of Riverton would like to thank Betty Hahle for
her written contribution of the town's history.
in Burlington County New Jersey, is a small residential
community on the Delaware River approximately ten
miles north of Philadelphia. It was founded in 1851
by a group of ten Philadelphians for summer homes
for their families; Robert & William C. Biddle,
Caleb & James Clothier, Dillwyn & William
D. Parrish, Rodman Wharton, Daniel L. Miller, Jr.,
Chalkley Gillingham, and Prof. Charles D. Cleveland.
This group, most of whom were Quakers, had discussed
such a project for some time as industrialization
along the Schulylkill river in Pennsylvania made
that region less desirable. They wanted a site offering
country living with easy access to Philadelphia.
Riverton offered both.
architect Samuel Sloan was commissioned by the group
to design a village, to be named Riverton, on 120
acres of land to be purchased from Joseph Lippincott
in the old township of Chester. The tract lay between
the Delaware river and the Camden & Amboy railroad.
The design called for building a seawall & landscaping
to the riverfront, adding a pier suitable for commerce
and passengers, and a railroad station at the northern
end of town. Other than one small building near
the railroad for information, fishing licenses and
some supply deliveries, there were no provisions
for industry of any kind. According to architectural
historian Henry Russell Hitchcock, Riverton was
the first totally planned residential subdivision
Within five months of
its purchase in January 1851, the riverfront was
developed as planned. The river pier was in use.
Four streets had been opened. Work had begun on
the Sloan-designed villas of the founders and others.
By fall eight of the homes were completed and occupied.
The founders sought incorporation as The Riverton
Improvement Company. For twenty years, beginning
in March 1852, the Corporation held the right to
issue deeds for the village and add to the original
acreage which would also become a part of Riverton.
The Deeds carried special restrictions, notably
the liquor clause, prohibiting the sale or manufacture
of liquors on any property in the village. Even
though it was owned and maintained by river-front
home owners, the riverbank was kept open for the
enjoyment of all. One clause also prohibited erection
of any permanent structure on the riverbank. For
more than a hundred years this clause allowed activities
such as concerts, fireworks, political speeches,
and boat watching on the grass to be enjoyed by
When Memorial Park opened
in 1931 many activities moved to that location.
Memorial Park was dedicated to honor all servicemen
and women of the US armed forces. Over 12 acres
in size, it offers picnic areas and a playground
along with baseball diamonds, basketball & tennis
courts, and soccer fields. It is the site of various
celebrations, one of the most popular being the
ending place of the annual Children's Flag Parade
on the 4th of July, a tradition begun in 1897 by
the Yacht Club.
The Riverton Yacht Club
was organized in 1865. In 1880 it erected a clubhouse
on the pier. It is the oldest Yacht Club on the
Delaware and one of the oldest in the country. Now
more than 150 years old, the pier is the last remaining
steamboat landing on the Delaware River. Although
no longer used by paddlewheel steamboats it has
remained in constant use. Today sailing enthusiasts
call it home. The stick-style clubhouse is often
the subject of photographers and painters.
With the transition
of Riverton from a summer resort to a permanent
community, a movement grew for independence from
its parent township of Cinnaminson. In 1865 Cinnaminson
had separated from Chester township and taken Riverton
and several other small villages with it. In December
1893 a special election was held and the decision
to become a borough was unanimous. Edward H. Ogden
became Riverton's first mayor and a four-man borough
council was elected and installed on January 1,
1894. At their first meeting boundaries of the borough
were established for the first time. The Council
meetings were held at the fire house. This custom
continued until 1989 when a new Municipal building
was erected. The Historical Society donated a pair
of platform lights to flank the entrance that had
once graced the old railroad station.
Churches were soon established
in Riverton, the first being Christ Episcopal in
1854. Their first church was consecrated in 1859.
Its beautiful brownstone building erected in 1884
is on Main and Fourth streets. The rose window facing
Main was made by Louis C. Tiffany and donated in
the memory of Louis Godey by his son and daughter.
Godey (1804-1878) was the publisher of America's
first women's magazine and summered here for many
The Porch Club, a women's
club formed in 1890 and named for its informal meeting
place of residences porches, is one of the oldest
in New Jersey. It was instrumental in making many
social improvements happen in Riverton. Through
their efforts the first public Kindergarten in the
county was opened in 1896. Two years later the first
woman was elected to the School Board. And in 1900
they sent invitations throughout the State for a
gathering in Riverton for the purpose of forming
a State Mother's Circle. In October of that year
a successful meeting was held and the circle was
formed and later became known as the N.J. State
Parent and Teacher Association (PTA). The Club outgrew
conducting their meetings on porches and in 1909
had their own building erected on Howard Street.
Today their members continue to play an active role
in community and regional activities.
The Riverton Free Library,
which began in 1890's, is still housed in the Carpenter
style cottage on Main Street that was donated in
1908 by Mrs. Edward H. Ogden in memory of her husband,
Riverton's first mayor. The cottage, erected in
1852 and enlarged several times, is a part of the
County Library System.
Riverton Country Club
was founded in 1900. It is one of the earliest golf
clubs in the country. Its 18-hole course is challenging,
and beautifully maintained. In 1905 a small half-way
house with bowling alley and snack shop was erected
adjacent to the club's entrance on Park Avenue.
The bowling teams continue their activities in the
original location. In 1959 the original clubhouse
was razed and a new, larger one was erected on the
club grounds within Cinnaminson Township. They also
offer tennis, swimming, fine dining and banquet
Riverton has always
had interesting and notable people who have chosen
to live here. One of the earliest was John Fraser
back in the 1850's. He was a famous architect and
founder of the Pennsylvania Institute of Architects
and the Philadelphia Chapter of the A.I.A. He designed
many buildings including the Union League in Philadelphia
and Christ Episcopal Church and Rectory in Riverton.
He had offices in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
but his home remained Riverton until shortly before
his death in 1902.
Isaiac Clothier, son
of Founder Caleb Clothier was a resident. He entered
into a partnership with his friend Justus Strawbridge
in 1862. They founded the distinguished department
store Strawbridge & Clothier in Philadelphia.
Maxfield Parrish, artist, spent summers and vacations
here during his youth with his grandfather Dillwyn
Parrish (a Riverton founder) and other relatives
whose homes were in Riverton. Joseph Campbell, for
whom the soup company was named, lived here from
1872 until his death in 1900. Several members of
the Dorrance family, who had joined and later taken
over Campbell's Soup, also lived here. The John
Bioren family of banking and stock exchange note
lived here for more than a generation. Franklin
D. Olier, who organized the American Legion in Paris
in 1918 lived on Park Avenue. The Hollingshead family
had lived in Riverton for many years when son Richard
developed a 'drive-in' movie. The first drive-in
opened June, 1932 in Camden NJ. During the height
of the Pennsylvania Railroad, many of its executives
lived in or visited Riverton. This might explain
why special trains were often run to Riverton for
events like bicycle racing in the 1890's, and flower
shows at Dreer's Nursery for many years.
The Henry A. Dreer Company
had their main office and trial gardens in Riverton
from 1868 until 1944. They hybridized and developed
many varieties of flowers, grasses, and vegetables.
People came from the world over to study horticulture
at their Riverton nurseries and to see the gardens
in bloom from Spring until late Fall. Special flower
shows were held at the height of the seasons. With
the loss of three head executives within a short
period of time and other circumstances, Dreer's
closed in 1944. This was the last section of Riverton
to be developed into residential lots.
Riverton today is almost
fully developed. The population is stable at slightly
more than 3,000. Changes in population are due primarily
to generational cycles. Riverton is governed by
elected officials; a Mayor, six Borough Council
members, and various appointed committees. Riverton
has Police and Volunteer Fire Departments and regular
collections of trash and recyclable materials. There
is an elementary school that was established in
1865, also, Nursery School, Daycare facilities,
Rotary, and Lion's Clubs.
of Palmyra and Cinnaminson along with Riverton are
referred to as the Tri-Boro Area and share some
services and activities.
Over the years a small
and vital business district has developed in the
center of town. Offices and shops offer a variety
of services and wares. Included are a tea-shop,
deli, bakery, fitness center, post office and bank
among others. In a pedestrian town such as Riverton
all are easily reached on foot. In addition, the
new River Line light-rail service has a station
right in the center of town. It runs over the old
steam-train route between Camden and Trenton making
commuting to work or attending events anywhere between
Philadelphia and New York possible.
Riverton has expanded
gradually and systematically over the decades. Within
its 3/4 of a square mile area neighborhoods display
more than 150 years of American architectural styles.
Six Victorian styles are represented in the earliest
part of Riverton. Those of the twenty-first century
are found east of the railroad. More than half of
Riverton's buildings are included in the State and
National Directories of Historic Places. Fine old
trees, and some streets still lit by gaslights of
a century ago help to make Riverton an attractive
place to live.
Copies of a self-guided
walking tour of the oldest section of Riverton are
available at the Riverton Library or from the Historical
Society of Riverton.
BBHahle September 2004
find out about Riverton's Historical Society clickhere.