These remarkable photos from Nancy and Bill Steel’s family album offer a rare glimpse into early 20th century Riverton.
Do you recognize this Riverton landmark in its earlier days?
Built in 1909 as the clubhouse for an organization celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2015, it has a much different look here than in a later postcard view.
In an August 3rd post called Hot enough for ya? candid shots of the Fitler family of 109 Bank Avenue cavorting in a homemade swimming drew possibly the most traffic ever to this website and rekindled memories of those who later learned to swim in Bay Ruff’s pool. These scans came from that same album.
This photo had no caption or date, but you can see the Yacht Club in the background. Somewhere I have the name of a pilot who flew passengers around Riverton for a fee. But who is the woman?
We are often asked here what we have on file about the history of a house. Except for a few founders’ homes, we have precious little, I am afraid.
However, the 1999 Riverton National Register Historic District Inventory has short summary descriptions for over 500 structures. Mrs. Patricia Solin, a frequent contributor to the Gaslight News, reports that she will have some helps to publish here later this fall for those wishing to research the history of their home.
A new homeowner once told me how much they appreciated receiving from their seller a box of documents and old photos about the history of their just purchased house.
These photos taken in 1905 would be invaluable to a person trying to recreate original architectural details.
Note the oil lamp on the post that predates the Welsbach gaslamps. Do you have any photos of your home back in the day you could send in?
In a year in which we have a woman candidate running for president, an intriguing sequence of photos about suffragists marching to gain the right to vote prompted me google some of the names I read in the captions.
I learned Col. Ida Kraft (also spelled Craft) and her army of Pilgrims were actually a real thing and a very big deal. But are the pictures in this album because a family member was involved in the march?
The captions do not say and the Steels do not know.
I couldn’t wait for cold weather to share this next one. I have heard of people walking on the river ice way back when, but a wind powered iceboat must be something to see.
Delving into the Steel family album reminds us that there are still some surprises to be found in Riverton history, but sometimes they present more questions than answers.
If you have any more surprises to throw into the mix, or can help connect the dots to some of these random bits, please join the conversation here at rivertonhistory.com.
Won’t you support the Historical Society of Riverton’s efforts to preserve and promote the history of this “unique” town in the only way that matters with your membership?
The Society gets an earlier than usual start on the season this time with its first event on September 10. Read more about it and other calendar events in our SUMMER EXTRA Gaslight News, a two-page late August summary of upcoming events and recap of summer web posts. – JMc
The July 3rd, 1865 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer announced “The Democratic citizens of the beautiful and flourishing town of Riverton… intend celebrating the Fourth of July in grand style.”
As the Great Day approaches, some may wonder how some of our July Fourth traditions started. Here is a sequel to the origin story of the mayor’s parade staff.
The subject of the parade baton that the mayor wields as the July Fourth Parade traverses Main Street has been touched on in these pages before.
We reprinted here the findings of former Town Historian Betty Hahle and learned there were not one, but two staffs.
And it seems she reached a different conclusion from what been reached earlier in the 1965 Riverton Yacht Club Centennial Booklet – that the staffs had come from India. Admitting that history is not static, and the discovery of new materials can change our interpretation of events, she reasoned that they instead originated from Switzerland.
Whatever the ancestry of those first two staffs, we can be certain of the provenance of the most recent addition to the Borough’s collection of parade batons.
This past November, I was talking about the parade baton with Mayor William C. Brown and he mentioned in passing that he had to fashion a new staff himself for the 2014 July 4th promenade.
That is the very definition of Riverton history so I pressed the former marine for details of the news that was already several months old.
Mayor Brown explains:
The Mayor of Riverton’s tradition of carrying a staff during the Annual Fourth of July Parade, was started by Mayor E.C. Stroughton in 1897.
So that every year since then, a metal plate was added with the current mayor’s name, the year, and the number of children that marched in the parade.
There are three staffs in the Borough office, and legend has it that they came from trees located in Riverton. I’ve not found anything written about the first two, however I can state that the current staff did come from a Riverton tree.
I searched the wooded area along the park till I found a tree floating in the Pompeston Creek. I cut it loose, trimmed it out, and took it home, where I stripped, sanded, stained and applied two coats of varnish to preserve it.
One has to admire Mayor Brown’s unpretentious and no-nonsense account of how he humbly came to add another page to Riverton lore. And to think that we would have missed it if I had not brought it up.
This column from a June 28, 1934 New Era outlines the history of the Flag Parade Staff and lists the number of children participation from 1897 through 1933.
The loss of those old hometown newspapers left such a gap in our historical record. If you have not yet explored them, browse though some pages. You might find someone mentioned you know.
If you have any issues we do not have, please donate them or allow us to scan the pages.
