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.
Tethered to my workplace until 5PM that day I knew I would be unable to catch the arrival of the HRCentury riders, so I appealed to the Universe and it delivered in the form of this great pic of HRCentury creator Rob Gusky from Carlos Rogers.
Rob looks pretty fresh after biking a hundred miles from Millburn, NJ to Riverton.
Susan Dechnik sent in most of the following photos.
The ride took longer than anticipated since the cyclists ran into a punishing headwind for much of it.
Also conceived by Rob Gusky, the 3-Mile Community Ride was to follow the conclusion of this second realization of the Historic Riverton Century, and many residents of all ages awaited in the former District parking lot.
Meanwhile, HSR member Susan Dechnik handed out souvenir buttons bearing Anne Racioppi‘s imaginative logo and explained the connection to the 1895 NYC-Riverton Relay Race to those who were unaware.
The arduous trip caused the bicyclists to converge on the parking lot from different directions and not all at once.
Carlos Rogers congratulated Rob and the other riders. A cheer arose from the crowd as the Community Ride began led by the Century riders.
The ride ended with a ceremony at Memorial Park.
Mayor Suzanne Cairns Wells, Lifelong Wheelman Gary Sanderson and Riverton’s Town Historian Paul W. Schopp each addressed the audience and congratulated the athletes on their achievement.
In his address Mr.Schopp acknowledged that “…women have always maintained a keen interest in cycling and the mix of riders in today’s Riverton Century uphold the long legacy of female cyclists,” and described the 1895 Tri-State Relay Race which inspired Rob to create the Historic Riverton Century in 2014. Find a text file of his address here.
Attired in vintage wheelman gear and displaying his restored 1895 Indian Racer bicycle, Gary Sanderson described the adversity experienced by the riders in 1895 with traveling miserable roads on failure-prone single-speed bicycles. Read Gary Sanderson’s remarks here.
Mr. Gusky cited nonagenarian Bill Hall for his dedication to bicycling, and recognized Carlos Rogers for creating in 2011 the Historic Riverton Criterium which every year contributes money to local organizations and individuals. To date Carlos has distributed over $20,000!
Gusky called up the women participants in this year’s HRCentury and Phyllis Rodgers and Pat Brunker presented them and the men with sashes reminiscent of those worn by riders in 1895.
Later, many in the group met at Riverton’s Orange Blossom Cafe to eat and to recount details of their experience.
Everyone agreed that the two big bike spectacles now associated with the second weekend in June are community assets which combine to promote the sport of bicycling as well as provide family fun.
Perhaps it was the influence of the euphoria of a bicyclist’s high, but Gusky and Crew were already heard scheming to recreate the next ride.
Are you up for it?
Later on Facebook, Rob Gusky generously thanked the many people and organizations that made this year’s Riverton Century and Community Ride a success.
Century route planner Randy “Wheels” Jackson of the Major Taylor Cycling Club also wrote a lengthy Facebook piece recognizing those who had made it possible for him to “…relax and enjoy the ride.”
The creation of the Historic Riverton Century Ride by Rob Gusky and the Historic Riverton Criterium by Carlos Rogers now rank among the most treasured traditions of the Borough. The Historical Society of Riverton is privileged to be associated with them both.
Please add your own photos or submit comments. – JMc
Following up on the Seaside Heights Carousel post from last week, my friend Paul Schopp forwards this undated image of that same attraction in an earlier incarnation when it started delighting riders in 1901, at Burlington Island, at the Island Beach Amusement Park.
Events today can turn on a dime, and the emotions aroused by the impending auction of the Seaside Heights Carousel have given rise to a new effort to bring the carousel back to its hometown, Burlington.
Guernsey’s Auctioneers posts a press release and many photos accompanied by a tune from the carousel’s Wurlitzer here. No telling how long that will be available.
It doesn’t cost anything to hear about his crusade to save the historic amusement from being relocated elsewhere or sold off piecemeal. And his passion for the cause might just inspire you to even sign up to give a buck toward the $2.7 million goal or make a comment on Facebook.
