Clothier Clan Returns to Founder’s Bank Avenue Home

503 Bank taken August 2007

I felt like my name had just been listed in Boyd’s Philadelphia Blue Book, that fashionable private address directory for the socially elite of the late 1800s when HSR President Gerald Weaber, myself, and our spouses received invitations to attend the Clothier Family Reunion recently. Society members Mary Louise Bianco-Smith and Ken Smith hosted the event at their Bank Street home on Sunday, June 5, 2011.

Gerald Weaber finds the house on a map

There we mingled with several generations of descendants of Caleb Clothier, one of Riverton’s ten original founders, and listened to tales about their ancestors and Riverton history in the very home where Mr. Clothier had lived.  We toured the grand villa so faithfully restored and decorated that it looks just as if Caleb and the missus just stepped out for a stroll along the river.

Plan of the New Town of Riverton c. 1850

Noted journalist Sally Friedman, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, produced a wonderful piece about the day’s events accompanied by several professional photographs.  Ms. Friedman, notebook in hand, earnestly questioned many persons that day as her photographer inconspicuously captured priceless images of this rare convergence of the extended Clothier Family.

Clothier heirlooms and mementoes

When the questions came to me about the history of Riverton and the founder’s home in which we were visiting, I referred the reporter to the ultimate expert. I mean, how does one give a person a crash course on 160 years of Riverton history?

I sent Ms. Friedman the link to the Borough of Riverton’s website to find the concise Town History which Mrs. Betty B. Hahle wrote in 2004. You can see the marvelous result of the correspondent’s due diligence in getting the facts aligned with the Clothier family saga at the website.



antique music box once belonged to Isaac and Mary Clothier

Click here for a short video of Robert Taylor demonstrating the intricate imported music box mentioned and pictured in the Inquirer article.

For our contribution to the historical record I consulted some of Betty Hahle’s research stored in our archives which we have not yet posted on this website. The best capsule description of how Riverton began might be in Mrs. Hahle’s 1990 introduction to the VHS videotape version of The Romance of Riverton, a deteriorating nitrate-based 1926 film which she helped rescue in 1980, by first having it transferred to modern safety film, then to videotape.

map detail - note Clothier home

“Riverton was founded in 1851 by a group of ten men usually referred to as ‘Philadelphia merchants’ who were seeking a place to build their summer homes away from the City’s problems, yet close enough to commute to their Center City places of business.

They were familiar with this area from family ties in the area, and from Friends’ meetings, and jointly purchased 120 acres of Joseph Lippincott’s farm that lay between the Delaware River and the railroad line. Robert and William C. Biddle, Prof. Charles D. Cleveland, Caleb and James Clothier, Chalkley Gillingham, Daniel L. Miller Jr., Dillwyn and William D. Parrish, and Rodman Wharton engaged architect Samuel Sloan to design their new village, to be called ‘Riverton.’ His plan included not only the founders’ riverfront villas, but also 105 building lots, streets, a walled and landscaped riverbank, a pier for steamboat landings, a railroad station at the upper end of town, and a small general store on the point opposite it. According to the noted historian of American architecture, Henry Russell Hitchcock, Riverton was the first wholly planned residential subdivision in America.”

View of RYC and Delaware River from the front lawn

From Betty’s “Yesterday” column in the February 1981 Gaslight News we learn briefly of the business dealings of the ten “Philadelphia merchants”:

“The Philadelphians who founded the village of Riverton lived and/or had businesses in Old Philadelphia, shared a love of sailing, and a friendship and trust that permitted arrange­ments to be sealed, with a handshake. The Jersey side of the Delaware was familiar to them not only from sailing into its coves, but also through business contacts. William D. Parrish had for some years advertised in Burlington county papers (wholesale dealer in paper, rags, school books, blank books, writing paper, printing and wrapping paper, wall and. curtain paper, all at manufacturer’s prices), as had others of the group. Dillwyn Parrish was a druggist, Robert Biddle a hardware merchant, Caleb Clothier dealt in bricklaying, Rodman Wharton in paints, and Prof. Charles D. Cleveland”… “had a girls’ school. Miller McKim”… “had an anti-slavery office near Cleveland’s school…”

Clothier 50th Anniversary

Memorial testimony at a meeting recorded in the Friends’ Intelligencer United with the Friends’Journal, Philadelphia, Sixth Month (June) 13, 1885, regarding the “humble and upright life” of Caleb Clothier mentions his involvement in the Abolitionist Movement: “He was early an earnest worker in the Anti-Slavery cause, and many a poor fugitive from bondage received his active and material aid.” Riverton is never mentioned, however, in this lengthy obituary from the Quaker perspective.

From another “Yesterday” column in the November 1979 Gaslight News we learn that Caleb Clothier sold the property and … “Edward Ogden, capitalist and 1st Mayor of Riverton, lived in the Caleb Clothier house at 503 Bank.”

Bing map - screenshot only

Here’s a link to a Bing Map of 503 Bank Avenue. You should see a bird’s-eye aerial photo map with a “pin” stuck in the location for 503 Bank.

You can choose to further explore the Riverton of today by using the navigation controls along the top margin of the map to zoom or rotate your view.

Regular readers may recall the January 30th entry, “Whoa, this is heavy!” which described the new Historypin website in which you can take a virtual drive through some of Riverton’s main thoroughfares.

From the Editor’s Desk: Readers, please note that you can find a summary of the Annual Meeting held at The Bank on Main on June 9, 2011. on the Programs and Events page.

The Society may be on summer hiatus, but please continue to check back here for more history of Riverton and the region. If you have something to bring to our attention regarding a story idea, comments or criticism, or you would like to make a donation which would help us in our mission to  “discover, restore, and preserve local objects and landmarks, and to continue to expand our knowledge of the area,” please do not hesitate to bring it to our attention. Remember our easy address, and tell your neighbors and friends who have moved away about us. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor





Whoa, this is heavy!

Users can upload vintage photos and overlay them on to Google Maps and Google Street View with Historypin

Flashback to the past: it’s 1985 and the blockbuster time-travel fantasy film which propelled Michael J. Fox into stardom is in theaters whisking audiences back to 1955. A brash teenage California skateboarder named Marty McFly is accidentally warped back in Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown’s plutonium-powered DeLorean “time machine.” Stuck in the fifties, Marty must make find a way to save the slightly wacky scientist from being gunned down and make certain his teenage parents-to-be meet and fall in love – so he can get Back to the Future

Director Robert Zemeckis’s  wittily orchestrated scenes depict the dissimilarity of life in the mid-fifties with the mid-eighties through everyday situations as when Marty tries unsuccessfully to hand-twist off the cap of a soda bottle in 1955 which actually requires a bottle opener. Remember them? More contrasts follow including cultural references to Darth Vader, Ronald Reagan, changing clothing and music styles, and others.

Your picture and story posts contribute toward a virtual global time-traveling map

Flash forward: it’s June 2010, and a new British website launches called Historypin which promises the same exhilarating time tunnel rush to history buffs by allowing users to pin vintage photographs on a huge virtual map of the world. The stated goal of its founders is for Historypin to “ become the largest user-generated archive of the world’s historical images and stories.”

This temporal experiment, however, requires no plutonium-powered DeLorean. Instead it is fueled by the posting of photographs from the global community. And images contributed by average people are just as desirable as the famous iconic photos from various image archives. Anyone can contribute, and that is the reason for this column—to convince you to contribute your historic pictures and stories, particularly those about Riverton. 

Historypin is unique from other photo sharing sites in that it matches vintage images and stories which one uploads to the site and combines them with Google Maps and Google Street View.  The result is an interactive world map which one not only navigates between the points in space, but it quite amazingly layers the antique images which are uploaded onto modern Street Views, thus providing the user with the unique ability to view places as they have changed through time—no flux capacitor required.

Contributors pin their pictures and stories to Google Map locations

The aptly named video clip, “Intro to Historypin–90 seconds of everything you need to know” will serve as a kind of Cliff’s Notes on the philosophy of Historypin and its instructional manual. A larger resolution video can be seen on YouTube

Over 31,000 photos and stories have been pinned on the site since its inception eight months ago. I was the first to upload any images for Burlington County, and that posting doubled the quantity for all of New Jersey—at least for now. Please help to better represent our geographic area to this interactive world map by contributing pictures, stories, or both to what is sure to become an invaluable historical resource. 

The members of the social movement We Are What We Do ( started Historypin in order “to get different generations talking more, sharing more and spending more time together.”  Those of you who are blessed with high-speed Internet and the requisite hardware, software, and skill set with which to navigate it, might connect with someone possessed of a remarkable memory who owns an old photograph album or a shoebox of vintage postcards and collaborate with them in order to get some pictures posted. If you are one who has photos, but needs assistance with the scanning and computer aspects, please contact me and I’ll see what I can set up in order to help you.

Take a virtual drive through today's Riverton as you pause to note how places have changed thorough time

Even if you cannot post any pictures or stories, it is a cool site to browse. Those of you who have not actually seen Riverton in awhile may find a virtual drive around the borough to be… well, re-memorable, to coin a word. Once you get the knack of pointing your mouse cursor along the road and clicking to “drive,” you’ll find that you can maneuver around town, in addition to visiting locations with photos.

For example, start at the photo of Stiles Drug Store at 606 Main Street. Choose “View in Street View” and click and drag the mouse cursor so that you turn and head down Main Street. When you get to Main and Broad you may choose to continue along Main all the way toward the river, or drive toward Palmyra, or Riverside. I put photos in all three places as well as in Moorestown. Look for postings for the username JRZ_History. 

Not all roads are available to be “driven” in Street View, but your pictures can be pinned to map locations, nonetheless. So look through your old scrapbooks and please help fill in the map with more pictures and stories about the people, places, and events to which they are connected. You can upload photos from anywhere and anyplace, not just Riverton—a vacation spot, birthplace, a location shown in your grandmother’s photo album, etc. 

Although the site is still in its early days, the mind reels at the implications for the use of such a tool and its potential for bringing together people to collaborate on discovering and preserving our history from wherever they might be viewing this. To quote Marty McFly, “Whoa, this is heavy!” Let’s make some Riverton history together.—John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor