Plainfield was incorporated as a city by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 21, 1869, from portions of Plainfield Township, based on the results of a referendum held that same day. The city and township coexisted until March 6, 1878, when Plainfield Township was dissolved and parts were absorbed by Plainfield city, with the remainder becoming Fanwood Township (now known as Scotch Plains).
There were 15,180 households, of which 35.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.9% were married couples living together, 24.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.3% were non-families. 21.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.23 and the average family size was 3.60.
In the city, 25.8% of the population were under the age of 18, 10.5% from 18 to 24, 30.7% from 25 to 44, 23.5% from 45 to 64, and 9.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33.3 years. For every 100 females there were 101.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.4 males.
The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $52,056 (with a margin of error of +/- $3,048) and the median family income was $58,942 (+/- $4,261). Males had a median income of $33,306 (+/- $4,132) versus $37,265 (+/- $3,034) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $23,767 (+/- $1,013). About 12.2% of families and 16.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.5% of those under age 18 and 16.0% of those age 65 or over.
There were 15,137 households out of which 35.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.3% were married couples living together, 24.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.0% were non-families. 21.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.10 and the average family size was 3.49.
In the city the population was spread out with 27.5% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 32.6% from 25 to 44, 20.5% from 45 to 64, and 9.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 95.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $46,683, and the median income for a family was $50,774. Males had a median income of $33,460 versus $30,408 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,052. About 12.2% of families and 15.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.3% of those under age 18 and 12.6% of those age 65 or over.
In sports history, Plainfield is the birthplace and/or home of several current and former athletes, including professionals and well-known amateurs. Included in their number are Milt Campbell, the 1956 OlympicDecathlon gold medalist (the first African-American to earn this title), Joe Black, the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game, Jeff Torborg, former MLB player, coach and manager, and Vic Washington, NFL player.
Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed to oversee prosecutions in the Watergate break-in and related criminal activity during the Nixon administration, was born in Plainfield.
Plainfield's northeast corner, known as the "sleepy hollow" section of the city, was and still is characterized by its array of finely landscaped streets and neighborhoods with homes defined by a broad array of architectural styles, most built during the first half of the twentieth century. As one browses the tree-lines neighborhoods, it is obvious that the lot sizes vary, but the stateliness and distinction of each house is distinct evident, whether a stately Queen Anne mansion or gingerbread cottage. Most lots are nicely landscaped and semi or fully private. Sleepy Hollow has withstood the test of time, remaining a visual destination and a desirable place to buy and live despite the decay in other parts of the city.
In its heyday, Plainfield was a shopping and entertainment center for the regional area. Residents of nearby Union, Middlesex and Somerset counties would drive to shop and explore the business districts of Plainfield. Other than during the holidays, peak shopping times in Plainfield were Thursday nights and Saturday, when Front Street and the areas around it bustled. Parking spots were at a premium downtown during the fifties and early sixties. Businesses of note included Tepper's, Rosenbaum's, Sears, Montgomery Wards, Bamberger's and the Surprise Store department stores, Browning King and Robert Hall clothiers, Dreier's and Buck and Benny sporting goods, Lipton's fine jewelry, Lazaar's, Boise's and Park Stationers office supplies, Watchung and Thomas Furniture, Coward, A&S Beck, Kinney and David Bruce Shoes, Brooks and Gregory Music stores, Lafayette Radio and Electronics, Safeway, A&P, Acme and Finast food stores and Thule auto parts. Notable eateries included Larry's Kosher Deli, the Capital Bakery, Grunning's, The Frontier Diner, Conca D'Oro and Texas Lunch. Other businesses of note included the Plainfield Courier News (bought by Gannett, regionalized and moved to Bridgewater, NJ), Wald, Sav-On and Strand Drug, multiple 5 & 10 retail stores (at various times, Woolworth, LL Green, McCrory and others), Loizeaux lumber, The Model Railroad Shop, Park Hardware, Nechin's, The Millenary Shop, the Sam-O-Set Laundry and numerous other small businesses.
Plainfield had plenty of entertainment venues. At the peak, there were four operating movie theaters: the Strand, the Liberty, the Paramount and the Oxford theaters. Prior to 1960, Cedarbrook park, at the south end of town, and Greenbrook park, at the north end of town, provided every opportunity for recreation, including ice skating in the winter, fishing, hiking, visits to the ice cream vendor, playgrounds and quiet walks. As with much else in Plainfield, the ability to use the parks without the fear of predators eroded beginning in the early 1960s.