Casino Pier, of Seaside Heights, is selling their historic carousel, most likely in pieces. This isn’t just any carousel though, this one of the only four original, hand-carved, working carousel’s left in the world. It started its life on Burlington Island, at the Island Beach Amusement Park, in 1901. It then survived the park’s two fires and its eventual close. It was then sent to Casino Pier and has remained there, one of the only rides to survive both Hurricane Sandy, and the 2012 Seaside Heights fire. What we want to do is bring this carousel back to its hometown, Burlington. This is a historic piece full of life, spirit, and memories, of many people of both Seaside Heights and Burlington. It would be a shame to let it dissapear from the world. That’s why we need your help. We need to raise a lot of funds to save the carousel from destruction. Connor Newmann has started a go fund me campaign to save the carousel up now for auction by Seaside Heights. Support him and his efforts to bring the carousel back to where it originated, historic Burlington City, NJ. Please add friends to this group so we can bring the carousel back home.
Watch as the social network members post news of the latest developments, “exploring every avenue to keep it from being dismantled”, including forming a non-profit and praying for a “Hail, Mary” assist from Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen.
For those interested in pursuing further the origin story of the historic carousel whose survival has now captured the attention of so many people, read about the Floyd L. Moreland Dentzel/Looff Carousel at discoverseasideheights.com. Since there is every likelihood that the webpage will be taken down, we reluctantly quote a portion of it here:
The Historic Seaside Heights’ Carousel
The Casino Pier carousel has, like many storied carousels, an interesting history. The machine was originally part of a trolley park called Island Beach Park. Oddly enough this was not the Island Beach found just miles from Seaside Heights but was located in Burlington, NJ. In 1928 the park burned and the fire damaged the carousel. An area resident, Linus Gilbert, rescued and rebuilt the machine. He bought and added carved figures that were not part of the original. This resulted in a carousel with a mixture of animals from a few different revered carvers, some of whom had worked from different carousel manufacturers. The work of William Dentzel, Marcus Illions, Charles Carmel, and Charles Looff are all represented in this one carousel. The carousel was brought from Burlington to Seaside Heights in 1932. It was placed in an open frame building and was still under the care and management of Linus Gilbert. This first building was the beginnings of what would later become the Casino Arcade and Casino Pier. When the carousel building was first built there was a fishing pier located a short distance away. The pier then had nothing to do with what was soon to become a growing amusement area. Eventually the “Seaside Heights Casino” was built to house the carousel and to add more attractions around it. This same building is still in place today. The most recent large scale change to the structure took place in the 1980’s. The building was made smaller to keep it from blocking Ocean Boulevard, which is the main street paralleling the western side of the boardwalk. The Casino Pier carousel was almost lost to another disaster – selling off the animals to collectors. The owners of the carousel seriously considered dismantling their machine in the 1980s. Some animals fetched more than $100,000 at auction during that decade. The selling off of the animals met strong opposition from an unlikely corner, Dr. Floyd Moreland. At the time he was Professor of Classics and Dean at the City University of New York. He had ridden the carousel as a child and later operated the ride as an employee of the Casino Pier. Dr. Moreland convinced the owners they should let him restore the carousel. This project took a number of years and involved numerous people chipping in their time or money to help Dr. Moreland. Their collective efforts helped bring back the vibrancy and beauty of the carousel.
For more history of Island Park on Burlington Island and truly rare old images see the scans and information our expert Town Historian has posted here (scroll about halfway down the page).
You have seen before on this website here several image variations of the steamer Columbia.
Mr. Schopp reveals more details about the amenities of the boat that “…became the queen of the excursion trade, operating innumerable trips to the various picnic groves along the river shore, moonlight dance cruises and, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, to the many amusement parks that dotted the Delaware River shore.”
Actually makes me wish I could go back in time. – John McCormick
P.S. To further illuminate the topic for extreme carousel devotees Paul explains that the terms merry-go-round and carousel are not synonymous – “A carousel features a menagerie of different hand-carved animals while a merry-go-round only carries horses.
Another tidbit of information concerning these wonderful amusement rides: American carousels and merry-go-rounds travel in a cyclonic or counterclockwise direction while those in Great Britain go around clockwise.”
Remember you read it here. You know you’ll use this bit of minutiae in a conversation soon. Thank you, Paul.
