Another Palmyra Keepsake

It seems to be “Palmyra Week” here at the HSR website. This great Palmyra keepsake comes from “across the miles” via the Internet from a collector friend in Ohio. I have seen a few of these Palmyra Souvenir Folders, but rarely is one found in this very fine unused condition. Too often, they are taken apart and the cards are sold à la carte. Click on the image at left to see the animation. Check out larger images in the IMAGES section under PALMYRA SOUVENIR FOLDER. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

My Vertical Climb on the Blogger’s Learning Curve

We have never had the capability on our website until now to post video clips. Turns out that HSR President Gerald Weaber has a stash of video clips recorded at various events over the last few years. He set us up with a YouTube account, and Mike Solin, our computer guy, added a YouTube button to my WordPress Dashboard, so I’ll take this new feature for a test drive.

Surely, there are many more Riverton related videos, vintage photos, and missing bits of information out there in cyberspace. When I get the hang of making use of the social networking potential of Facebook, we can make the resources of a wider community of history lovers available and start some discussions.

This first video is a slide show about Riverton’s 2006 Victorian Day.

The next three are from Victorian day 2007. Here is the first of three short clips,  “Civil War reenactor, Miss Amanda, on Victorian Day 2007, at HSR Museum for a Day.”

“Civil War reenactor, Mr. Allan, on Victorian Day 2007, at HSR Museum for a Day”

Last, is this too short clip of maestro William “Willie” Harris, who passed away in December 2010.

I look forward to receiving and posting  more files for videos, texts, slideshows, and scans of photos, maps, and ephemera from Rivertonians near and far. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

Picturesque Palmyra and its Illustrious Author, Dr. Ridgeway Haines Lamb

Picturesque Palmyra on the Delaware is a diminutive pamphlet which was used by various civics groups and public officials during the 1920s in order to promote a favorable image among the public toward Palmyra, with the objective of attracting investors, especially home buyers and business investors. It was an unabashed public relations piece, a kind of infomercial in 48 tiny pages, authored by a Dr. R.H. Lamb, whose grand mustachioed photo appears on the index card sized booklet.

Immodestly subtitled, “One of the Most Beautiful and Desirable Suburban Towns in New Jersey,” the pamphlet extols the many virtues of the flourishing borough as it existed in 1923. The best real estate advice about buying property was then, and still is, all about location. Accordingly, Picturesque Palmyra touts that all important key factor for home buyers by mentioning the easy access to Camden and Philadelphia by rail, trolley, and ferry. It further promises “all the advantages without the disadvantages of the city.”

Among a long list of Palmyra’s advantages listed are its rapid population growth, well-maintained homes, the “majestic Delaware,” the “picturesque Pensauken Creek” (sic), and its “fertile and productive” soil. The population of about four thousand is tagged as “middle class’’ and “…satisfied to dwell here forever in contentment and happiness.”

At a time when many of its readers could very well recall the 1918 influenza epidemic five years earlier, which afflicted over 25 percent of the U.S. population and killed thousands, the promise of Palmyra’s healthfulness “…unexcelled in any part of the state” may have been a claim of considerable importance. Even the weather cooperated to create this Utopia on the Delaware, with rarely occurring fog and quickly melting snow. After how long it has taken the accumulated snow from the last three snows of winter 2010-2011 to finally melt here, that sounds like a nice option.

Abundant artesian well water, “…cold, limpid, pure, and healthful,” supplied the household and emergency needs. Lamentably, as your water company will confirm, because of the effects of the gradual intrusion of the salt line moving up the Delaware, Palmyra and adjacent communities have not enjoyed artesian well water for many years.

Dozens of photographs, many of which are full page images, confirm the booklet’s claims of well-kept homes on gravel- coated tree-lined streets having cement sidewalks. Within a mile and a half stood at least ten houses of worship plus several fraternal and patriotic organizations. The educational facilities “…unexcelled by any town of its size adjacent to Philadelphia” included a brick schoolhouse for primary and middle grade students plus a high school.