Manufacturers of heavy goods included Chelsea Fan Corp., Mack Truck and National Starch and Chemical Corp. Plainfield Iron and Metal maintained a large scrapyard on the west end of town.
Plainfield was affected by the Plainfield riots in July 1967. This civil disturbance occurred in the wake of the larger Newark riots. A Plainfield police officer died, about fifty people were injured, and several hundred thousand dollars of property was damaged by looting and arson. The New Jersey National Guard restored order after three days of unrest. This civil unrest caused a massive white flight, characterized by the percentage of black residents rising from 40% in 1970 to 60% a decade later.
A historic home in Plainfield, New Jersey.
Plainfield is governed under a Special Charter granted by the New Jersey Legislature by a mayor and a seven-member City Council, all of whom serve four-year terms in office. There are four wards, with one ward seat up for election each year. There are three at-large seats: one from the First and Fourth Wards; one from the Second and Third Wards; and one from the City as a whole. The three at-large seats and mayoral seat operate in a four-year cycle, with one seat up for election each year.
As of 2014[update], the Mayor of the City of Plainfield is Democrat Adrian O. Mapp, whose term of office ends December 31, 2017. Members of the Plainfield City Council are Council President Bridget B. Rivers (Ward 4; D, 2017), Chairperson Committee of the Whole William Reid (Ward 1; D, 2014), Tracey L. Brown (At Large All Wards; D, 2016), Vera Greaves (At Large Wards 1 and 4; D, 2015), Gloria Taylor (Ward 3; D, November 2014; serving an unexpired term ending in 2016), Cory Storch (Ward 2; D, 2015) and Rebecca Williams (At Large Wards 2 and 3; D, 2014).
Gloria Taylor was appointed in January 2014 to fill the council seat expiring in 2016 of Adrian Mapp who resigned to take office as mayor. Taylor will serve in office until a special election in November 2014 for the balance of the term.
Union County is governed by a Board of Chosen Freeholders, whose nine members are elected at-large to three-year terms of office on a staggered basis with three seats coming up for election each year, with an appointed County Manager overseeing the day-to-day operations of the county. At an annual reorganization meeting held in the beginning of January, the board selects a Chairman and Vice Chairman from among its members. As of 2014[update], Union County's Freeholders are Chairman Christopher Hudak (D, Linden, term ends December 31, 2014), Vice Chairman Mohamed S. Jalloh (D, Roselle, 2015), Bruce Bergen (D, Springfield Township, 2015), Linda Carter (D, Plainfield, 2016), Angel G. Estrada (D, Elizabeth, 2014), Sergio Granados (D, Elizabeth, 2016) Bette Jane Kowalski (D, Cranford, 2016), Alexander Mirabella (D, Fanwood, 2015) and Vernell Wright (D, Union, 2014). Constitutional officers elected on a countywide basis are County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi (D, Union, 2015), Sheriff Ralph Froehlich (D, Union, 2016) and Surrogate James S. LaCorte (D, Springfield Township, 2014). The County Manager is Alfred Faella.
As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 20,722 registered voters in Plainfield, of which 12,078 (58.3% vs. 41.8% countywide) were registered as Democrats, 947 (4.6% vs. 15.3%) were registered as Republicans and 7,693 (37.1% vs. 42.9%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were 4 voters registered to other parties. Among the city's 2010 Census population, 41.6% (vs. 53.3% in Union County) were registered to vote, including 56.1% of those ages 18 and over (vs. 70.6% countywide).
In the 2012 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 14,640 votes (93.3% vs. 66.0% countywide), ahead of Republican Mitt Romney with 909 votes (5.8% vs. 32.3%) and other candidates with 46 votes (0.3% vs. 0.8%), among the 15,683 ballots cast by the city's 22,555 registered voters, for a turnout of 69.5% (vs. 68.8% in Union County). In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 15,280 votes (92.3% vs. 63.1% countywide), ahead of Republican John McCain with 1,110 votes (6.7% vs. 35.2%) and other candidates with 56 votes (0.3% vs. 0.9%), among the 16,548 ballots cast by the city's 22,516 registered voters, for a turnout of 73.5% (vs. 74.7% in Union County). In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry received 11,508 votes (85.4% vs. 58.3% countywide), ahead of Republican George W. Bush with 1,773 votes (13.2% vs. 40.3%) and other candidates with 88 votes (0.7% vs. 0.7%), among the 13,480 ballots cast by the city's 20,445 registered voters, for a turnout of 65.9% (vs. 72.3% in the whole county).
