Hardships of an earlier era

When Keith Betten served as Church Warden at Riverton’s Christ Episcopal Church about twenty-five years ago, he wrote The Story of the Family of Christ Church, Riverton. Adapted from Chapter 5 of that work, this article holds some detail about the impact of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic on services at the church in November of that year.

Chapter 5 1915-1945
and Peace
by Keith W. Betten, Warden

Christ Church and Rectory

In the research which has been undertaken to prepare this short, serialized history of the Parish Family of Christ Church, this chapter has proven to be the most difficult to write for the very good reason that precious little has been unearthed in the way of source material. There are no detailed vestry minutes for this period and no historical sermons have been discovered to shed light on the 1920s and ’30s, decades which differed so very much, one from the other.

I think, however, that the experiences of the Parish Family over the course of the First World War, and during the bitter-sweet peace which came at its close may be used to capture the essence of the period under discussion. The Christ Church News (which seems to have ceased publication after 1920) has been used as a source of this description of the life of the Parish Family between 1915 and 1920.

Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 1914, p1

The commencement of hostilities in far off Sarajevo in 1914 had attracted little attention at home. There was no official reference, at first, to the conflict in the pages of The News  – only a poem entitled “War” appeared. It read, in part:

In This World which Christ died to ransom
Two thousand long years ago,
The fruit of our peaceful progress
Shall War’s bloody sickle mow?
O ye, who trust still His promise
And long for His peace in our day
By the Christ who died in torment,
Let us fall on our knees and pray!

WWI Roll of Honor, Palmyra Record, Oct 26, 1917

Through 1915 and 1916 there was little hint of disruption in that “peaceful progress.” The practice of celebrating the Holy Eucharist twice each Sunday was introduced, a new organ was purchased, installed and dedicated and the Sunday School boasted a staff of fifteen to tend its 129 scholars. By October 1917, however, the names of 18 members of the Parish who were ”serving with the colors” were posted on the Church porch and all members of the Parish Family were asked to commend them to earnest prayer.

The winter of 1917-18 was a bitter one (the coldest it was reported, in 98 years), forcing the closure of the Parish House to conserve coal. The Girls’ Friendly Society, which was wrapping bandages for the Red Cross, met in a private home, and the Rector of the Parish traveled to “Camp Dix” two days each week to minister to the departing troops and the injured, returned.

Riverton Red Cross, Evening Public Ledger, Oct 25, 1917, p10

By Easter 1918, twenty-seven of the Parish Family were serving their country; none to that date had been killed or wounded. A great patriotic Service was held in the Church on May 30th, a day that President Wilson and the Bishop had requested be observed as a day of “humiliation, prayer, and fasting.”

An overflow crowd, including the Mayor and Council, the Home Guards, the Boy Scouts, and the Red Cross, the latter all in uniform” filled the Church and spilled out onto the front lawn. “The procession, headed by the Cross and flag, filled all with a deep sense of pride and abiding hope” that the war would soon end, with Christian democracy triumphant. But at what price?

WWI Gold Star Boy Thomas Roberts Reath service photo

In June came the news that Thomas Roberts Reath, a son of the Parish and the grandson of long-time vestryman and warden Thomas Roberts had been killed in France; he was not yet 21. By fall, two others, Walter M. Kennedy and Raymond Pratt were likewise reported killed in action. The Parish Family, in deep mourning over these losses, was further traumatized by the onset of the great influenza epidemic of the autumn of 1918: the church was obliged to remain closed on three consecutive Sundays in October, a dreadful month which witnessed the death of eight of our communicants.

Thomas Roberts Reath WWI brass tablet Christ Church

The anguish came, mercifully, to an abrupt end in November when Riverton was awakened at 4:30 on the morning of November 11, 1918, by the ringing of our Parish bell–the first in town to announce that the armistice had been signed. The war, at last, was over. Tears of joy and sorrow surely flowed together as the Parish Family gathered one Sunday that month to honor their dead and to dedicate the brass tablet which adorns the wall behind the eagle lectern to this day. It is a memorial to the late Thomas Roberts for his half-century of service to the Parish and “to his well-loved grandson, Thomas Roberts Reath, 1897-1918. Born and baptized in this Parish, Sergeant, U.S. Marines; killed in action, Bois de Belleau, France, June 12, 1918.”

[Surprisingly, and regretfully, little has been found concerning the experience of the Parish Family during the course of the Second World War; of the sons and daughters of the Parish who went off to defend the nation; or of the efforts, hopes and fears on the home front. Should it be discovered that written documentation of this aspect of our history cannot be found, an oral history, drawn from the recollections of those who remember those days would prove to be both an interesting and valuable venture and addition to our Parish story.]

Keith Betten 3-23-2020: The chapter above was one in a series of articles presented in serial form to the parishioners of Christ Episcopal Church weekly from July to October 1994, as a novel approach to increase our “stewardship (pledging) program.  Its object was to enhance people’s commitment to the church by understanding the ways in which the church family had first come together and how it had evolved over the course of nearly a century-and-a-half.  The six chapters were ultimately combined in a booklet entitled The Story of the Family of Christ Church, Riverton.

Riverton Free Library still a treasured asset for 118 years

R Bowden Shepherd c1882 Christ Church Rector 1894-1911

The genesis for the formation of the Riverton Free Library Association originated at a meeting in January 1899, called for by the rector of Christ Church, Rev. R. Bowden Shepherd, for the purpose of forming a free library for local residents.

