City of Plainfield
150 Facts about Plainfield
City of Plainfield

mayor adrian o. mapp

515 Watchung Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060

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150 Facts about Plainfield

Plainfield City Hall is 100 feet above sea level.

Plainfield is located in north central New Jersey 24 miles southwest of New York City.

Plainfield has nine historic districts: North Avenue, Van Wyck Brooks, Crescent Avenue, Putnam Watchung, Hillside Avenue, Broadway, Netherwood Heights, Green Brook Park, and Civic.

There are eight historic sites in Plainfield: the Drake House, Plainfield/North Avenue Rail Road Station, Netherwood Rail Road Station, St. Mary's Catholic Church, Plainfield Fire Department Headquarters, Fire House No. 4, YMCA of Plainfield, and the Orville Taylor Waring House (once Runyon Memorial Funeral Home).

Several Lenni-Lenape trails ran through Plainfield: Front Street, Woodland Avenue, and Park Avenue.

The name "Plainfield" was first given to 700 acres of land owned by brothers John & Robert Barclay.

The vicinity of Front and Somerset Streets was called Milltown in the 1700s because of the big mill on the south side of the Greenbrook near Somerset Street.

Plainfield was called Pinch Gut because of the funny shape of the town.

In the 1700s, Plainfield was still mostly farm land.

In colonial times, a stage coach line known as The Swift Sure Mail Line rode through Plainfield on Old York Road.

The oldest house in Plainfield is the Martine House built in 1717 on Brook Lane.

The first house was built in Plainfield in 1735.

The earliest house of worship in Plainfield was the Quaker Meeting House, which was built in 1736 on Woodland Avenue.

By 1740, there were six houses in Plainfield (then Milltown); these belonged to John Shotwell, William Webster, James Manning Miller, John Vail, and Isaac Drake.

During the Revolutionary War, colonial soldiers were stationed in Plainfield and General George Washington stayed at the Drake family home on Front Street, which is now The Drake House Museum.

The American soldiers' camp, called the Blue Hills Fort, was located in Green Brook Park.

In June 1777, the Battle of Short Hills took place on what is now known as Woodland Avenue near Oak Tree Road.

The Plainfield Post Office was established on the corner of Front and Somerset Streets, and the area officially became known as Plainfield.
The first Post master was John. F. Randolph.

In 1800, Front Street was called Main Street.

In 1800, Park Avenue was called Cherry Street.

In 1800, Watchung Avenue was Peace Street or Quaker Road.

In 1800, Madison Avenue was Mechanic Street.

In 1800, there were only 215 residents in Plainfield.

Plainfield was well-known known for hat-making. In 1808, the first hat shop was built on Front Street near Grant Avenue.

Tier's Pond was once located on the Greenbrook stream behind Front Street, east of Watchung Avenue. It was a favorite spot for ice skating.

The First Baptist Church began on November 7, 1818, in a frame building on West Front Street with 34 members.

The Plainfield Fire Department was established in 1827, as the "Engine Company of Plainfield."

By about 1835, there were 150 houses in Plainfield and a population of more than 1,000.

Elvira Kenyon was born in 1835. Known as the First Lady of Plainfield; she ran the Plainfield Seminary.

Plainfield's first newspaper was "The Herald." It was published weekly and only lasted one year.

In 1837, there were 15 hat shops in Plainfield, six tailors, six dry goods shops, one grocer, one tanyard, one first insurance company, one lawyer, three doctors, and five churches.

The first issue of the "Plainfield Union and General Advertiser" appeared.

Originally part of Elizabeth and Westfield townships, Plainfield was made a township in 1847 by an act of New Jersey legislature.

The first two schools in Plainfield opened in 1847: one in a hat shop and one in a cabinet shop.

The first free public school building in Plainfield was built in 1848.

The first free public school in Plainfield was a two-story building constructed at West Fourth Street and Arlington Avenue. It was named the Charles H. Stillman school and had 200 students, a teaching principal, and two teachers.

Dr. Charles Stillman was the first superintendent of schools in Plainfield, as well as the president of the Board of Education. He was called "The Father of the Plainfield Public Schools."

James Martine was born in 1849. The Martine family owned Cedar Brook Farm. Known as the "Farmer Orator" he became a State Assemblyman in the 1870s and 1880s.

In 1850, there were 107 African American adults living in Plainfield, 53 men and 54 women, most of whom were free with the exception of one woman.

The first hotel was built by Jacob Thorn at Park Avenue and East Second Street; it was called "Mansion House." The name changed to "City Hotel," then "Iroquois Hotel," and finally "Queen City Hotel." A room cost 50 cents a day.

Tier’s Pond was known for winter skating and summer swimming, boating, and fishing.Formerly Boice’s Pond, it was created around 1853 by Phineas M. French who built a dam across the Green Brook. The pond was also the source of blocks of ice for refrigeration. An icehouse was constructed on the pond about 14 years later for the sale of ice.

Plainfield was originally part of Essex County. In 1857, Union County was created, and Plainfield was located in the newly designated county.

Unfortunately, slavery is an inescapable reality in Plainfield’s past. Not only the wellknown Caesar, who served the Drake family, lived at least part of their lives in slavery but many other people whose names are unknown to us today. Early records are difficult to interpret because Plainfield was not formed as its own township until 1847. Slaves living in the location of the city of today are hidden among the records of Westfield, Essex County, New Jersey. At the highest point during census-keeping years of the 1800s there were 1,521 slaves in Essex County. The count dropped to six for the county in 1850. Census records reveal only a single woman of 57 years classified as a slave in Plainfield in 1850. By 1860 not a single slave was enumerated in all of newlyformed Union County. But former slaves are known to have lived in Plainfield as recently as 1915, their pasts in slavery identified in their obituaries. Lives so difficult to comprehend today ended fewer than 100 years ago.

The city's first bank was founded in 1863: The First National Bank of Plainfield.

Plainfield's second school was built at the corner of West Fifth Street and Arlington Avenue, and was named "City High School" and was the second high school in New Jersey. Its first graduation class in 1870 had eight students.

The Plainfield Gas Company was established in 1867.

On April 20, 1869, the citizens of Plainfield Township met in Laing’s Hall for the purpose of forming a city government. The “Act to Incorporate the City of Plainfield,” approved April 6, 1869, was read and accepted. This draft of the City’s charter was handwritten on the back of Office of the Security Insurance Company of New York financial statements.

Job Male was the first mayor of Plainfield; he was elected in 1869 and served four nonconsecutive terms.

The City of Plainfield was incorporated on April 2, 1869.

The first municipal election was held on May 4, 1869.

The City's first aldermen were John Harris, Peter Morse, and John A. Staats.

The first common council consisted of Enos W. Runyon, president; Evan Jones, William C. Ayers, Clark Rogers, Robert O. Edwards, William McD. Coriell, John Simpson, John B. Brown, Edward P. Sawyer, Joseph W. Yates, and Nicholas W. West.

The first meeting of the common council was held on May 11, 1869, in the old Engine House #2 on West Front Street.

Mount Olive Baptist Church, Plainfield’s first Black church, was organized in 1870 with the help of Peter Wykoff, a local African American businessman with a successful broom making business. The first pastor was Rev. John Cary and the congregation consisted of fourteen members.

The first African American in Plainfield to cast a vote was Thomas Smith, a barber, who voted on April 12, 1870 - 13 days after the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

The first police chief was T. J. Giles, who was hired on June 24, 1870; his salary was $600 a year.

In 1870, there were just over 5,000 residents in Plainfield.

The first gas street lamps were installed in Plainfield in 1872.

The first house in which gas was used for illumination belonged to Phineas M. French on Somerset Street.

In March 1873, Frederic Douglass lectured at the Congregational Church, under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A. in Plainfield.

Washington School was erected in 1874.

Muhlenberg Hospital opened in 1880, inspired by a brutal railroad accident in 1876. The original location was on Muhlenberg Place.

Back in the 1880s, Nixon Morris, messenger, became the first Black post office employee in Plainfield.

In 1881, Franklin School was rebuilt after an earlier fire.

On March 7, 1881, the Common Council resolved to establish the Plainfield Public Library and Reading Room.

In 1882, the Plainfield Public Library opened in a rented room on Front Street; the first librarian was J. Oakley Nodine.

By 1883, the first telephone station was established in Plainfield.

Bryant School was erected in 1883.

Plainfield's first theater opened in 1884: the Stillman Music Hall on West Front Street.