In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Democrat Jon Corzine received 7,140 ballots cast (81.3% vs. 50.6% countywide), ahead of Republican Chris Christie with 1,057 votes (12.0% vs. 41.7%), Independent Chris Daggett with 355 votes (4.0% vs. 5.9%) and other candidates with 84 votes (1.0% vs. 0.8%), among the 8,786 ballots cast by the city's 21,738 registered voters, yielding a 40.4% turnout (vs. 46.5% in the county).
As of the 2011-12 school year, the district's 15 schools had an enrollment of 6,407 students and 501.0 classroom teachers (on an FTE basis), for a student–teacher ratio of 12.79:1. Schools in the district (with 2011-12 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics) are DeWitt D. Barlow Elementary School (334; K-5), Cedarbrook Elementary School (576; K-8), Clinton Elementary School (335; K-8), Frederic W. Cook Elementary School (264; K-7), Emerson Community School (483; K-5), Evergreen Elementary School (555; K-5), Jefferson Elementary School (395; K-5), Charles H. Stillman Elementary School (280; K-5), Washington Community School (585; PreK-5), Woodland Elementary School (252; K-5), Hubbard Middle School (324; 6-8), Maxson Middle School (314; 6-8), Plainfield High School (1,367; 9-12), Barack Obama Academy for Academic & Civic Development (79; 9-12) and Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies (237; 7-10, to be expanded to 7-12).
The district's main high school was the 318th-ranked public high school in New Jersey out of 339 schools statewide in New Jersey Monthly magazine's September 2014 cover story on the state's "Top Public High Schools", using a new ranking methodology. The school had been ranked 280th in the state of 328 schools in 2012, after being ranked 307th in 2010 out of 322 schools listed. The school was removed in 2009 from the list of persistently dangerous schools in New Jersey.
Portions of Plainfield are part of an Urban Enterprise Zone. In addition to other benefits to encourage employment within the Zone, shoppers can take advantage of a reduced 3½% sales tax rate (versus the 7% rate charged statewide) at eligible merchants.
Roads and highways
As of May 2010[update], the city had a total of 101.79 miles (163.82 km) of roadways, of which 87.58 miles (140.95 km) were maintained by the municipality, 14.21 miles (22.87 km) by Union County.
Plainfield is one of the few large suburban cities in central New Jersey to have no federal highway within it. The closest major thoroughfare to Plainfield is U.S. Route 22, connecting Easton, Pennsylvania with Newark and U.S. Route 1/9. Route 22, a mecca for highway shopping and dining, is accessible from Plainfield through North Plainfield, Dunellen and Fanwood. In the early 1960s, Interstate highways were completed near, but not through Plainfield. Interstate 287 is accessible through South Plainfield and Piscataway, while Interstate 78 is accessible through Watchung / Warren Township and neighboring communities. The busiest connecting thoroughfares in Plainfield are Park Avenue (north-south), traversing from U.S. 22 to and into South Plainfield and Edison; Front Street (east-west), connecting Fanwood with Dunellen; South Avenue and 7th Street, both of which parallel Front Street, connecting Scotch Plains/Fanwood with Piscataway, South Plainfield and the Middlesex County border.
At the height of popularity, the Plainfield "Jersey Central" train station was a bustling hub for commuting to Newark and New York. The station was located in the middle of business commerce, a short walk from the main post office and downtown stores. The station was serviced by the now defunct Railway Express delivery company.
In years past, Plainfield was serviced by the Somerset Bus Company with service from Union County to Essex and New York City, the Public Service Bus Company with similar service and Plainfield Transit, providing local service.
Solaris Health System, a nonprofit company which owns Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, a hospital in Plainfield, asked for permission to close the hospital. This request has been opposed by People's Organization for Progress, an advocacy group based in Newark, New Jersey. The closing has been attributed to the large number of uninsured patients served by the hospital.
At the height of popularity in the 1950s through the 1970s, Plainfield was a hub for medical practices. Park Avenue was lined with doctors and medical offices and was nicknamed "Doctors Row".