The cyclists who took part in The Historic Riverton Century 100+ mile New York to Riverton bike ride on June 7 have moved on, but the memories remain here and a tangible dividend resulted for the town – the installation of a permanent historic marker at the former site of the track at the corner of South Broad Street and Thomas Avenue.
Riverton enjoyed another “fifteen minutes of fame” and media attention as a result of this June’s Bicycle Weekend that included the Historic Riverton Century riders’ arrival Saturday evening, June 7, the dedication of the Bicycle Track Historic Marker Sunday morning, June 8, and the Fourth Annual Historic Riverton Criterium Sunday afternoon.
Rob Gusky, the originator and planner of the grueling cycling odyssey that approximately recreates the route of the 1895 NY Times Tri-State Relay Race, continues to post photos and updates on Facebook since he returned to his Wisconsin home.
Particularly interesting is the first-person report of Randy “Wheels” Jackson, one of the riders, who gives his impressions of the hundred-mile trek from the steps of the New York Times Building to the site where Riverton’s quarter-mile bicycle track once stood near South Broad, behind the Riverline Station.
That endorphin-fueled high experienced by endurance athletes had barely worn off when Rob announced plans for the 2015 Historic Riverton Century that include a 15-mile ride from the Burlington Riverline station back to Riverton on Saturday, June 13, 2015.
Doubtless, these exciting new Riverton traditions owe at least a nod to events in our past for their inspiration.
We pause here for a commercial message from our sponsor – the Historical Society of Riverton.
In the address he gave for the dedication of the Historic Marker, Town Historian Paul W. Schopp provided much needed historical context to Riverton’s decision to build a bicycle track in 1894.
In addition, Mr. Schopp’s remarks explain the broader implications of the Golden Age of Cycling and the influence that the League of American Wheelmen had on the development of better roads.
Then, there is the obvious question – what happened to the track?
It’s all here in Paul Schopp’s very fitting and customarily meticulous report on the Riverton Bicycle Track. – John McCormick
An antique automobile, a steam locomotive, a railroad station, AND a trolley – all in one postcard! I call that a GRAND SLAM and the HSR is fortunate indeed to have this scan of a 1905 real photo postcard of Broad & Main Streets in Riverton courtesy of collector Mr. Nick Mortgu.
Nick has contributed scans of dozens of his vintage postcards to our online archive of historic Riverton images, but this one is truly extraordinary and rare because it has three modes of transport plus the train station in the same frame.
Times may have changed, but the roofline of the building that is today Zena’s is unmistakable to anyone familiar with Riverton. In 1905, the building served as the offices of the Public Service Corporation of NJ which supplied the gas to the borough.
This detail of a 1905 Sanborn Insurance Map shows the placement of the station on Broad near Main.
Any guesses on what those few missing words of the message say?
December 5, 1905 My Dear Nancy, We are still alive. Why don’t you answer my letters. You must excuse me for not writing but this is… Good by Mildred. This is the Riverton station.
I have straightened, cropped, and adjusted levels on a slice of the postcard image, but that is about the limit of my restoration ability on this image. Click on it to enlarge it and step into a moment frozen in time – 1905.
I’d love to see those tiny cracks Photoshopped out so if a reader has the skills, please contact me.
We thank Mr. Mortgu and all of the contributors of images and comments for helping to make this website grow in content. We also thank the donors who have given the HSR their treasured historic items so that our archives may become a specialized repository for preserving Riverton history.
We are grateful too, for members who continue to support our mission to create an awareness of our heritage, to discover, restore, and preserve local objects and landmarks, and to continue to expand our knowledge of the history of the area.
If you can help this endeavor by becoming a member of the Historical Society of Riverton, by contributing content to this website, or by donating items to the organization, please contact us.
Since the theme for this post seems to be me being REALLY thankful, here’s a holiday wish from Lora over at Moore’s Postcard Museum who recently expanded our inventory with many great vintage Atlantic City and Ocean City postcard scenes.
