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Riker Family Has Long History in S.O.

Chatham resident Carleton Riker, Jr., passed away earlier this month; his family has an important legacy in South Orange and New York City.

The Kip-Riker mansion is familiar by sight to anyone who has passed the intersection of Scotland Road and Montrose Avenue, as it is now part of Temple Sharey-Tefilo Israel. The Riker name is also known around town, especially last week, as the death of was reported.   

Riker was not only a native of South Orange, but he was descended from a family with a long local history. His family settled in Long Island in 1664, according to Scannell's "New Jersey's First Citizens and State Guide." The family dates back to the Crusades and emigrated to the New World from the Netherlands. The Rikers were active in New York City politics and “actively identified with the revolution and all patriotic movements of the time.” Rikers Island is named for them.

The first of the Riker family to settle in South Orange was Clarence B. Riker, born in 1863, who was educated in the public schools of Orange and Prescott Academy in Orange. In 1891, that Riker became president of The Sydney Ross Company, manufacturers and exporters of pharmaceuticals. An avid traveler, he was “well known for his collections and explorations on the Amazon River.” Specimens from his collections of birds are in the Smithsonian Institution, and he published in The Auk and other periodicals for ornithologists. A life member of the Museum of Natural History, Riker was also a member of the Explorers Club, whose members included frequent Maplewood visitor Theodore Roosevelt, Sir Edmund Hillary, Robert Peary, and more recently, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Clarence Riker organized and equipped the “South Orange Home Guard,” a militia of 140 men, in preparation for the “European War.” By that time, the Riker family was well established in the mansion at 432 Scotland St., which they had purchased in 1912. Clarence Riker and his wife, the former Jessie Carpenter, had three children, Marion, Carleton and Daniel. As an adult, Carleton and his wife, Martha Wolle Riker, lived at 190 Montrose Ave., around the corner from the elder Rikers’ mansion. The younger Rikers, in turn, raised Carleton Jr. and his three sisters in Montrose Park, though they later moved to Chatham.

Born in 1919, Carleton Riker, Jr. attended Columbia High School, the Lawrenceville Preparatory School and Packard Business School. After serving in the military, Riker worked as an architectural draftsman, retiring in 2007 at the age of 87. He was active in the architects' AIA Newark Suburban Society, the N.J. Society of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America of which he was a former governor, Lackawanna Sail and Power Squadron, and Chatham Township's Historical Society and Art League. He was a charter member of The Presbyterian Church of Chatham Township and a retired Chatham Township Special Police Officer. South Orange remembers the Riker family well, with its members’ legacy of involvement and service.

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