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

Who will you look up in this 1928-1929 Riverton-Palmyra phone book?

vintage Bell telephone ad from May 1939  Popular Science  Thanks to
Riverton-Palmyra phone book cover, c 1928-1929

I promised two weeks ago to post a scan of Carl McDermott’s c.1928-1929 Riverton-Palmyra telephone book, but I knew that I’d better do my homework first. When I speak to Carl, it reminds me of that Kevin Bacon game—Six Degrees of Separation— because, like so many Rivertonians, he can probably be connected to someone you know in just a few steps, or degrees.

Carl’s mother gave birth to him at 721 Cinnaminson Street—on Riverton’s own Irish Row—90 years ago this past October. His mother, Mary McDermott, worked for the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company as one of Riverton’s switchboard operators for 35 years.

Mary McDermott, 2nd from left, 1926

Here are Mrs. McDermott and some co-workers as they appeared in the 1926 film, The Romance of Riverton, which Town Historian Betty B. Hahle helped preserve some years ago. Click here to view a 33 second clip from the 43 minute video that was made from the rescued film.  The following description of that scene appears in the booklet that accompanies the DVD:

The Price building, on Broad between Church Lane and Main on Broad, was erected in 1891, on the former site of the Episcopal Church and churchyard. Many businesses started here. The Telephone Exchange moved to the 2nd floor soon after the turn of the century, and soon occupied both the 2nd and 3rd floors. Four young ladies shown near Church Lane are: Mary Bell, Mary McDermott (who identified both groups), ( ? ) Hanson, and Betty Steinbach. The telephone operators are: Hazel Woolford, Ethel Hanson, Mrs. Radcliffe (supervisor), Ruth Hanson, Oc1ey Ebert, and Frances Reidenbaker.

As a lad during the late 1920s, Carl spent several evenings at his mother’s side one summer on the third floor of the Price Building, now the upper level of Zena’s dining rooms at Broad and Main. Working evenings alone, she had been alarmed by someone trying the locked door at the back door to the fire escape, so Carl and his two brothers took turns at guard duty and slept on a cot.

vintage Bell telephone ad from Oct. 1927 Popular Science  Thanks to
vintage Bell Telephone ad from Feb. 1929 National Geographic Thanks to

While safeguarding his mom from midnight prowlers, young Carl picked up some on-the-job operator training. She showed him how she listened through her headset for the caller’s request for a number, and then manually matched a cord to a jack in order to connect the parties. She also recorded times for some calls on yellow slips of paper.


This story all unfolded because I remarked to Carl about the short phone numbers of only 2-4 digits and I asked how the caller dialed the number.

Here’s the listing for Schwering’s Hardware Store, an establishment which has served the region since 1922.

listing for Schwering’s Hardware in Palmyra, NJ

“Dial! They didn’t dial,” Carl explained. The caller rang for the operator and they told her the number of whom they were calling. I won’t even try to explain a party-line and a world without call-waiting, voice-mail, and texting to the smart-phone generation.

For others like me who may need a refresher on the state of communication technology of the late 1920s/1930s I included these great old telephone print ads from periodicals of the day, courtesy of

Click here to download the Riverton-Palmyra phone book , c. 1928-1929. Two pages/one sheet on Palmyra are missing. Thanks so much to Carl for letting me borrow his phone book so that it could become part of our website. (revised 12/5/11 some viewers reported difficulty with original link)

Now, who will you look up in the pages of this old phone book? – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor


Explore these hi-res photos of a procession at Broad & Garfield

J.T. Evans truck - detail from undated Broad and Garfield photo

I always learn something new about Riverton every time I speak to Carl McDermott. An expatriate of Cinnaminson Street, Riverton’s own Irish Row (Mar. 2010 GN ), Carl celebrated in October his 90th birthday at Riverton Country Club with 123 friends and relatives.

He and his wife Doris now live in Palmyra, and from time to time he leaves a comment on something that he finds here. On the post about the construction of Riverton’s War Memorial he pointed out that he had installed the electric for its illumination. Shortly afterwards he provided me with photos of himself and his two brothers, now passed, for display in our Veterans Photo Album. It was Carl who gave me the idea to interview his friend Franny Cole on the subject of Cole Dairy ( Feb. 2011 GN )which once operated at Fifth and Main Streets.

On a recent day the topic of our conversation was the pictures of the J.T. Evans Coal & Lumber Building from Joseph F. Yearly’s photo album that he was looking at on this website. He invited me to see a couple of photos and an old Riverton telephone book in which he thought I would be interested. Would I?