Happy Thanksgiving! – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor
Added 12/18/2011 – Shortly after I published the above post, professional historian and HSR member Paul W. Schopp added a comment which greatly amplifies the information that I wrote, and I have added it below because comments often get missed. Every blog post, and often some of the media, have a provision to for the reader to leave a comment photos. Paul’s comment follows:
While the 1905 Sanborn does, indeed, depict the building that today houses Zena’s as Public Service, that corporation had only just assumed control of the office there. On 21 September 1899, the River Shore Gas Company incorporated with an address of Broad and Main streets, Riverton. The new utility company has constructed the one-story building to be its office and retail store for gas fixtures and appliances. Initial capitalization consisted of $75,000, but less than a year later, the stock had increased to $140,000 for construction purposes. Another increase occurred in April 1901 and the stock now totaled $168,000. In February 1903, the conglomerate known as the South Jersey Gas, Electric and Traction Company—forerunner of Public Service—gained control of River Shore. Public Service Corporation then consummated a lease of the South Jersey Gas, Electric and Traction Company on 2 May 1904. Hence, the reason why the 1905 Sanborn lists the building as the property of Public Service.
The rare images posted of the J.T Evans Coal & Lumber Building from Joseph F. Yearly’s picture album were only a part of the exceptional photographs which chronicled milestones of the Yearly Clan through the first half of the 20th century.
A fortunate by-product of that family photographic record is that it also documents how the scenery changed over time for the people in those photos, and it helps us imagine—or possibly recall–the Riverton of long ago.
Don’t think that family photos are of no interest to anyone else. Old photos, diaries, journals, scrapbooks, ledgers, even common advertising materials, bills and receipts, postcards,newspapers, and other such ephemera items can be invaluable clues to the historian when trying to understand the characteristics of a place such as Riverton.
If you care to respond to any photo, add information, or ask a question, please leave a comment. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor
Rev. 12/18/2011 – You have to be pretty sharp to find factual errors in old newspaper accounts, but professional historian and part-time HSR fact checker Paul W. Schopp is just that good. After I published the above text and images, Paul wrote to say that the Yearly photos are “a great collection images” and then he very generously added a good deal of factual information about several of them which may enrich your understanding and enjoyment. He pointed out a couple of errors: hence, this minor revision. To see Paul’s comment, just mouse-click on those tiny letters at the bottom of this post where it says “Comments.” JMc
The huge fire that taxed the firefighting resources of as many as six communities and destroyed the former J.T. Evans Coal and Lumber Building in 1979 closed the final chapter on a structure which had been a Main Street landmark since the late 19th century.
The J.T. Evans coal and lumber business had its origin sometime during the late 1800s as one of four locations of the I. W. Heulings’ Sons Lumber and Coal Dealers, later becoming A. C. Heulings & Bros. Lumber and Coal, changing ownership around 1900 to Riverton carpenter and builder Samuel Rudderow, who finally sold it to Mr. Evans in 1905. In its last days the property may be best remembered as the original site of The New Leaf plant shop run by Will Ann and Ray Szulczewski.
These details from Sanborn Insurance maps show just how much Main Street real estate the J.T. Evans complex encompassed. (Note the railroad track on concrete piers that appears in the 1919 map which figures in photo #041.)
The Printing Shop indicated on the 1919 map at 607 Main Street was once the location of The New Era newspaper, now Freddy’s Shoe Repair. I thank Mr. Fred DeVece every time I refer to my treasured copy of the 1909 New Era Christmas issue which he gave me several years ago when I was teaching history at RPS.
Case in point: Image #005 is a clipping from the “About Our Advertisers” page of the 1909 Christmas New Era gives a short history of the J.T. Evans enterprise, which at that point, was just four years old. “Thank you again, Freddy.” (Read more details about the 1909 New Era Christmas issue in Part One and Part Two.)
This early undated postcard from the Paul W. Schopp Collection shows the frame construction of the original building that lay underneath the red brick veneer that Joseph Evans added in 1937.
An email from Mrs. Mary Yearly Flanagan with an invitation to view her grandfather’s photo album inspired this post about the Evans Building. Given the scarcity of picture postcards of that structure, the following scans made from the personal photographs of Joseph F. Yearly may be the best record we have of that establishment. Like the long gone Lyceum, the Lawn House, and the grandstand of the Riverton Athletic Association’s bicycle track, it is another part of life from Riverton’s yesteryears.