Palmyra sustained a remarkable number and variety of businesses listed on page 33: several grocers and markets including Acme, A&P, and American Stores, two drug stores, two hardware stores, several dry goods stores, two bakeries, a restaurant, a theater, a newspaper, a store just for hats, a bank, and three garages. Of course, there is a also large real estate ad for Dr. Lamb at 429 Horace Avenue, and a smaller dentistry ad for his practice at the same address. It was a different time; a different economy. Most people generally made purchases close to home.

Dr. Lamb’s real estate holdings were indeed considerable, containing more than twelve acres of building land situated between the railroad and the river, near the high school. Readers were assured that the demand for houses was beyond the supply, that property values had been on the increase, and that a real estate boom was imminent. Then, as today, “Buy now,” was the not-so-subtle message.

Dr. Lamb thoughtfully pointed out that, between Riverton and Palmyra, there were three building and loan societies through which borrowers could pay off a home loan in eleven years. Sweet! We are invited to visit in order to verify that, “It’s All Here and It’s All True.”

An examination of the two-page business directory at the end of the publication shows only one enterprise which has survived to the present—a small advert for H.C. Schwering’s Hardware. At the time of the booklet’s 1923 publication, Schwering’s Wayside Hardware had only been open a matter of months. Way to go Schwering’s! I am looking forward to your centennial celebration in 2022.

Today’s public relations agents who write advertising copy might learn a thing or two from the good Spin Doctor Lamb. Understandably, his motive for producing this piece of positive Palmyra propaganda was for profit. Presumably, he did, for Palmyra is today, like Riverton, fully developed. However, it can be inferred from his direct and earnest tone and, from his own choice to live and work in the same community, that his investment in the community was wholehearted and sincere.

Trenton Evening Times 12-16-1929 Dr. Lamb’s obituary
Trenton Evening Times 12-12-1929 News of Dr. Lamb’s death

Dr. Lamb’s experience, however, extended far beyond the boundaries of Palmyra borough. When he passed away suddenly, of heart trouble December 12, 1929, he had been on his way to inspect his real estate development in New Egypt, NJ. An article in the Trenton Evening Times reporting his death, and a later obituary in the same newspaper, characterized him as a prominent physician, real estate developer, noted traveler, and curio collector who had lived in 60 different countries.

A listing in a 1906 biographical sketch book, The Natal Who’s Who, indicates that the ancestry of Dr. Ridgeway Haines Lamb “…extends through 1,000 years of English history, including about 20 generations of Royalty. A lineal descendant of ‘Alfred the Great.’” It noted that the Philadelphia Dental College graduate had “…practiced in every continent upon the globe” and was a “Pioneer of American Dentistry in many countries,” including India, Ceylon, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Japan, the Orient, and the South African cities of Natal, and Durban.

Hard Times in Natal and the Way Out 1992 facsimile reprint of 1906 text

While a resident in Africa, he published a slim 30 page attack on Natal officialdom in 1906, Hard Times in Natal and the Way Out. He wrote a number of articles and treatises for professional dentistry publications while abroad and, after returning to America, lectured with stereopticon illustrations of Japan and Ceylon.

I know what you’re thinking. Really? Sixty countries? Alfred the Great?

Obviously, an accomplished self-promoter, as well as a devoted Palmyra booster, Dr. Lamb’s life reads like a plot outline for a Hollywood blockbuster. But that is no reason to suspect that it is fiction. Googling for any scrap of information on him, incredibly, this confirmation came from an Internet source halfway around the world in a Singapore newspaper database.

An October 1910 article in The Straits Times announced, “Something New in Singapore,” with the opening of Dr. R.H. Lamb’s new dental practice. Ever the entrepreneur, Dr. Lamb advertised his practice in a September 1911 issue of Singapore’s Weekly Sun along with a dentifrice of is own composition, Teaberry Tooth Powder. From this June 1913 ad in The Straits Times, advising that the doctor had just returned to resume his practice on Coleman Street, having returned from Borneo and the Philippines, it may be inferred that he visited other Far East destinations during his stay in Singapore .