The photos are apparently of a funeral for a political or military figure which took place in Palmyra, date unknown. Writing on the back of one (not Carl’s) indicates that Palmyra mayor George W. Wimer is walking beside the band wearing a bow-tie and hat, and that the location is Broad and Garfield Streets.

Broad & Garfield - - Post # 136 - Mayor George Wimer bottom right with bow-tie and hat

Ray Fichter, the last man in the band on the right, married Marg McDermott, which is the reason that someone gave the photo to Carl.  As with other artifacts of uncertain provenance which have appeared here, we could use a little help from our readers on this one.

A George N. Wimer served as Palmyra’s mayor 1928-1931, so the “W” must be an error.  Inspecting more closely, I discovered a J.T. Evans delivery truck which I have also posted with the other Evans images sent in by Mary Flanagan.

Once I confessed to my friend Harlan, a fellow postcard collector, of losing myself in these old scenes. He said that he was finally glad to know that he wasn’t the only one.

Broad and Garfield

I post these two high-resolution scans made from the original 8x10s so that any others with such an inclination may do so. If you have an observation to share, please leave a comment. Kindly contact us if you have anything that you wish to give to our archives or loan for documenting and scanning.

I’ll save the scans of the Riverton-Palmyra phone book, c.1928-1929, for a future post and there are also more photos from the Joseph F. Yearly photo album in store. Be sure to come back again. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

Rev.11/17 My friend Will Valentino of the Palmyra Historical and Cultural Society writes: “I wish I had some info on the funeral.  William Morgan died in 1929 and it was a pretty big deal. He was considered the emblematic Father of Palmyra at that time and Wimer was at the funeral .” You can read his award-winning local history column, “Back in Time” now published in the monthly community newspaper, The Positive Press. – JMc

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

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 Christmas Number New Era—Part 2

Dear Reader,
This second installment of the 1909 Christmas issue of the New Era includes pages 25-44 plus the inside and outside of the back cover of this remarkable nostalgic tour of the various political and social organizations and business establishments of Riverton, Palmyra, and Cinnaminson.

While Part 1 included information mainly about Riverton and a number of advertisers, this second part is mainly about Palmyra, and Cinnaminson, and more advertisers. Some facts may be old news to followers of Palmyra history, but others just seem the stuff of winning bar bets. That is, if you know the answers.

Railroad Station at Palmyra, N.J., once known as Texas
In its early days, Palmyra was known as Texas. Yeah, I know. Living in a place called Texas, New Jersey must have been confusing. In any case, the name was changed to Palmyra by a man named Isaiah Toy who “…did not like the name Texas for a town that had aspired to the dignity of a postoffice, and changed it to Palmyra, a name suggested by his sister, Caroline.”

The pages paint a portrait of the community’s economic vitality as they boast of Palmyra and Riverton’s first schoolhouse and expanding school enrollment, the building of the Camden & Amboy Railroad (the 19th century forerunner of the RiverLine light rail passenger service which follows the same route), and the practice of five neighborhood farmers to ship their produce by boats which each carried 100 baskets of corn. Once part of Cinnaminson like its upriver cousin, Riverton, Palmyra became a separate township in 1894.

The publication traces the origins and 1909 status for a number of social and fraternal clubs and organizations. Among the more curious are the hundred member Palmyra Bicycle Club, the Loyal Temperance Union (a group which spearheaded the crusade for prohibition), the storied Palmyra Field Club, the Independence Fire Company No.1, and several patriotic groups.

Another amazing Palmyra fact involves one of its churches which actually was built in Riverton in 1859 and was moved to Palmyra to “…open for divine service on the new site Friday, May 8, 1885.”

“About Our Advertisers” on page 35-38 is a who’s who of the area’s 45 principal commercial establishments. Brief descriptions of each of the businesses appear for grocers, butchers, painters, plumbers, druggists, tailors, bakers, and other merchants and tradesmen of all sorts.  Advertisements take up the remainder of the publication, some at a full page like the one for Dreer’s Nursery, and others at a half, or smaller fraction, as in the ad for John B. Murphy, Horseshoer at Broad and Cinnaminson.

Altogether, it is a pretty cool history local history lesson in twenty pages from a primary source that you won’t find on your typical public library shelf. Click on the link to download and view the pages. Be advised that it is a large 5.23MB PDF file.

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 2 of the 1909 New Era Christmas Issue. Be advised, it is a 5.23MB file.  – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor