Riverton in Burlington County, New Jersey — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
Riverton Free Library
A building's private life takes a surprising public twist
For the first decades of this snug cottage's life it was the quiet home of a single man. Then, for more than a century, thousands have enjoyed its books, computers, and more. It became a small portal to a very wide world.
1853 - Building the cottage
Riverton's founders built the cottage two years after the town was established. Unlike the town's first houses, which were designed by architect Samuel Sloan, the cottage was based on a Carpenter Gothic design featured in A.J. Downing's influential 1850 book Country Houses.
They closely followed Downing's "Design III, Symmetrical Bracketed Cottage." Caleb Clothier was president of their development company and listed the new cottage for sale in the May 7, 1853 Philadelphia Public Ledger. Clothier's own house still stands today at 503 Bank Ave.
The "Apostle of Sunshine"
The first buyer, Rev. Alphonso Albert Willits, was a colorful character.
A Presbyterian minister and friend of Henry Ward Beecher, he was an acclaimed motivational
Misfortune overtook Willits, though. He defaulted on his mortgage and lost the cottage at Sheriff's Sale in late 1862. At the sale, this little house came into the Senat family, where it remained for 45 years.
1863 - The home of "Uncle George" Senat
This became the residence of George L. Senat. A lifelong bachelor, he was a popular figure in Riverton, known simply as "Uncle George." He was an importer of fabrics in Philadelphia.
After his death in 1898, his niece rented out the cottage but ten years later it began quite a transformation.
1907 - Sarah Ogden and the founding of the Library
Sarah Morris Perot Ogden and her husband Edward H. Ogden were tireless advocates for civic causes. When the Rev. R. Bowden Shepherd of Christ Church proposed a meeting in 1899 to establish a lending library to benefit the general public it was natural that Sarah was one of the founders. The "Riverton Library and Free Reading Room Association" quickly grew to need a home of its own. In 1907 Sarah Ogden bought this cottage and then sold it to the Association for $1, stipulating that it be named after her late husband. He had passed away a few years earlier, just a week after their 50th wedding anniversary
For more than a century since then, this cottage has seen thousands of visitors each year. The RFL Association has lovingly cared for it and has enlarged and improved it to keep current. They added electric lights in 1922, the Children's Room in 1958 and the large adult/fiction room in 1992.
The reach of its services has long expanded beyond books. The first public access computer came in 1993; Internet for patrons followed in 1996. Patrons have access to intangible materials such as eBooks, music and video downloads, and museum passes. Becoming a branch of the Burlington County Library System in 2003 created the best of both worlds: residents enjoy the convenience and personal service of a small-town association library while having access to wider resources and services from the county library system and the vast interlibrary loan network.
Volunteerism remains an important part of the character of RFL as it was the very beginning. RFL relies on a corps of volunteers for itself, hosts meeting space for a variety of local volunteer civic efforts and sponsors programming and special events for patrons of all ages.
Erected 2018 by Historical Society of Riverton and the Riverton Free Library Association.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Architecture • Charity & Public Work • Communications • Education • Industry & Commerce. A significant historical date for this entry is May 7, 1853.
Location. 40° 0.698′ N, 75° 0.927′ W. Marker is in Riverton, New Jersey, in Burlington County. Marker is on Main Street just south of 3rd Street, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 304 Main St, Riverton NJ 08077, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Riverton's First Drugstore (a few steps from this marker); Christ Episcopal Church (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Christ Episcopal Church (within shouting distance of this marker); F. Crosta Home & Store (within shouting distance of this marker); Joseph Campbell House (within shouting distance of this marker); Patrolman Thomas C. Whitelock (approx. 0.2 miles away); Riverton (approx. 0.2 miles away); Wharton-Fitler House (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Riverton.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 4, 2022. It was originally submitted on April 4, 2022, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 58 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on April 4, 2022, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.