Plainfield Teacher's College hoax
Plainfield Teacher's College, a mythical institution created as a hoax by a duo of college football fans in 1941. The phony college's equally nonexistent football team had its scores carried by major newspapers including The New York Times before the hoax was discovered.
Arts and popular culture
The Plainfield Symphony performs concerts at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church. The orchestra was founded in 1919, making it one of the oldest continuously operating orchestras in the United States.
^Dudley, William L. "Friendly Families: The Shotwells", in The Story of the Friends in Plainfield Including A History of Early Quaker Families, Rahway & Plainfield Friends (Quaker) Meeting, March 29, 1929. Accessed May 21, 2013.
^Nutt, Bill. "Plainfield places", Courier-News, September 3, 2003. Accessed July 11, 2013. "The Society of Friends Meeting House, an apparently unassuming structure on Watchung Avenue in the North Avenue Commercial Historic District, is the oldest continuously used house of worship in the city."
^Nathaniel Drake House, Connolly & Hickey Historical Architects. Accessed July 11, 2013. "The Nathaniel Drake House was constructed for Nathaniel Drake and his new wife circa 1746, and remained in the Drake family until c. 1860 when Daniel Drake sold the property to John S. Harberger of New York City.... The Nathaniel Drake House is significant for its architecture and how the evolution of the building reflects the changes within Plainfield from an early colonial settlement to a modern suburb, its association with the Drake family, who were prominent early settlers in the region, as well as its association with General George Washington during the Battle of Short Hills."
^Home Page, Drake House Museum. Accessed July 11, 2013. "It was at the Drake House that George Washington consulted with his officers during and after the Battle of Short Hills fought over the entire Plainﬁeld area on June 25–27, 1777."
^ abKocieniewski, David. "Ex-Governor Is Back in Public, This Time as an Author", The New York Times, September 20, 2006. Accessed April 16, 2008. "While his resignation forced Mr. McGreevey to move out of Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton, his new home in Plainfield has gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, a circular driveway and a housecleaner who arrived on Tuesday driving a white Mercedes-Benz."
^ ab"Field Day in Plainfield", Time (magazine), July 13, 1953, accessed April 26, 2007. "In Helsinki last summer, a big (6 ft. 3 in., 210 lbs.) Negro high-school boy from Plainfield, N.J. trudged wearily into a locker room in the Olympic stadium. Worn down by the two-day competition in the Olympics' most demanding test, Decathlon Man Milton Campbell gave World Champion Bob Mathias a congratulatory backslap, then flopped on a cot."
^The Plainfield Armory, The New Jersey Naval Militia Foundation. Accessed July 11, 2013. "The armory at Plainfield was constructed between 1931 and 1932 to house the Headquarters Company of the 44th Division."
^"Plainfield Burning: Black Rebellion in the Suburban North", Thomas J. Sugrue and Andrew M. Goodman, Journal of Urban History, vol. 33 (May 2007), pp. 368-401.
^Dreier, Peter. "Riot and Reunion: Forty Years Later", The Nation, July 30, 2007. Accessed April 10, 2012. "In 1971, after more protests and litigation, the school district initiated a desegregation plan. But because white flight had dramatically accelerated, real school integration between blacks and whites was difficult to achieve. Between 1970 and 1980, blacks' share of Plainfield's population grew from 40 percent to 60 percent."
^Staff. "Mapping a new course for Plainfield", NJToday.net, January 3, 2014. Accessed September 19, 2014. "Gloria Taylor, the widow of the late Mayor Rick Taylor and a retired educator, was selected by the City Council in a 5-1 vote at a special session held to fill the Ward 3 seat left vacant by Mapp’s move to the Mayor’s office."
^What are SDA Districts?, New Jersey Schools Development Authority. Accessed August 14, 2012. "SDA Districts are 31 special-needs school districts throughout New Jersey. They were formerly known as Abbott Districts, based on the Abbott v. Burke case in which the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the State must provide 100 percent funding for all school renovation and construction projects in special-needs school districts.... The districts were renamed after the elimination of the Abbott designation through passage of the state’s new School Funding Formula in January 2008."
^"Acute-care hospital facility to close. Solaris Health Systems, the nonprofit parent company of Muhlenberg and the JFK Medical Center in Edison, will file a certificate of need...". Asbury Park Press. February 24, 2008.
