“Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton” shows boroughs the way they were in the 1930s and 1940s; Creator, Matt Gideon seeks public’s help with new project

Selected screen captures from “Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton Volume I”

It seems that Palmyra has its own version of “Romance of Riverton” called “Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton,” and I recently had the pleasure of screening for the first time Volumes I and II of these classic 1930s-1940s home movies of Palmyra and Riverton. The late Dr. Dean LeFavor, a Palmyra family physician, captured on film many seemingly everyday scenes with his 8mm movie camera while out making house calls. Needless to say, much of the everyday 1934 is no longer with us.

Some of those scenes in the over one hundred aptly named “glimpses” in Volume I include period cars, trucks, and buses, the Delaware River frozen over, a few vehicle accidents, and several types of fire trucks, as Dr. LeFavor often responded to fire and emergency calls where his medical skills would be called for.

Three fleeting clips of the Nellie Bly steam engine passenger train roaring up the tracks en route to New York contrasted sharply with two other sobering scenes which showed the aftermath of an automobile and a milk truck which tangled with the speedy Nellie Bly and lost. Dr. LeFavor even took his camera with him on road trips to New York City and to check out the beached hulk of the Morrow Castle passenger ship at Asbury Park in 1934.

The old Palmyra and Riverton train stations each are hubs of activity in their respective towns, and the bright dancing lights on Palmyra’s Broadway movie marquee beckon couples to come inside to see the 1934 American musical comedy film Twenty Million Sweethearts starring Pat O’Brien, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. With so many locations and landmarks so transformed over the years, this film could just as easily been titled, “Things That Aren’t There Anymore.”

I had seen many of the film’s subjects as the static images in the old postcard views, but seeing these same locations reanimated with people in a real movie is just an extra bonus. After searching so long for photos of the Nellie Bly, seeing a clip of her steaming through town was, in itself, worth the price of admission.

These DVDs are sure to appeal to local history buffs, as well as those who enjoy antique fire equipment, steam engine trains, or vintage automobiles, and anyone who wants to see what this place was like “back in the day.”

All of these priceless motion pictures could have been lost had it not been for Mr. and Mrs. Walter W. Poulson who allowed the Palmyra Fire Company to reproduce the films which Dr, LeFavor had given them. In 1989, Matthew Gideon of the Palmyra Fire Department arranged for the film to be transferred to DVD.

Big band and swing background music accompanies Volume I which comes with a scene by scene account developed from notes taken by Dr. LeFavor. “Glimpses of Palmyra and Riverton in the 1930s and 40s, Volume II” contains the last reel of Dr. LeFavor’s films around town, still photos of Tacony-Palmyra Bridge under construction and of the Tacony-Palmyra Ferry Company, and still photos taken from Dr. Lamb’s Picturesque Palmyra booklet. It is fully narrated and accompanied with piano music played by Dr. LeFavor. Click here to view a short trailer showing four scenes from Volume I. (Check out the gasoline price on the sign in the Mutt Parade.)

Matt reports that limited quantities of both titles are available for $25 each;  include $5 postage and handling, if you need yours mailed. Specify if you want Volume I or Volume II. Send your check or postal money order to: Mr. Matt Gideon, 116 Mt. Vernon Drive, Cinnaminson, NJ 08077. If you are local, please arrange for pick-up at the firehouse in Palmyra.

(DVDs are no longer available)

Independence Fire Co. No. 1, 20th anniversary in 1907

Another reason for today’s column is to publicize 40 year Palmyra firehouse veteran Matt Gideon’s newest history project—a detailed history of the Palmyra and Riverton Fire Departments from the founding of each in the late 19th century up through about 1920. He requests that the public contact him with old photos, newspaper articles, programs, memorabilia, and such which will serve to supplement his search of borough records, minutes of firehouse meetings, and logs of fire calls.

Matt plans to use the collected research to plan a talk and presentation he is planning to use as a fundraiser for both fire companies. Please contact Matt at 856-816-4330  and make arrangements to share your old photos and collections which will help him document fire locations and supply background material that will set the tone for the time period from 1886-1920.  – 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