While Riverton history of old is worth preserving, so too, it is worth recording events of today. The approach of our Glorious Fourth is sure to cause much reminiscing and retelling of family tales.
Leave one below in the comments box, or let us know what draws so many to return to this “unique” place each July Fourth.
Congratulations to the members of Riverton Yacht Club on 66th running of the Governor’s Cup Regatta at Riverton Yacht Club as they celebrate their sesquicentennial – that’s their 150th anniversary, in case you don’t have a dictionary.
The clipping at left is from the pages of Riverton’s now defunct hometown newspaper, The New Era, which announced in late June 1949, the events planned around the first Governor’s Cup Regatta planned for the following July 2 and 3.
A week later The New Era provided coverage of the regatta in the clipping at right. In his remarks that day Governor Driscoll congratulated the Yacht Club for its part in teaching the youth of America the meaning of sportsmanship.
Our much expanded Second Annual Daniel Campbell Riverton Awards Night took place April 16 at the Porch Club.
Homeowners brought photos and each explained their unique process involved in executing their restoration projects.
Society President Phyllis Rodgers presented each recipient with an award to symbolize their home’s transformation from a diamond in the rough to a vision realized.
As originally conceived, it was again a night to congratulate and say ‘thank-you’ to a number of people who have served the Historical Society of Riverton.
The big addition to the agenda was the observance of milestone anniversaries of four of Riverton’s finest organizations – Riverton School’s 150th anniversary, the Porch Club’s 125th , Riverton Yacht Club’s 150th, and Riverton Fire Company’s 125th.
It was all the excuse we needed for a big cake!
Many details of the big night are shown in the four attached slideshows. Text below indicates the content of each part.
(The slideshows contain several links to external content, so check OK or you will not see it.)
SLIDESHOW 1 covers the part shown in black text of the AGENDA below. (21 slides, 13.5MB)
SLIDESHOW 2 covers the part shown in green. (30 slides, 18.5MB)
SLIDESHOW 3 has only one topic, Riverton Yacht Club, but is the longest. (35 slides, 17.3MB)
SLIDESHOW 4, shown in the AGENDA in red, contains the Riverton Fire Company and some photos of the evening (10 slides, 10.5MB)
AGENDA April 16, 2015 Welcome – Acknowledgement of Board members and past presidents Business – Nomination and election of Peg Crook and Morgan Leone for Board seats HSR Service Awards to retiring Board members – Paul Daly, Charlotte Lippincott, Riverton School History Project Student Achievement Awards Daniel Campbell Awards – Bolton,Downes, Rogers, Schweich, Borough Council Special Service Awards – Michael Solin, Linda McCormick Historical House Markers – Bill McDermott explains new process, 100 Park Ave. Anniversaries – Mayor’s Proclamation Riverton School Porch Club Riverton Yacht Club Riverton Fire Company and candid photos of the whole event
With sub-zero wind-chill temps of late and threats of historic snowstorms I actually received emails and phone calls from friends in California, Virginia, and Ohio asking if we were OK.
Yes, thank you for checking on the elderly – we are fine.
For any of you Riverton snowbirds temporarily billeted in a sunbelt state or expatriates currently living elsewhere, here are some recent photos of your old hometown.
Our HSR stringer Dick Paladino shot these with his point-and-shoot camera on Feb. 24 and 27.
I took them a few days ago when the ice was piled up along the river bank, then while driving by last night shortly after sunset, I picked up a few more in the dusky rose sky-glow.
FYI to any photogs hoping to replicate one of these moonlit views on the old postcards – you can never position yourself so the sunset or moon is behind the Yacht Club as it is in this scan of a vintage lithograph postcard sent in by Nick Mortgu.
Maybe some sailor can give us our bearings.
Light at the end of the tunnel – Accuweather is forecasting mid-fifties and rain for Weds. and spring arrives March 20.
Stop snickering, Murrietta, CA, I know it’s 75 degrees there. – JMc
As Labor day approached in late August 1920, Riverton’s hometown weekly gazette, The New Era, reported, “It is astonishing the great number of children from 12 to 14 years of age who have swam across the river and back. At least 30 have made the one-way journey, and over a dozen both ways.”
Just as it was once a Riverton rite of passage to walk across the frozen Delaware and touch the Pennsy shore (see GN 2013), so too, was it the custom for youngsters to swim across and back in summer months.
You can take Elsie Waters’ word for it.
She recalled learning to swim at five years of age and making the crossing at twelve in 1930, in this 2013 interview.
With safety in mind, Riverton Yacht Club’s Secretary and Treasurer and famous distance swimmer, Charles Durborow (see Mar 7, 2014 post), accompanied the juvenile tadpoles as they paddled into adulthood.