HSR member Mrs. Mary Yearly Flanagan, granddaughter of Joseph F. Yearly, has very generously provided these images for the enjoyment of our readers. She writes, “At least now, some of his photos are being shared – and that makes me feel good. I passionately believe that old photos of historic significance should be shared & not just sit in someone’s attic – or worse.”
Future posts from the Joseph F. Yearly photo album will include more unique views of Dreer’s, Irish Row, and the riverbank — views which the tourists’ picture postcards missed.
My understanding about a person or a thing from Riverton’s past frequently emerges slowly as I gather bits and snippets of facts and information, often with the help of whomever else I can manage to enlist in my investigation. Joseph F. Yearly’s photographs, Mr. DeVece’s New Era issues, items from the Paul W. Schopp Collection, recollections of Mary Flanagan and her cousin, Joseph B. Yearly, and my own research have contributed to this article. As this examination is far from complete, you are invited to elaborate upon this essay.
Readers, please leave a comment with a memory, a question, or even a correction about this post. If you have a related item such as a bill, product package, sign, advertisement, photo, or a scan of an item, that you wish to add to this growing archive, please contact us. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor
P.S. 2/14/2012 Many thanks to reader Jerry Mooney for finding the caption error on photo #041 runaway railroad car. It is indeed a photo of the Collins Bldg., also no longer. If any reader can send more details on the Collins Building or that incident, please contact us. – JMc
In Riverton’s latest example of “What’s old is new again,” the newly transformed bank building at the corner of Main and Harrison Streets will be the scene for the next HSR general membership meeting on June 9, 2011 (See the May 2011 Gaslight News for details).
Long a Main Street landmark, the building has been home to a number of financial institutions since it was constructed. But, how many and when?
Fellow HSR member and professional historian Paul W. Schopp refreshes our memory as he relates below the history of the decades-old bank building, now called The Bank on Main, which has been re-purposed as a new private venue for social and business events. – JMcC, Ed.
The Cinnaminson National Bank of Riverton incorporated in the fall of 1906 and acquired a lot on the east side of Main Street in November 1906. The new banking firm immediately began erecting the brick building and frame wagon sheds on the lot located between Freddie’s Shoe Repair and the former Riverton Post Office. In 1928, the Cinnaminson National Bank received permission to offer Trust services to its customers. As a result of this action, the bank reincorporated as the Cinnaminson Bank & Trust Company and then constructed a new building at 604 Main Street. The bank retained the architectural design services of Davis, Dunlap & Barney of Philadelphia. This partnership dissolved in circa 1928, so the bank building in Riverton can be numbered among the firm’s last commissions.
The Cinnaminson Bank & Trust Company continued to operate under that name until at least 1966, with a branch in Palmyra and in Cinnaminson, when it may have changed its name to Garden State Bank. In the late 1960s Camden Trust Company requested permission to merge the Cinnaminson Bank & Trust Company into itself. In 1969, Camden Trust restyled itself as The Bank of New Jersey. The following year, The Bank of New Jersey did receive permission to proceed with the merger and the Cinnaminson Bank and Trust Company/Garden State Bank entered the realm of banking history. In 1982, Princeton Bank received permission to merge The Bank of New Jersey into itself with Princeton Bank being the successor firm. Chemical Bank New Jersey and Princeton Bank merged in 1990. Chemical Bank New Jersey became part of PNC Bank New Jersey in 1995 and the Riverton Bank operated as a PNC Bank for just over a year. In the second-half of 1996, Farmers & Mechanics Bank took over operations at 604 Main Street, although it is unclear whether they owned or leased the building. Farmers & Mechanics merged into Beneficial Savings Bank of Philadelphia in July 2007. In a cost-cutting move, Beneficial closed its Riverton branch and the building remained empty until The Bank on Main acquired the former bank for a catering hall. – PAUL W. SCHOPP
The images in the picture gallery above show some items from the HSR archives. We welcome comments about the bank which has served generations of Rivertonians and would like to post scans or photos of any mementos that readers may have. – JMcC, Ed.
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.
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.
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 Sunalong 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 .
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
A virtual boat tour of the Delaware River. Presenter, Paul W. Schopp, Senior Historian AECOM Transportation, is also a HSR Board member and former Executive Director of the Camden County Historical Society.