On November 17, 1884, American author Mark Twain presented an author's reading at the Stillman Music Hall.

The Plainfield Amusement Academy was built in 1885 as a roller rink by Clark Evans. Located on Watchung and East 4th Street, it was first called Clark’s Grand Enterprise. During its 80-year existence locals called it “Plainfield’s Pleasure Palace,” “Evans’ Folly” and “The Madison Square Garden of Plainfield.”

The Plainfield Electric Light Company began in 1886; the first house wired for electricity was that of the Pittis family at 912 Central Avenue.

Plainfield became known as the Queen City on March 22, 1886, following an article in "The Evening News" when the slogan "Colorado of the East" appeared. Linking Plainfield's climate with the beneficial climate of Colorado (known as the "Queen City"), Plainfield eventually became "The Queen City of the East."

In 1887, The Plainfield Public Library opened in its new building on land donated by Job Male at its location on Park Avenue and West Eighth Street.

The Camera Club, founded in 1887, had its headquarters, complete with a parlor, lecture hall, exhibition room, and darkrooms, in the Babcock Building. Building owner, George Babcock, was a photographer and a club member. Another notable member was J. Hervey Doane, jeweler and Plainfield Freeholder. The Club held outings and annual exhibitions. Unfortunately, many photographs and negatives were lost in the Babcock Building fire of 1902.

Irving School was erected in 1888.

Maude Benton Mitchell was the first Black graduate of PHS in 1888.

A few mail drop boxes were installed within the city limits in 1890.

In 1890, the Plainfield Union Water Company began to dig wells and install water mains.

Plainfield's first Jewish congregation was organized in 1890 and was called Beth Tefelas Yental.

The Plainfield Courier was first published on October 8, 1891. It was established by Frank W. Runyon.

The first kindergarten opened in the Bryant School in 1891.

James A. Saunders was the town’s first Black police officer, and also the treasurer of the city’s Emancipation Day committee in 1891.

The first trolley (electric streetcar) came to Plainfield on August 10, 1892, replacing most of the mule drawn vehicles. A front page Plainfield Evening News article describes a large crowd of people lining up along Front Street to witness its maiden voyage. "The car is handsome, but small, and is finished in Royal Blue."

Lincoln and Whittier Schools opened in 1896.

Bicycling racing was introduced to Plainfield in 1896 on a track located where the high school is now. The old Plainfield Driving Park featured light harness racing in the spring and summer and snow-vehicle races in the winter.

The oldest clubs in Plainfield that are still active are the Watchung Book Club (est.1897), Plainfield Garden Club (est. 1915), and Plainfield Symphony (est. 1919). In terms of organizations with a national scope, the earliest in Plainfield are the Plainfield Jerusalem Masonic Lodge (est. 1817), Plainfield YMCA (est. 1867), Plainfield Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks (est. 1867), and the Plainfield YWCA (est. 1907).

In 1899, automobiles (horseless carriages) appeared in Plainfield, and by 1902 there were two car dealers.

By the end of the 1800s, Plainfield had changed from a farm village into a suburb ofbeautiful residences and successful businesses including 5 banks, 5 newspapers, 5 hotels, 18 grocery stores, 14 butchers, 7 grain stores, 13 bakeries, 5 fish stores, 13 real estate dealers, 4 architects, 109 carpenters, 21 blacksmiths, 56 painters, 11 plumbers, 2 ice cream shops, and 1 traveling ice cream truck!

In December 1899, a new club called the Millionaires' Club was organized with nineteen members with William Doud as President.

In 1900, there were 15,369 residents in Plainfield.

On June 13, 1901, local bootblacks (shoe shines) in Plainfield formed a union, to keep a uniform price of five cents for old fashioned style of shines, ten cents for special polish and dressing shines.

Built in 1894 on West Front Street, the Babcock Building stood five stories high and leased space to stores, offices, apartments, and various fraternal organizations. It was destroyed in 1902 in one of the worst fires in Plainfield's history.

On July 7, 1903, Thomas A. Edison passed through Plainfield on an automobile trip from his home in Orange to Stewartsville, NJ. The Daily Press reported that his big red touring car was stopped for repairs for about 10 minutes in front of the Hotel Kensington, where Edison sat puffing a cigar in front of an admiring crowd.

In 1904, Anna Broadnax was the first Black valedictorian of Plainfield High School.

July 29, 1904 is believed to be the date that Plainfield first offered a “Black” newspaper, known at the time as a “race journal.” Called the Plainfield Herald by its two proprietors, it is believed to have ceased publication in 1907 and sadly exists today only as a few brief references in published sources.

James Malcolm (Mack) Davis was the first black athlete at P.H.S. His classmates voted him the Biggest Flirt in 1906.

Tepper's Department Store on West Front Street opened in 1907. It closed in May 1977. The building was converted to apartments in 2005.

In 1808, the smallest store in Plainfield was a window glass store that measured 18 inches wide by six feet deep. Customers had to walk in sideways to enter the store.

The Plainfield Motor Cycle Club formed in March 1909 when about a dozen motorcycle owners met at Judge William Runyon’s office to establish a club. The club’s first president was W. H. Anthony. The Club planned rides around the area and headed the motorcycle section in that year’s Charter Day Parade.

The Gilbreth family of "Cheaper By The Dozen" fame once resided at 711 Ravine Road in Plainfield. Two of the children were born at that residence. They lived there for three years from 1909 to 1912.

Plainfield's Carnegie Library building opened in 1912.

Plainfielder Lillian Ford Feickert was the enrollment chairman of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. She had great success in increasing the membership of that society and then later served as its president from 1912 to 1920.

On May 24, 1912, President William Howard Taft visited Plainfield; he addressed a packed house at the Plainfield Theater.

In November 1913, the Congregation of Temple Sholom was organized.

On May 12, 1914, Booker T. Washington addressed members of the Dunbar Social and Educational Club at the Washington School.

The first steam shovel ever brought into New Jersey was used in Plainfield when the Central Railroad straightened the grade between Plainfield and Elizabeth when the line rail line was changed.

In 1915 Edward Urquart became the first black postal carrier (a “regular” employee).

The Plainfield Garden Club was founded in the spring of 1915. At the invitation of Mrs. Henrietta B. Herring, nineteen women met with her at the Plainfield Library in April of that year to discuss organizing a garden club. It was the wish of a number of women that such a club be formed, "one that should be simple and more of a pleasure than a burden." The Club was officially and enthusiastically created one month later with fortyeight charter members.

On February 21, 1917, world famous actress Sarah Bernhardt appeared at the Plainfield Theater in her portrayal of "Cleopatra."

The Plainfield Symphony Orchestra was organized in 1919. It is the oldest community orchestra in New Jersey.

In May 1919, America's premier band master John Philip Sousa came to Plainfield to attend the New Jersey State Trapshooting Tournament on the Arrow Head Rod and Gun Club Mountain Avenue grounds. Sousa is most famously remembered for his march, "Stars and Stripes Forever."

In May 1919, famous American singer, actor, and activist Paul Robeson was one of the soloists at a concert sponsored by the Atheneum Athletic Club at Plainfield's Washington School. At the time, he was a Rutgers College athlete.

In the 1920s, there was an all-black, Inter-City League baseball team, called the Colored Giants; Diamond Powell was their manager.

The Plainfield Area Chamber of Commerce met for the first time on November 9, 1921, in the Babcock Building on West Front Street. Arthur C. Wadley was the first president.

Margaret Bourke-White, PHS 1921, was the first female war correspondent allowed to work in combat zones, and the first woman photographer to receive US Armed Forces accreditation.

On March 1, 1921, President Franklin T. Roosevelt spoke at a public forum in the First Unitarian Church. He had just completed his term as assistant secretary of the Navy, and spoke about this time in Washington and the need for maintaining a strong navy.

Artist and teacher Marjorie Van Emburgh founded the duCret School in 1926. The property in an historic landmark and is New Jersey's oldest art school.

The Plainfield Area Chamber of Commerce met for the first time on November 9, 1921, in the Babcock Building on West Front Street. Arthur C. Wadley was the first president.

On April 9, 1924, deaf-blind author and activist Helen Keller spoke on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind at Plainfield High School.

Cataeu DeLeeuw founded the Plainfield Art Association in 1925.

On October 2, 1926, George Polly, the "Human Fly," climbed City Hall without employing any outside aid or using the windows as holds.

The French School of Music was established in 1927 by renowned concert pianist, Yvonne Combe, together with Hélène Pfeiffer and Michelle Séguin, based on the principle that anyone, children and novices included, can learn the art of music. Today, the French School of Music continues the same standard of excellence in piano and music instruction through its dedicated and experienced teachers.

The Shakespeare Garden was initiated by Mr. Howard C. Fleming of the Plainfield Shakespeare Society in 1927. It was originally meant to be a small garden in a corner of Cedar Brook Park.

In May 1928, pioneering American aviator and famous polar explorer Commander Richard E. Byrd spoke in the Plainfield High School auditorium. His talk was interrupted when a small blaze erupted from the heat caused by the powerful electric lights at the rear of stage and set a curtain on fire. Byrd continued his lecture as the firefighter quickly and expertly put out the fire. The audience applauded both Byrd and the firefighters.

On March 25, 1933, Amelia Earhart, first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, gave an address at Plainfield High School. Her lecture about her flight was accompanied by motion pictures.

Plainfield author Van Wyck Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936 for his book, "The Flowering of New England."

In February 1963, more than 60 Plainfield High School students, both boys and girls, enrolled in a newly formed pre-flight course.

Plainfielder Ann Baumgartner Carl was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in WW II. She was the only woman to test-fly experimental planes during World War II and the first American woman ever to fly a jet.

The first Black teacher in the Plainfield School System was Gloria Carpenter; she taught at the Washington School.

Russell Carpenter was the first Black Superintendent of Schools in Plainfield.

The first parking meters were installed in Plainfield in 1947.

In September 1949, a public exhibit of an authentic scale model of City Hall went on display in the Council Room of City Hall. It was constructed of thousands of miniature bricks, and was made by Peter Muhlenberg Unit 398 of the Steuben Society of America.

The first Black teacher in the Plainfield School System was Gloria Carpenter; she taught at the Washington School.

The Plainfield Rescue Squad was founded in 1951.

Plainfield's Joe Black (Brooklyn Dodgers) won the National Baseball League's Rookie of the Year in 1952.

Marshall Brown was the first Black teacher and head coach of any high school in New Jersey.

Plainfield's Milt Campbell won the Olympic Decathlon in 1956.

There used to be two additional railroad depots in Plainfield: the Grant Avenue Station, which was destroyed by arson in 1967; and the Clinton Avenue or Evona Station, which closed in 1957.

On October 4, 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon and wife Pat visited Plainfield during his Presidential campaign. His route took him along Front Street between Terrill Road and Park Avenue.

Mack Truck closed its Plainfield plant in 1961.

Radio Station WERA began operation in 1961, and was located in the Park Hotel Annex on West Seventh Street.

There were approximately 47,860 residents in Plainfield in 1965.

The Talmadge Mansion was a Queen Anne mansion with a massive brick tower was built by New York banker Henry Pearl Talmadge and designed by architect Douglas Smythe. Located at 714 Belvidere Avenue, it took three years to build and was completed in 1887 at a cost of $45,000. It is said to have measured 92 feet long and 62 feet wide with 33 rooms. Lucy and Henry Talmadge had five children; Henry Talmadge, Jr. lived in the house until his death in 1968. The mansion burned down on May 19, 1969, of suspected arson.

In December 1974, famous band leader Guy Lombardo performed at The Garage Room in Plainfield.

In May 1974, former Plainfielder Donald Martino won the Pulitzer prize in music for his "Natturno," a chamber music composition.

Plainfield's sister city is Fountain City, CA.

The city's population grew from 215 in 1800 to 45,555 in 1980.

Everett C. Lattimore was elected mayor; he was the first Black mayor and the first Democratic mayor in 68 years. He resigned in 1983 to become the Superintendent of Schools.

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority formed in 1995.

In 1999, African-American Plainfield scientist James West was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for inventing the electret microphone in 1962 with his colleague Hehard Sessler (of Germany).

Cecil Allen became the first Black chief of the Fire Department in 2004; he left in 2011. He gave 39 years of service to the department, and was a P.H.S. graduate and Marine Corps veteran.

Sharon Robinson-Briggs was elected mayor; she was the first female mayor of Plainfield.

In 2018, Plainfield mathematician and former NASA engineer Marion Johnson was the recipient of the "Hidden Figures Award" from the Girls Scouts Heart of New Jersey for her contributions to the Apollo 11 mission.