Tomorrow marks Riverton’s 121st Children’s Flag Parade.
Inevitably, around this time of year a child or an out-of-town visitor will ask, “How did this wonderful July Fourth Parade originate?
Well, kids, this authoritative article written by Borough Historian Paul W. Schopp for the 2018 Riverton 4th of July Program Booklet will transport readers back to July 4, 1897, as he examines the very genesis of the Children’s Flag Parade we celebrate today.
It is a bit of Riverton history not to be found in any history book. -JMc
The Birth of a July 4th Tradition in Riverton
Contributed by Paul W. Schopp, Borough Historian
Rivertonians have always celebrated our nation’s birthday with grand panache. Houses and businesses festooned with flags, ribbons, garlands, and bunting lined the town’s streets in the past just as they do today. Prior to 1897, sporting events filled the Fourth, providing revelers with spectacles ranging from baseball games to boat races on the Delaware River to competitive cycling at the Riverton Athletic Association quarter-mile velodrome between the years 1894 and 1896.
On July 4, 1897, the community’s focus pivoted. Sure, sporting events remained an important part of the ongoing annual celebration, but by 8:45 a.m. on this 1897 Sunday, a crowd was gathering at the Riverton station, filled with anticipation. Officials had invited the Burlington Band to travel down to Riverton and aid the residents in commemorating the day and all it meant to Americans filled with ardor for their country. The band boarded train no. 315 at the Burlington station and departed at 8:47 a.m. for the eighteen-minute trip to Riverton.
Disembarking from the train, the band assembled into formation on Broad Street behind the station and then marched to the Riverton Fire Company headquarters on Howard Street as the drummers beat the cadence. The squad of volunteer firemen stood ready to hoist a new American flag up the pole while the band members solemnly played The Star Spangled Banner. The crowd raised their voices in reverent singing to accompany the band music. The unfurling new flag featured an extra white star in the blue canton, symbolizing Utah achieving statehood and joining the 44 other states then comprising the Union.
When Riverton’s first processional formed up, local newspaper editor C.F. Sleeper noted, “The band then led the parade of about 150 sweet little tots all dressed in white carrying silk flags to the river bank in front of Wm. P. Ellison’s where patriotic songs were sung ….” Those silk flags the children carried also featured 45 stars on the blue field. From the onset, the yearly event was known as “The Children’s Flag Parade.” Ellison resided in the original dwelling occupying the address of 405 Bank Avenue. Demolished in the 1950s, Samuel Sloan designed this “cottage” for founder Daniel L. Miller Jr.
A celebratory crowd lined the riverbank, keen on watching the yacht club sponsored boat races, since other sporting events would not be offered. No baseball games would be played, since the 1897 holiday fell on a Sunday, and the velodrome had permanently closed when the 1896 season ended.
Three catboats initiated the riverine racing heats, with the FROLIC winning the prize over the larger SEA GULL. Nine mosquito boats took their turn, but several of the craft failed to finish the race. James Coale took the cup, with Norman Ellison and C.C. Rianhard mere inches behind. Only three contestants entered the tub race, in which Tom Kerigan won and William Bishop placed.
No exploding fireworks lit up the darkened sky out of respect for Sunday. Instead, the Rev. R. Bowden Shepherd, rector of Christ P.E. Church, conducted a patriotic evening worship service on Ellison’s lawn and Judge Hanna delivered an address that touched the American soul.
Not present were the town’s young people, who spent the evening at the Riverton Lyceum listening to live music. As the day drew to a close, adults and children alike strolled home to bed under the dim glow of the town’s gaslights.
While the preceding account of the Riverton 4th that included the inaugural children’s flag parade may seem a tad tame to those who line Main Street in 2018 awaiting the festivities, the common thread of patriotism and the celebration of a uniquely American holiday remains an intact stitch running through Riverton’s social fabric for the past 121 years.
All postcard views from the Paul W. Schopp Collection except the Children’s Flag Parade and the crowd on the riverbank, which are from Nick Mortgu’s collection. Additional links to images in Historical Society of Riverton archives.