The New Era article noted that swimming had “…risen rapidly in popular favor in Riverton of late and the Yacht Club has been kept busy handing out bronze and silver medals to its members.”
A week later, The New Era described how Riverton’s Miss Harriet Holder swam from Riverton Yacht Club to Race Street, Philadelphia in three hours and twelve minutes.
And I get winded backstroking across to the other side of my swimming pool!
Do you have more to add to this chapter of Riverton history? If anyone has a photo of one of those swimming awards or additional information, we would like to publish it. – John McCormick
Ice boats, an ice auto, and Riverton’s own One-Man Polar Bear Club sure must have made life on the Delaware interesting in February 1920.
Wouldn’t it be something to find that ice auto under a dusty canvas sitting in a garage on the old Hollingshead property on Thomas Avenue? I’d settle for some home movie footage or even a couple of Kodak snapshots.
With these events happening over ninety years ago, can anyone now possibly have first-hand knowledge of either of the unique ice crafts or the extraordinary athlete pictured here in the icy Delaware River?
I have come across photos of Charles Durborow before, but clearly I did not take him seriously enough. Newspapers often referred to him simply as a bank clerk, and showed him posing in frigid water clothed in swim trunks and a top, holding a chunk of river ice.
One source attributed his conditioning to the development of his arms and shoulders from tossing around heavy sacks of coin in his career as a bank clerk. Further, it claimed that Durborow swam over 600 miles a year, every day of the year, even in winter.
He even accompanied Riverton youths as they marked their transition from childhood to young adult by swimming across the Delaware River from the Yacht Club to the Philadelphia side.
He was so frustrated with his failure to complete a crossing of the English Channel in 1912 that he called off a scheduled 34-mile swim from Sandy Hook to Coney Island and said that he “will quit the game for good.”
But he did not quit. The record books bear witness to his incredible swimming stamina and endurance.
Writing in Sporting LifeMagazine in 1916, James H. Sterrett called Durborow, “the world’s greatest distance endurance swimmer.” (The private nonprofit LA84Foundationoperates the largest sports research library in North America. Sporting Life is one of many publications archived there.)
Writing again for Spaulding’s Athletic Library 1917 publication, How to Swim, Sterrett characterized the 34-year-old, 210 lb. six-foot Philadelphia bank clerk as, “the foremost, long-distance and greatest mileage swimmer in the world.” See a list of Durborow’s accomplishments on p. 40 of How to Swim.
Searching for information about the marathon swimmer is made more difficult by the various ways writers mangled his last name. Durborrow, Durboro, Durburrow, and even Durbonard are some of the erroneous handles given to him by journalists.
One goal that continued to elude him was to swim the English Channel. A 1919 Rockford, IL Register Gazette newspaper article referred to a 1914 forced postponement of an English Channel swim “on account of the European squabble.” A planned crossing in 1919 was to be Durborow’s second attempt, according to the story, but he did not prove successful as his name is not on the list of swimmers who mastered the Channel.
The Durborow family later moved to Edgewater Park after residing in Riverton from about 1907-1927. Mr. Durborow’s 1938 New York Times obituary explained that he passed away suddenly at age 56. Funeral services were held Riverton’s Christ Episcopal Church.
Long distance open water swimming still draws participants and fans. A Sept. 2013 National Geographic Daily News article, Greatest Swims: Five Epic Swims in the Wake of Nyad’s Feat, reminds us about Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old woman who became the first person ever to swim between Cuba and Florida unassisted by a shark cage. She accomplished the feat in just 52 hours, 54 minutes, and 18 seconds.
In that article, take note of Gertrude Ederle, the American swimming sensation who conquered the English Channel in 1926. Her experiences as a 15-year-old entrant in competitions at Riverton Yacht Club, among other places, helped hone her distance swimming skills.
As always, we welcome comments from anyone who can shed more light on this subject, and are open to suggestions for other overlooked Riverton characters. – John McCormick
So thoughtful of you to check on the elderly here at the Society during today’s snowstorm.
I’m fine, thank, you.
Just be careful if you’re shoveling this heavy snow.
I had to go out, so on the way I took a few pictures with my phone just in case our members in California and Florida are missing the snow.
Membership Chairperson Pat Brunker sent me the latest membership list on an Excel file and it shows 154 addresses for 11 different states – Florida to Maine and New Jersey to California. About 2/3 of the addresses are in the 08077 zip code, which includes Riverton and Cinnaminson.
Here’s a few more pictures.
You don’t have to be a Society member to check out the website or send us a comment. There must be some better photos out there, folks. We’d love to post your snow scene pix, new or old. – John McCormick
Added 2/8/2014: Thanks to Bill McDermott for this photo and a poem, first published in December 1920 Harper’sMagazine.
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
– Robert Frost