Staying after school paid off in historic photos and a 1904 history of Sacred Heart

Dreer’s Lilly Pads – John Strohlein
I worked with John Strohlein when I was a teacher at Riverton School. He is a maintenance man there, and we often chatted about history at the end of the day when he came by my classroom. He always took an interest in the American and ancient history lessons and he turned out to be a rich source of information about Riverton history. 

Riverton Fire Dept. – unknown date – John Strohlein

John Strohlein is a descendant of a Dreer Nursery executive and he also had some relatives in the Riverton Fire Company, two circumstances which resulted in my restoring some old photos for the Society and the fire company.

At right is one of two group photos of firefighters I restored. See what I mean about photos you loan do not have to be perfect?

George Strohlein by Lothrop Photography

You can see the framed enlargements on display upstairs at the firehouse. John also had some Dreer’s Nursery postcards and a cabinet card of George Strohlein taken by Lothrop Photographers who, I believe, operated out of the Lyceum that once stood at Fourth and Main. (revised – see below)

Sacred Heart Church – John Strohlein
John also allowed me to borrow a slim booklet that commemorated the Silver Jubilee of Sacred Heart Church in 1904.

Compiled and written by Reverend J.F. Hendrick, this 16-page Sketch of Sacred Heart Church traces how Riverton Catholics in the early 1870s worshiped in nearby churches at Riverside, Moorestown, and Camden before services shifted to several Riverton homes while parishioners made preparations for construction of their church.

Sacred Heart Church – 1905 Sanborn map detail

When I scanned the booklet in 2007, I made a slideshow of the pages, burned some CDs, and took them over to the pastor along with some replica paper copies that I made with a color laser printer. He was glad to get them because his one original copy was disintegrating and had to be handled with gloves. Here now was a reasonable looking counterfeit that parishioners could read without worries.

Sacred Heart Church booklet cover

Read more details of how a Presbyterian gentleman donated the land for the church after neighbors objected to the sale. Just as there has been more than one Riverton School, the present Sacred Heart Church was the first Catholic house of worship in Riverton.

Click on the following link to view the PDF file for the 16-page Sketch of Sacred Heart Church. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

Revised 05/03/2012 I dread making errors about Riverton history on this website because, once out there on the web, stuff just hangs around forever. Thankfully, I have friend and actual professional historian (as opposed to us amateurs), who helps with damage control here at the Historical Society of Riverton. My sincere thanks to Paul for making this correction.

Paul writes:


Nicely done, as usual. Regarding the photographer, he did not operate out of the Lyceum. Rather, if you examine Plate 2 of the 1896 Sanborn maps, you will find his studio directly behind his house. The south-facing elevation of the building was glass, allowing Lothrop to take full advantage of natural sunlight in his professional work.

Best regards,
Paul Schopp

From the 1896 Sanborn Insurance Map section shown below, you can see the Lyceum at left and the Lothrup Studio at right. Fourth Street runs left and right on this map and that’s Main Street running up and down. For more about the Lyceum, use the search tool at the top right of this page.

Sanborn Insurance Map section, Riverton , NJ 1896

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


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

Just in – over 30 new vintage images of Riverton

Recently I received an email alert that notified me that I had won an eBay auction for an old Riverton postcard.  And I got two in a row! Quickly, I keyed in the PayPal information and then checked the mail each day to see if my treasures had arrived.

These are two of the rarest kind of postcard images – real photo post cards, or RPPCs for short. They were created by developing a photograph onto postcard-sized photo paper with a postcard backing. RPPCs often demand higher prices than mass-produced postcards because of the limited number of cards produced.

As any collector will attest,  it is a great feeling to acquire that elusive stamp, comic book, coin, baseball card, matchbook, or some such chotskie. Some anthropologists say that we collect to reminisce and remember the past. Certainly, that is a motive here, but we hope that the images and information displayed on this website will serve as testament to what Riverton’s men and women have built here since 1851 on this scant square mile.

Whether you collect sports team memorabilia or antique dolls, you know that feeling when you’ve discovered yet another variation on a familiar theme. Well, if you are here because you are a fan of Riverton, NJ, imagine that elation and multiply it times ten because in recent weeks we have received dozens of great vintage postcard and photo album scans to add to our images pages.