^"They rally to save Muhlenberg center Sixty or so people, many from the Plainfield area, gathered in front of the Statehouse Thursday to protest the planned closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center...". Asbury Park Press. May 9, 2008.
^Jukaku, Mariam. "Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center shutting its doors", The Star-Ledger, February 23, 2008. Accessed June 15, 2014. "Faced with mounting deficits caused mainly by insufficient state aid to cover all its uninsured patients, officials at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield plan to close the 130-year-old facility later this year."
^Johnson, Bruce. "Plainfield State and Chung Were Too Good to Be True", Westfield Leader, October 13, 2005. Accessed May 13, 2007. "Never heard of Plainfield State? Well, that’s because neither Plainfield State Teachers College nor Johnny Chung actually existed... On the spur of the moment, he decided to call The New York Times and said, 'I want to report a score... Plainfield Teachers 21 (his secretary was from Plainfield) … Regency 12.' The next morning, there was the score in The New York Times!"
^Calefati, Jessica. "Plainfield residents attempt to break world record for largest gospel choir", The Star-Ledger, October 2, 2010. Accessed April 10, 2012. "Residents of the Queen City who gathered yesterday at City Hall to try and break the Guinness World Record for the largest gospel choir were unsuccessful, but the day was still touted as a positive step toward peace in this community, which has been rocked by more than 20 violent crimes since May raised. Yesterday’s event drew 755 singers, about 250 people shy of the record."
^Symons, Michael. "Transition team: Rich Bagger", Asbury Park Press, November 20, 2009. Accessed April 10, 2012. "Bagger, who was born in Plainfield and lives in Westfield, holds degrees from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Rutgers Law School."
^Goldblatt, Jennifer. "Blume's Day", The New York Times, November 14, 2004. Accessed February 5, 2008. "It wasn't until after Ms. Blume had gotten her bachelor's degree in education from New York University in 1961, was married and raising her son, Larry, and her daughter, Randy, and living in Plainfield and later Scotch Plains, that she started to commit her stories and characters to paper, cramming writing sessions in while the children were at preschool and at play."
^Fried, Johnathan. "JERSEY FOOTLIGHTS; A Funkmaster Comes Home", The New York Times, October 17, 1999. Accessed April 10, 2012. "The Mothership landed on Oct. 6 when George Clinton, Plainfield native and funkmaster, brought his band to the Community Theater in Morristown for the second night of a monthlong national tour."
^Strauss, Robert. "NEW JERSEY & CO.; All Eyes Are on Fort Lee", The New York Times, April 23, 2000. Accessed April 10, 2012. "Alerted by a viewer, Mr. Haines -- a Plainfield native who now lives in Monmouth County -- researched tapes and noted that when Mr. Greenspan, the head of the Federal Reserve, carried a fat briefcase to the meetings, interest rates rose; a thin briefcase indicated lower rates."
^Laurie, Artiss. "Liske Recalls Vivid Hoax", The Leader-Post, September 22, 1967. Accessed April 10, 2012. "They should be indebted then, as I am, to The Globe and Mail's Dick Beddoes for revealing the hoax surrounding Peter Liske. That is, if you consider his hometown - Plainfield, N.J. - as sufficient evidence for guilt by association."
^Randolph Manning, Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. Accessed May 21, 2013. "Randolph Manning was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on May 19, 1804."
^Stevens, Andrew. "Kasim ReedMayor of Atlanta", City Mayors Foundation, March 29, 2010. Accessed October 26, 2011. "Though born in the New Jersey suburb of Plainfield, Reed was raised in Fulton County, Georgia and schooled at the Westlake High School locally."
^McCall, Tris. "Garry Shider of P-Funk fame dies at 56", The Star-Ledger, June 16, 2010. Accessed January 12, 2011. "The Plainfield native and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, best known as the musical director of George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic bands, died today at the age of 56, from complications arising from brain and lung cancer. "
^Staff. "Comics wait to see who'll be standing ", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 5, 2003. Accessed November 21, 2008. "Two grizzled veteran comics with minimal name recognition until a few weeks ago -- Dave Mordal of Elk River, Minn., and Rich Vos of Plainfield, N.J. -- have found a higher level of fame thanks to NBC's moderately successful reality show 'Last Comic Standing'."