Within months, a group formally organized, adopted a constitution and bylaws, chose a board, elected officers, and opened in May 1899, in the Parish House with 800 books donated by Christ Church.

Riverton Free Library

The permanent home at 306 Main Street came in 1908, a gift from Mrs. Sarah Ogden in memory of her husband, Edward H. Ogden.

Riverton Free Library, now housed in the Victorian cottage on Main Street, has survived and flourished for more than a century due to the devotion of scores of people who have acted as its stewards, including board members, officers and staff, volunteers, and supporters.

Riverton Free Library October 2017

In researching to prepare for a historical marker commemorating the landmark, Patricia Solin and Roger Prichard have written a feature article for the January 2018 Gaslight News chronicling the history of the RFLA and the building that now serves as its home.

I revisited the building last week and met with Nancy Fort, the new Director. After getting a fresh exterior paint scheme last fall, workers had turned to paint the Library’s altered interior. The spirited conversation of adult card players enjoying a game filtered in from the next room.

Fine Box

Nancy Fort placed this antique wooden box on an old round oak table displaying the worn patina of decades of use. I had to wonder. What changes – not only to the building but also in its operation – had it witnessed over the years?

Please tell us about your memory of Riverton Free Library.    -JMc



Riverton Museum for a Day on the Candlelight House Tour 2011

graphic credit: Bernard & Jean Markovitz

One Society member commented that the homes on the December 3rd Candlelight House Tour December were “…historic and all quite beautiful.”  This extraordinary biennial event invites the public inside some of the most distinctive homes and buildings in historic Riverton to raise funds for the Riverton Free Library.  Hundreds of admirers of 19th century architecture came from throughout the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey area to view the historic buildings all beautifully decorated for the holidays which included five private homes plus the Porch Club, Christ Churchand The New Leaf Tea Room and Gift Shoppe.

Click here for the PDF file of the Official 2011 Candlelight House Tour Brochure.

Curator Mrs. Cheryl Smekal welcomed scores of visitors to our limited-engagement museum.

Mrs. Phyllis Rodgers, proprietor of The New Leaf,  generously offered space to the Historical Society of Riverton (HSR) to host its popular Museum for a Day exhibition,  a traveling display of local Riverton artifacts, photographs and ephemera from its archives.  

The showing offered a special opportunity for its exhibit curator, Mrs. Cheryl Smekal, to display women’s period clothing and furnishings as well as rare objects belonging to prominent Riverton families. Mrs. Smekal organized the event with assistance and guidance from Society Board members Mrs. Pat Brunker, Mrs. Nancy Hall, Mrs. Phyllis Rodgers and Mr. John McCormick.

Can you guess the name or the use of these household items which might have been found in homes of the early 1900s?

A table covered with 16 household objects common to the earlier 1900s which beckoned to onlookers, “Can You Guess…?” sometimes created traffic gridlock as museum visitors seriously debated the various uses to which some of the more puzzling objects might be put.


John McCormick, Gaslight News editor, blogger, collector of Riverton objects and lore hopes to interest more people in contributing information and images to the Society.

John McCormick was on hand to answer questions from collectors and the public about memorabilia and collectible ephemera. John, a retired educator and local historian, offered  reproductions from his vast collection of local historic images with street views from local Burlington County towns. 


A display includes photos and artifacts from various business enterprises and a vertical wall banner which outlines the history of the New Leaf building.

John devoted a section of the show of artifacts to The New Leaf at 606 Main Street since that address has played a number of roles in Riverton’s business section since it first was the location of Ezra Perkins’ butcher shop about 1900.

You can view a PDF file of that banner that outlines the history of 606-608 Main Street here.

Always of special interest to collectors are the vintage post card reproductions photo-restored by John McCormick featuring Dreer’s Nursery, New Jersey shore resort towns like Long Beach Island, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, and other locales like Burlington, Trenton, Moorestown, Mount Holly, Palmyra, and Riverside.

One collector visiting the Society’s Museum for a Day was delighted to see that John had added considerably to what he had available at Victorian Day 2007, and he pulled up a chair and devoted over two hours to browsing the vintage postcard reproductions.

Pat Lynch and Nancy Hall peruse the gifts available for the history enthusiast – Ruff Copy, Historic Riverton, History of Riverton Fire Co., Romance of Riverton, back issues of Gaslight News, History of Palmyra, repro maps and photos.

The Society appreciates Mr. McCormick’s generosity in sharing his collection on the HSR web site and blog for people of all ages to enjoy.

While an adult visitor may recall and perhaps even reminisce with the website’s content, a child seeing those same images and stories may see for the first time how life in his or her hometown was so different a hundred or more years ago.

We commend The Friends of the Riverton Free Library for their successful house tour program which reminds us that our magnificent, historic homes in Riverton can be restored to their past splendor rather than sold as apartment conversions.

The Candlelight House Tour significantly contributes to the rediscovery of Riverton by visitors and homeowners as a special place to live. The following photo gallery of our Road Show Museum will suffice until the HSR can secure a permanent solution to display the wonderful collection to which so many Rivertonians have contributed over the years. 

– Gerald Weaber, President Historical Society of Riverton