This pagoda displayed curios collected from Dr. Lamb’s world travels

A February 1913 Weekly Sun ad solicited buyers for a 3½″x6″ souvenir booklet of Singapore. Could this small 48 page pamphlet have been a dress rehearsal for Picturesque Palmyra? Altogether, there were dozens of other advertisements for Dr. R.H. Lamb in three different Singapore newspapers published from 1910– 1914. Presumably, he returned to America when the ads ceased in May 1915.

His obituary in the Trenton Evening Times referred to a pagoda built by Dr. Lamb in which to house and display his very large and unique curio collection, acquired as a result of his world travels. Doubtless, the photo on page 31, captioned “Pagoda—Lamb’s Extension” is that shrine to his globe-trotting adventures.

The 1926 Burlington County Directory lists Lamb as “retired,” living at 429 Horace Street, Palmyra. At the same address is his wife, Kathryn, his son Howard R. Lamb (no occupation), and daughter, Bermuda Lamb, a nurse. If any reader has more information or photos about Dr. Ridgeway Haines Lamb, his real estate interests in Palmyra or elsewhere, writings, lectures, his descendants, or any other aspect of this extraordinary gentleman’s life, please comment or contact us so that this saga may be made more complete.

A sincere thank you to Palmyra Cultural and Historical Society President, Jim May, for generously permitting me to scan his copy of Picturesque Palmyra, and to HSR Board member and professional historian, Paul W. Schopp, for providing the two Trenton Evening Times newspaper clippings.— John McCormick, Gaslight News editor
Click here to view a PDF file of the entire 48 page Picturesque Palmyra booklet. Be advised, it is a 6.63MB file.  Viewing tip: After the file uploads to your computer, it will likely have the pages turned sideways. Hit your escape button which will take you out of the “full-screen” view. Then, right-mouse click anywhere on the image to choose “rotate clockwise” from a pop-up menu. Voila! Now you don’t have to turn on your head to look at the pages. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

1909 New Era Captured a Moment in Our History

cover of 1909 New Era Christmas Issue

Dear Reader,
Since 2011 is still young, you may find this much sought after collectible to be a realization of how far we’ve come, or perhaps it’s a nostalgic reminder of days gone by. The 1909 Christmas issue of The New Era included descriptions of virtually every social, civic, economic, religious, and educational institution in Riverton, Cinnaminson, and Palmyra.

From A through almost-Z, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, through each of the area’s nine churches, the DAR, the Loyal Temperance Union, to the Union League and the YMCA, along with a four-page “About Our Advertisers” section, the engrossing periodical serves as a glimpse into life in Riverton during the very early 20th century.

Remember, reminisce, or just imagine a time when Riverton was the destination for tours of Dreer’s Nurseries greenhouses and hundred-acre trial grounds and Riverton’s census included names of wealthy families listed in the Philadelphia and New York social registers as well as the first generation immigrant hired help who served in their elaborate homes.

This first installment includes the charming cover with its portrait of Santa sorting letters through page 24 of the 44 page publication. Of particular note is the selection entitled. “Early Days in Riverton”  on pages 9-24. “Palmyra: Then and Now” and “About Our Advertisers” will be covered in Part 2 of this scan of the entire 1909 Christmas Issue of The New Era.

The original copy is about 9¼″x12¼″ but these scans have been cropped to 8½″x11.″  We thank Mr. Fred DeVece for providing the original issue from which I scanned these pages.   – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor
Click here to view a PDF file of the Part 1 of the 1909 New Era Christmas Issue. Be advised, it is a 5.31MB file.


