The Days Of Riverview Beach Park
Riverview Beach Park is a large unblemished site with walking paths, picnic areas, a playground, scenic lake and panoramic views of the Delaware River. It is now a popular spot for bird-watching as they migrate and feed along the river. Ducks and geese leisurely paddling in the basin.
The esplanade wasn’t always this way. In 1967, it was the end of an era along the Delaware River called, The Riverview Beach Amusement Park.
John Fitch built the first successful steamboat and operated it on the Delaware River in 1787 out of Philadelphia. As you will later see, steamships played a vital role over the next two centuries as major transportation thoroughfares.
Riverview came to fruition in 1845. The land was leased to Elisha Wheaton for $250.00 and for one year. At this time, the countryside held a farm, a tavern and a small ferry company. It was a popular stopping point to rest for fisherman and travelers as food and drinks were served in a residence.
By 1851, a building was constructed on the property and called the Silver Grove Hotel. It received its name from sixteen silver maple trees that lined between the Delaware River and the Auberge.
Silver Maples are fast-growing deciduous trees usually found along waterways and in wetlands. It has also received a nickname as “water maple.” Usually, these varieties require more sunlight than their maple counterparts.
The trees are normally found in the Northeast corridor and portions of the Mid-West. They are eye-popping beauties.
According to burial records, Elisha Wheaton was born in 1807 and died in 1858. That would mean he ran it for only thirteen years before he passed away. Boy, if he only knew what would ensue!
A picnic grove was placed behind the hotel and distended to Front Street. Later it became known as the Silver Grove picnic ground. By 1875, it became quite popular that an excursion boat called “Delaware” brought people daily to the grove from Philadelphia. The trip took four hours.
The Wilson line was then created with its headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware in 1881. It operated boats between Philadelphia, Chester, Penns Grove, Wilmington and Riverview Beach Park. It only conducted from May 15th through September 15th.
As Silver Grove flourished, a steamer called “Major Reybold” brought people from Salem on their route to Philadelphia so that folks could picnic and have a respite from their long travels. Visitors could buy ice-cream and other treats and eat under a large covered pavilion where concerts and activities were held. It was an exceptional place to relax with cool winds coming off the Delaware River.
By 1888, the Wilmington Steamboat Company, later known as the Wilson Steam Line had 3 ships in their possession. They were called “Wilmington,” “Brandywine” and the “City of Chester.”
Nearly two decades later, in 1889, farmers began holding picnics at the grove and a paltry man-powered merry-go-round would be brought in for just the day.
Two years later in 1891, the merry-go-round became a permanent structure and became horse powered. Swings, more picnic areas, and a small dance hall constructed.
In 1909, the “Silver Grove Hotel” changed its name to Riverview Hotel.
In 1910, the Wilmington Steamboat company, better known as the Wilson Steam Line, purchased two steamers called “City of Wilmington” and “City of Philadelphia.” These ships were swift! The Wilmington and Philadelphia were constructed of 70% steel and were virtually indestructible.
In 1914, a man named W.D. Acton inherited the Riverview Hotel from his grandfather, Jacob Acton. He enlarged the park and made it flourish. It was in this time that Acton renamed the park to “Riverview Beach.” The funny thing is Riverview never really had a large beach area.
Daily excursions came to the park via the steamer Queen Anne a steel hull beauty owned by the Wilson Line. It brought folks to a nearby popular bathing beach to cool off on hot and humid summer days called Batten’s Beach.
In 1917, Acton upgraded his horse-powered merry-go-round to a new modern “Dentzel” carousel from the Dentzel Carousel Company of Philadelphia.
Gustav Dentzel was an immigrant from Germany who came to America in the 1860’s. Carousels run deep in generations in this family. Gustav’s father sent him across the Atlantic with a carousel in the ship’s hold. This is reportedly the first carousel to ever set ground on the Western Hemisphere. Gustav’s eldest son, William, began the carousel business out of Germantown, Philadelphia. From there it was history! His designs represent the world’s grandest in carousel making. The Dentzels were known for their elegantly carved and painted animals and the superb quality of the mechanisms.
In the winter of 1918, the government depended on the Wilson Line. The Delaware River was almost frozen solid and most boats could not cross. The steamers were used due to their durability and construction to carry workers to and from Hog Island. Hog Island in this time was a vibrant shipbuilding complex. The boats were kept in service even in great difficulties of navigating the icy river. Only seven days were lost in this winter due to weather.
On Decoration Day of 1922, the steamers: “Camden,” “Wilmington,” “Chester,” and “Philadelphia” made their first trip downriver. The name of the park was renamed again as “The Riverview Beach Amusement Park.” Acton purchased 30 acres that adjoined the property to expand his empire.
In 1923, with this newly acquired land, Acton hired a park manager named W.E Hannah. Hannah was in charge of acquiring and installing these rides I’m about to mention: a water slide, sliding boards, an airplane ride and a Ferris wheel. Toy-land was added for children. Lush gardens were installed of rhododendrons, trees, and flowers throughout the park. One of the most famous attractions was also constructed. A roller coaster called “The Hummingbird.”
The Hummingbird was referred to as an “out and back” model built by the Miller & Baker Company. John Miller held over 100 patents. Most were for roller coaster safety devices. Miller went into business with Harry Baker. Within three short years of their company’s lifespan, they built popular coasters all over the United States. The characteristics of their designs are camelback hills.
The Wilson Line also added two new steamers the “State of Delaware” and “State of Pennsylvania” to their fleet in 1923. The Delaware made its first cruise from Wilmington to Riverview on June 11th. The Pennsylvania departed on June 12th.
According to the National Register of Historic Places Registry of 1979, both the Delaware and identical sister Pennsylvania were considered the first “new” type passenger steamboats built in the United States in many decades. Technically, both were steamships rather than steamboats because their hull-frame extended through the main deck. In the interests of fire proofing, these steamers were constructed of approximately 80% steel. Their original dimensions were 219 feet (226 overall), and 48.9 feet of beam (59.5 foot over guards), and they had drafts of 10^ feet. The “State” boats were first generation streamlined steamers that were given the highest “A-l” rating of the American Bureau of Shipping, the official U. S. rating agency.
The following year, more amusements were added. The Old Mill, The Whip, Tilt-A-Whirl, a small train and scooters. The lake that still resides there today was just a meadow. It was dug out to fifteen acres and stocked with abundant carp.
In the mid 1920s, Riverview added a “Pig Slide” they would actually release a pig down a slide into a pit of mud!
By this time The Wilson Line was now bustling. They provided a variety of excursions on the Chesapeake Bay, dance cruises down the Delaware Bay and most famously their trips to Riverview. The Wilson line was rolling in the hay!
In 1925, a carousel building was constructed. The new carousel was again purchased from the William Dentzel Carousel Company out of Philadelphia. It was fifty-two feet in diameter and a stunner! Only three carousels were reportedly in existence in the United States at this time. Roller skating was also held in the pavilion.
During the Great Depression, in 1936, an Olympic-sized swimming pool was added on the grounds by the township Public Works program. It held 500,000 gallons of water and built for $150,000. Supposedly the pool is still here today filled-in with dirt under the park landscape.
After World War II, many people took advantage of the Wilson Line excursions. Millions of men, women and children would travel from Philadelphia, Chester and Wilmington throughout the summer to enjoy their day at Riverview Beach.
At this time, only two steamers were in operation. The SS Liberty Belle and the Delaware Belle.
In Chester, people lined up at a two-level pier at the Scott Toilet Paper/Tissue Plant. Families would hear the whistle signaling to board. Holding their bagged lunches and belongings for their thrilling day awaiting them. The same whistle would beckon through Riverview Beach to alert passengers that it was time to go or they’d miss their trip back home. It was an adventure.
The steamers were clean, the crew was friendly. There was onboard live entertainment blaring throughout the steamer so couples could dance. The total trip from Philadelphia was roughly a two and a half hours. It was a grand experience traveling to Riverview.
Other rides were added including another roller coaster called “The Deep Dipper” then later another added called, “The Wildcat.” A bigger and taller Ferris Wheel, caterpillar ride. A whip, battery powered racing cars, a small railroad, pony rides and zebra rides.
Bridges were built from the 1920’s to 1940’s connecting both Pennsylvania and New Jersey so that vehicles could go across and no longer use ferries. Th Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman and the Delaware Memorial bridges soon annexed, allowing easier transportation of vehicles to travel to Riverview.
In 1955, the Wilson line was sold to a New York company.
Two years later, the NY company sold it to Riverview Lines for only $700,000.
1958 Riverview Park was fenced in and admission was charged.
By the 1960’s, the Wilson Line only had one steamer in its operation called the State of Pennsylvania. She was a whopping 219 feet long with a capacity to hold 3,000 passengers. It had triple decks.
The Wilson Line ended excursions in 1961 to Riverview. Vehicles killed the steamboat service. Passengers were misbehaving, including fights and stabbings amongst them. It is what finalized the cruises down the Delaware that lasted for decades.
On Labor Day of 1967, Riverview Beach Amusement Park, officially closed. In 1976, the land was transformed into a recreational area. The nostalgic carousel was sold to a company in New York State. The carousel operated on the property until 1980, until it got auctioned off.
“The State of Pennsylvania” sat deserted and forgotten for nearly a decade. She sank in the Christiana River in Wilmington in where she was docked. The Pennsylvania even though it sunk, was still in a high state of preservation.
As per historian, Paul Schopp, she was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. In 1988, vandals set arson to this beauty and she burned to the waterline. In 2005, a contractor, working under a federal contract, removed the hull as a hazard of navigation and the esteemed ship’s remains were scrapped.
Riverview’s fervor is still burning. A man Bob Stanton purchased the train ride from the amusement park and still is in operation today on his farm in the Pennsville area. There is also a museum dedicated to the loved park at the Church Landing Rd Museum.
People still talk about Riverview’s legacy. When they were a child, they fondly recall the happy times and memories shared with their loved ones and friends.
It also led to a lifelong fondness for the Delaware River and its history. Riverview Beach Amusement Park, gone and never forgotten.
P.S. Make sure you check out the YouTube Video in the comments! I think you will enjoy it!