Calvary Presbyterian Church was formally established on July 18, 1874 with six trustees. These included Joseph Campbell, whose vegetable company located in Camden NJ would later become the Campbell’s Soup Company, William Dreer, owner of a large nursery located in Riverton, and John Fraser a prominent architect in the Southern NJ / Philadelphia PA area. After worshiping in various locations for several years Calvary Presbyterian was accepted into the Monmouth, NJ Presbytery on October 11, 1877. The tabular statement sent to the Presbytery of Monmouth, dated April 10, 1878, reported the rolls as consisting of twenty communicant members, six Sabbath School officers and teachers, and fifty scholars.
Soon after that date, Calvary purchased a lot for $600 at the northwest corner of Lippincott Avenue and Fourth Street in Riverton and contracted for the construction of a church in June of 1878. The design and specifications were drawn up by John Fraser, architect, and the building was built by a Burlington, NJ builder for $8,000. The new Church was dedicated on July 2, 1879. The church was a was wood framed sanctuary in the Carpenter Gothic style with wood clapboard siding and decorative vertical and horizontal trim board elements. The Church had a dominant bell tower over its entrance and narthex near the intersection of the streets, with an open belfry crowned by a witch’s hat roof. The tower and the remainder of the church were roofed with slate shingles.
An attached chapel, shortly after located in the yard to the right of the Sanctuary, was designed by the firm of George and Charles Hewitt, of Burlington and Philadelphia, and housed the Sunday School. The church was said to comfortably accommodate 360 people.
As years passed, the women of Calvary have been active, organized under several different names, earliest known to be the “Girls Club”, then changed to the “Golden Hour Club” in 1905, whose principal projects were culture and literary meetings, and sewing. To raise further building funds, one of their undertakings was collecting, cutting and sewing rags to be made into rugs, which would then be sold. They held an annual bazaar each December, with net proceeds averaging about $200, which was donated to various church projects. During these years there was also a Missionary Society working within the Church, and a missionary box valued at approximately $50 was packed each November.
The church manse, a two and one half story stuccoed masonry structure designed by architect J. Fletcher Street in the Arts and Crafts style was constructed in 1913 across a yard from the sanctuary.
By the mid 1920’s, the congregation had outgrown the church seating capacity and improvements were approved for $75,000, including a new Sunday School. The original sanctuary was saved, but expanded in the chancel with two transepts added, and an assembly space was extended from the opposite end. Connected to this, a new Christian Education wing replaced the earlier Chapel, and the entire facility was sheathed in stone to revise the appearance to an English Gothic Revival style. A large stone tower over a newly located narthex replaced the earlier belfry. The construction took nearly 14 months during which time worship services were held in the Porch Club of Riverton (a women’s club), and Sunday School was conducted at the Riverton Public School. The architect was George Savage of Philadelphia, and the new church was dedicated in 1927. The late 1940’s saw the Sunday School program at Calvary Presbyterian Church achieve an all-time high in numbers with the average enrollment close to five hundred. A 15 room Christian Education wing was added in 1952, the former being converted into the church offices. The Hand Bell Choir, founded in the late 1950’s, was honored by performing on July 4, 1963 at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall ceremonies, where President Lyndon Johnson was the guest speaker.
The Presbyterian Women groups continue to be a driving force at Calvary, one of which is the “Thrift Shop” founded in the 1940’s, which operates from a Church-owned building on Main Street in Riverton, where church members and the community donate clothing and household items which are in turn priced and sold, with funds donated to church purposes.
Calvary Presbyterian Church, which began with meetings in dedicated member’s homes, has grown into the thriving family of God, in the historical church building, which we know today. The Calvary Church building and Manse are designated as contributing buildings in the Riverton Historic District, listed in the NJ State and National Registers of Historic Places. Fourteen pastors have guided our flock since inception, and the congregation has provided a church home and gathering place for those who would come together to worship in faith and knowledge. We thank God for having brought it into being, and pray for its continuance into the future.
Information gathered from “200 Years of Religion in Cinnaminson, Palmyra and Riverton NJ”, Tri-borough Council of Churches, 1976, and from the Historical Society of Riverton.