Ice Skaters on Delaware River – Lee Cook, Sonny Wright, Mr Allen 1908 PHOTO CREDIT: ELSIE WATERS
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

It’s déjà vu all over again

Dear Reader,

My wife Linda and I were each having a slice and diet Coke at Brothers Pizza a few days ago when Mrs. Susan Dechnik saw us through the window and came in to say “hi.” The subject of the impending February closing of the Cinnaminson Acme came up. Tsk-tsk. Where else can we shop for groceries and catch up on the local news?

Rivertonians must be used to it, because history has repeated itself once again. Mrs. Maureen Miller, one of the owners of the nostalgically decorated Nellie Bly Olde Tyme Ice Cream Parlour (, loaned me this photo to scan in May 2005, shortly after the store opened. A gentleman had come into the store and, realizing the possible connection, offered to let her copy it. I made her a print to hang on her wall and she let me retain the scan.

Pennylvania Railroad Nellie Bly schedule

Since then, professional historian Paul Schopp has confirmed that there was indeed an Acme store at 529 Main Street, the very same address now occupied by the Nellie Bly ice cream shop. The store, of course, takes its name from the famous “stunt reporter” and investigative journalist, Elizabeth Cochran who took the pen name Nellie Bly. Some area residents still recall the express train between New York and Atlantic City that bore the name, Nellie Bly, that Pennsylvania Railroad operated from early in the twentieth century until 1961. It regularly sped through Riverton during its journey.

Nellie Bly Express leaving Riverton

There are many vintage photos and postcards of Riverton, but any image of the Nellie Bly train remained elusive to me until Mr. and Mrs. Don Deitz found the negative for the photo below.  Pam’s father, Benjamin Percival, now passed, was an avid photographer who chronicled many of the milestones for the clan. Mr. Percival must have snapped the perfectly timed image just as the Nellie Bly passed the Riverton Station. The negative was in an envelope with the caption, “Nellie Bly” but no date.  Mr. William Harris, estimated that it was possibly taken about 1948 or 1949. At the far right is a ‘48 to ‘49 model Buick. The cars in the center are 1939 and earlier.

Today, the NJ Transit River Line runs along the same tracks as the Nellie Bly once did. Passengers can cross the street to enjoy a “Train Wreck” sundae at the Nellie Bly Olde Tyme Ice Cream Parlour and relax in the Victorian setting decorated with many vintage photos which is a tribute to the dare-devil female reporter.

Cinnaminson Acme 1/22/2011
Along with a long list of other “Things That Aren’t There Anymore”  such as the Cinnaminson Children’s Home, the 1940 Riverton Post Office, the bank at Main and Harrison which went through a number of incarnations, the Lyceum, and Dreer’s Nursery, we mark this passage of the Cinnaminson Acme even as we anticipate what will come in its place or wonder where we will discuss the latest local issues with neighbors. I took a last photo of the Acme before it becomes history. We can always shop elsewhere, but the “grapevine” will never be the same. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

Illuminating Riverton’s Past

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the inaugural post of this blog for the Historical Society of Riverton. This new HSR website has much of the same content as the old one plus quite a bit more.

Much of the physical material upon which we depend for understanding Riverton’s past, such as maps, photos, postcards, documents, and text from various primary sources, is often in the hands of a few private collectors or securely locked away in the Society’s archives where few people can see them. People move away taking their collections with them, and historically important items may later be discarded. With the passage of time, history may be more dimly lit rather than more clearly revealed. Here, with your help, I hope to better illuminate some of those incomplete parts of our historical record.

A primary goal of this website is to educate and inform by making this physical collection available as a virtual collection to be accessed online. Vital to the growth of the size of the virtual archive that can be made available is your participation in this process. Here we can tap into that social network of present and former Rivertonians, wherever they may be now, in order to better “connect the dots” in our efforts to understand Riverton’s history.

There will be more additions in the coming months as I learn how to make use of the cool features of this WordPress template that Mike Solin customized for us, so check back to see what’s new. This will be no fun at all if no one out there is listening. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor