riverton’s history or her unwavering commitment to preserving Riverton’s character. Clearly, more than any other single person, Mrs. Betty B. Hahle has made our understanding of Riverton history what it is today. By so faithfully documenting Riverton’s past with her meticulous investigating and record-keeping, Betty has indeed now assured her own place in Riverton’s history alongside the very founders, merchants, industrialists, and social activists she researched, certain to be quoted and cited for years to come. She was 92.

Find the complete Burlington County Times obituary here.