HSR member Susan Dechnik shares these photos below she took July 4th.
She and Bill Hall and several other proselytizers were passing out our Glorious Fourth Palm Cards among the revelers bearing bits of borough history on one side and a pitch to become a member on the other.
Although recently retired as HSR treasurer, our goodwill ambassador Paul Daly also distributed the cards as he has for many years. The practice seems to have been started around 1987, possibly by Dan Campbell.
I have cards from 1987 thru this year except for 1992 and 1996. Maybe they were skipped for those years, but if any still survive in a kitchen drawer somewhere, please advise.
You’re thinking, “Shouldn’t you guys know? You are the historical society.”
Uh…no. And you would be surprised how often our capability is over estimated. But we would like to improve that and, in numbers there is strength.
Kindly consider adding your name to our number.
These are heady times indeed for the Society as renovations in the Library basement will soon enable us for the first time to set up a physical museum of sorts.
The Historical Society of Riverton invites you to join in our effort to make Riverton history more accessible by helping to underwrite the expense of this worthwhile project with your membership.
Find the complete Riverton 4th of July Committee’s 2015 Program booklet here.
Find waaaay more pix and some video on the Riverton 4th of July Committee’s Facebook page.
Find Christian Hochenberger’s photos here, but know that the display is not permanent. Enjoy while you can. – JMc
When my friend sent me a scan of his latest eBay auction win I had to agree with him.
It doesn’t hardly get any better than this! This vintage real photo post card shows an early 20th century Camden neighborhood putting on an enthusiastic patriotic display.
You have to click on this, fill your screen, and take a virtual walk down Fifth Street, circa 1910.
A large banner flanked by huge American flags spans the street proclaiming, “Welcome To Pyne Poynt.” Numerous festive paper lanterns and more 48-star American Flags frame the entire street.
Is that a Sullivan’s storefront or a political campaign office?
The boys with their knee-length knickers, white shirts and ties, the girls with their lovely short-sleeve summer dresses and bows in their hair, and of course, the young men with their bow ties, hats, and skimmers all elicit an involuntary smile from the appreciative viewer.
Catch the brave character in the jeff cap at the roof line. Has he just completed attaching flags above that first second-floor window and tying off the line suspending the banner?
Perhaps the occasion recorded here was July 4, 1910. This mailed divided-back post card bears a Camden, N.J. postmark, stamped SEP 9, 1910. The message addressed to a recipient living on River Avenue in Camden reads, “Best Wishes from Edith.”
Photographer Wm. B. Cooper of Medford, N.J. captured this amazing moment a neighborhood’s history over a century ago.
Capture some amazing moments of your own this Glorious Fourth 2013, wherever you are. – John McCormick
A banner near the Riverton War Memorial announces the Cocktail Party and Concert in the Park during the weekend preceding the Fourth and invites readers to visit http://www.riverton4thofjuly.com/ for a complete list of July 4th events. Here is the Committee’s Dear-Neighbor-Ltr-2013.
The other day my friend Phyllis Rodgers compared getting ready for the Fourth in Riverton to getting ready for Christmas. Depending on one’s involvement, other comparisons may come to mind – like preparing for D-Day.
Certainly for Tracy Foedisch and the other dedicated members of the 4th of July Committee, they have been preparing for this year’s event even as the sun set on the last year’s celebration.
All over town residents display the patriotic hues of red, white, and blue as generations have done here for more than a century.
Members of the Historic Society of Riverton will especially cheer on their compatriot, Parade Marshal Mrs. Elsie Showell Waters, as a chauffeured convertible conveys her along the Main Street parade route on July Fourth.
Read Casey Foedisch’s interview of Elsie that appears in the July Fourth Program booklet: elsie_waters_interview
Paul Daly, our esteemed HSR treasurer, shares this photo of himself and his wife Cathy bicycling up Main Street during a Riverton Fourth of the late 1970s – perhaps it was for the Nation’s Bicentennial.