These have come just when I was starting to think I had seen all the Riverton cards there were. There are more views of the Yacht Club, the Porch Club, residential streets, and Dreer’s Nursery, plus some rare RPPCs including the Children’s Parade.  Altogether, it is a remarkable photographic record and we are fortunate that Mr. Mortgu has opened up his album to share in this way.

If you received a reminder postcard for our last HSR meeting, you caught a brief preview of the choice vintage photos which Nick has scanned for display here.

They will also being placed in with the rest of the Riverton images so they will be easy to find when you return. We invite you to leave a comment, factoid, recollection, or question.

Readers, if you have one image to donate or a hundred, know that you will be contributing to a continuing virtual archive which we hope will help tell the story of Riverton’s historic past to current and future generations. – John McCormick

Dreer Nurseries’ Long Role in Riverton’s History Not Forgotten

color plate from 1912 Dreer’s Garden Book

Dear Readers:

I prepared this PowerPoint presentation on a history of Dreer’s Nurseries so that it could be running in the background on the stage of the Porch Club as people came through on their way to or from one of the several stops on the popular bi-annual Garden Tour in June 2010.

From modest beginnings in a storefront on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, Henry A. Dreer, Inc. would grow into a vast organization with an international reputation selling seeds, plants, bulbs, and associated sundries. In the course of expanding the business, Dreer moved to 300 acres in Riverton, NJ in 1873, where the enterprise became a  major employer of the town.

The prestigious house of Dreer closed due to a variety of circumstances in 1944 and the land that it occupied in Riverton was developed into housing lots. A few people still remember Dreer’s Nurseries and its effects upon Riverton and its citizenry.

The PowerPoint is loaded with information and many illustrations. Be sure to download the accompanying PDF file script for the slide show which also prompts you when to click your mouse for the animations and to advance to the next slide.

Click here to download “A History of Dreer’s Nursery, a 39.7MB PowerPoint presentation. The notes for the presenter’s talk are in a separate PDF file.  Click here for the presenter’s notes. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

PS.  Recent uploads to the Images page includes new categories for Atlantic City, NJ (63 images) and Miscellaneous (46 images) for, well… images that I couldn’t otherwise categorize.


“Do You Remember?” is a ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of Riverton History

Woolston Carriage Works in undated photo

If you like to look at old photos and postcards, then download the script that accompanies this PowerPoint slide show so that you can sort out the many places and players as you leaf through this huge 115 slide production, full of all kinds of historic facts and images about Riverton, NJ.  First shown at the January 2008 HSR meeting, this presentation does not contain exhaustive details on any one topic. Instead, it contains a little bit about a lot of different topics related to Riverton. (This presentation spawned two shorter spinoffs,”A Short History of Riverton Public School,” which is already posted and “A History of Dreer’s Nursery,” which will be featured later on. )

Regular readers of this column will recall the earlier posting of the shorter January 2007 slide show. This one duplicates some information found in that one and introduces more that I had learned in the interim. Topics in this 2008 sequel include:

Dreer Nursery - Victoria Trickeri Lily Pond
  • Old New Era newspaper clippings relating events from the past
  • Many vintage family photos, school portraits, and Riverton postcards
  • A short history of the famous Dreer’s Nursery
  • News accounts of the Japanese beetle scourge as well as a Riverton sighting of the Jersey Devil
  • Reports of internationally ranked swimmers involved in meets at the Riverton Yacht Club and a 150 mile bicycle race from NYC to Riverton
  • Dozens of views of local historic maps, ephemera, and real photos of places
  • A complete small 16-page booklet about Sacred Heart Church written in 1904
  • Information and photos about the men of the celebrated Riverton Athletic Association and the renowned “Riverton Nines”
  • A description of the exclusive Riverton Gun Club and its high-stakes live pigeon shoots
  • Discover these things and more that you may not know about Riverton, and please consider the slide show’s ending message, “You can help preserve historic  images and information.”
  • If you can help in this endeavor, please contact us so that we may increase the utility of this digital archive and make it available to a larger audience. We welcome your submissions for Gaslight News articles and blog postings, and invite you to support the Historical Society of Riverton by becoming a member.

Click here to download the “Do You Remember?” 38.8MB PowerPoint You’ll need the PowerPoint program or the free PowerPoint viewer in order to watch the slide show. Click here to download the PDF file of notes that accompany the slide show which serves as the narrative that explains the images as well as gives prompts for the animations and advancing the slides.   – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

PS – I just uploaded three new categories of vintage postcard images which brings the number of categories listed to 29; Asbury Park & Ocean Grove, 311; Bordentown & Trenton, 44; Hawaii, 9.

Riverton History 101

Mr. McC’s history classroom

I started collecting images and information about Riverton’s early days to use in instructing my middle school students at Riverton School on local history. When I couldn’t buy on eBay, I borrowed from other collectors who generously loaned me items to scan.

The result was a virtual collection of hundreds of vintage images from which I reproduced prints and enlargements to raise money toward the purchase of a digital projector for my classroom. While my first goal was to help my students learn about their town’s local history, I soon learned that even many adults had not seen the images in this expanding digital compilation.

When Priscilla Taylor and Patricia Brunker approached me during Victorian Day 2006 festivities and drafted me into the Historical Society of Riverton, I mistakenly thought that one needed to live in Riverton to join. Au contraire, mon frère. There is no residency requirement. In fact, only about 60% of the addresses on the Gaslight News mailing list are for Riverton; the rest of the locations range from New Jersey to California and Maine to Florida. Rivertonians, current and former, are a far-flung lot. Hence, my wish to bring the show to the Internet. (Here’s a membership flyer, or go to the Contact page.)

screenshot of presentation title frame

Since joining the HSR, I’ve been tapped to do several presentations; some solo, some collaborating with others. I have never charged the HSR a speaker’s fee. In a classic case of “you get what you pay for,” or perhaps hoping that I’ll one day get it right, the Board continues to invite me back.

This was the first presentation that I gave to a HSR meeting in January 2007. Billed as a show of vintage postcards and photos, it played to a SRO crowd in the Riverton School Library, a feat not duplicated since. Maybe there was nothing on TV that night. For whatever reason, the turnout both surprised and gratified Bob Bednarek, the president at that time. Me, I was just nervous, as you may hear.

Topics include The New Era, Dreer’s Nursery, Vintage Postcards and Photos, and Local Maps

However, once seen by the group of people who venture out for a particular meeting, the program’s content, however worthwhile, just languishes in the hard drive of my computer. While I have always wanted to post these presentations on the Internet, the large file sizes that result from creating PowerPoints from the vintage postcards and maps, graphics, and animations which illustrate my talks have been problematic.

Computer wunderkind Mike Solin once again shows his old teacher new tricks
Short story: I told Mike Solin, my former Riverton School student, now computer consultant, of my wish, and he figured out how to add that feature to the WordPress template that he continues to tweak to meet our needs.


Following is the link to download the large PowerPoint file for that first program containing images and information about historic Riverton. To be fair, it’s really more eye candy than in-depth information—the reason for the freshman course title of this blog post. I would learn at that first presentation, and on successive ones since, that when coming to address the Riverton citizenry on their history, I could expect to receive schooling in such matters myself.

Although I cannot find my handwritten presenter’s notes which explained the slides, somehow, through computer crashes and changeovers, I found on my hard drive a rather poor quality audio file recording of that evening’s program, complete with no small amount of audience participation. You may want to download the audio file and listen as you advance through the slides.

You can hear that my lecture certainly benefited from the many recollections and personal anecdotes furnished by the group. I have come to value the fact-checking, insights, and historical perspectives contributed by people in the audience.

Then, as now, I invite viewers to comment on the presentation, particularly if they would note an error or provide more information. One mistake in this presentation was my identification of a long-gone building that I thought was the Evans Lumber Building; it turned out to be the Woolston Carriage Works.

Click here to download the 74.3MB PowerPoint slide show, “HSR slide show 1-29-2007.” Click here to download the 52m, 06s 24.1MB wma. audio file which I recorded as I gave the presentation that evening. You will hear that my solitary “talk” instead turned into more of a town meeting, with the slides serving as an itinerary for a group excursion down Riverton’s Memory Lane. You are invited along, and it’s not too late for you to add your voice to the chorus.

John McCormick

I welcome comments from this larger audience and I’ll be glad to try to answer any questions that you may have. Please contact me if you can add to our knowledge base by donating relevant items, by loaning items so that we can scan them, or by sending text or image files as email attachments.  – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor