Plainfield's earliest settlers, like many others who pioneered this country, were seeking religious and political freedoms denied them in their own countries, By 1685, seven families (whose name identify them as "all good Scots") established farms a long the Cedar Brook.
But long before the arrival of the first settlers, Indians had frequented the area in their travels between the Hudson and Delaware rivers. Those living in the Plainfield area were the Watchungs, part of the Lenni-Lenape tribe (commonly call Delaware). They encamped along the Green Brook and in the areas of the Watchung and Park avenues, and Grant and Clinton avenues. The trails they marked out hundreds of years ago ran through the heart of our city. When the railroad was built in the 1800's, it followed that old Indian cut-off to the sea.The new settlement was named Milltown, a reference to the grist mill which was built in 1760 on the Green Brook, near what is now Watchung Avenue. In 1788, the Quakers moved their Friends Meeting House from the original site near what is today the Painfield Country Club, to the corner of Watchung Avenue and East Third Street where it remains as one of the historical landmarks of the city.Although the Plainfield area was mostly open farm land with a population of only about 50, it was considered of sufficient military importance during the Revolutionary period to warrant a large militia post. This was built along the east bank of the Green Brook River between what are now Clinton and West End avenues. The post, which consisted of 95 acres and a large fort, guarded the main road to Quibbletown (today's New Market area) and the mountain pass. Somerset Street is an extension of that mountain pass.
The Village of Plainfield
On April 1, 1800, a post office was established and the name of the growing community (pop. 215) was changed to Plainfield, appropriate to the gently rolling fields of the area. This description of Plainfield appeared in the 1834 in Thomas F. Gordon's A Gazzetteer of the State of New Jersey:
Plainfield, a large and thriving village of Westfield t-ship, Essex Co., on Green Brook, the line between that and Somerset co. .. 65 miles from Philadelphia, 45 from Trenton . . . 16 from Elizabethtown, 25 from New York . . . on a plain of very level land, between 2 and 3 miles wide, and about 11 long: contains 1 Presbyterian, 1 Baptist and 1 Methodist church, 2 Friend's meeting houses (Hicksite and Orthodox), 2 grist mills, 1 saw mill, 4 stores, 13 master hatters, who manufacture about $74,000 worth of hats annually; 5 master tailors, employing 70 hands, who work for the southern market; a fire engine, and company, a mutual insurance company, established in 1832, which in a few months, executed policies to the amount of more than $150,000; and 120 dwellings; a ladies' library, an apprentices' library, A four-horse mail stage to New York, three times a week, and as often to Philadelphia, on alternate days, runs through the village. The country around the town is rich, well cultivated, and healthy; and the water good and the society moral and religious and ambitious of improvement.
The neighboring mountain, about a mile N. of the town, affords an abundant supply of cheap fuel, and screens the valley from the violence of the N. and N.W. winds; and gives a very pleasing prospect to the S. and E. over a space of 30 miles.
Union County was created from Essex County on March 19, 1857. Plainfield
became a part of the new unty.
The City of Plainfield
As with many other urban communities, Plainfield's growth followed completion of the railroad in 1838 when service was provided between Elizabethtown and Plainfield. The traveler reached New York by boarding a boat at Elizabethport. With improvement t of railway service, Plainfield became a commuter town for New York. Many city dwellers who came to spend their summers and vacations "in the country" stayed to build their homes there.
One New Yorker, a bank president, bought what he thought was a farm. However, after a farmer told him the property was no good as a farm, as he would never be able to plow those hills, he decided to turn it over, to a non-profit association of his friend's. That property was what is now Hillside Cemetery.
By the late 1860's some wooded residences were being converted into stores. The block from Somerset Street to Grove Street on West Front Street boasted one brick building in 1869, but no lighted or paved streets.
By 1884, the railroad had greatly changed Plainfield. The grist mill and farm life were being replaced by industries such as hats, clothing, carriages, printing and other manufacturing. In the post-Civil War period, two major changes took place in Plainfield's appearance. Use of macadam upgraded the main streets and the main business section began to shift from the North Avenue area to Front Street between Cherry Street (now Park Avenue) and Peace Street (now Watchung Avenue).
Plainfield was gaining a reputation for a climate that was beneficial for sufferers of respiratory ailments. In 1886, in an attempt to publicize this, the publisher of the local newspaper, Thomas W. Morrison, began to use the slogan "Colorado of the East". Since Denver, Colorado, was known as the "Queen City of the Plains", the slogan for Plainfield eventually was shortened to "The Queen City".
Originally a part of Elizabeth and Westfield townships, Plainfield became it own township on March 4, 1847. It was incorporated as a village in 1867. On April 2, 1869, Plainfield became a city. Job Male, a businessman, architect and philanthropist, was elected the first mayor.In 1862 Western Union opened a branch office and by 1883 the first telephone pole station was established. The Plainfield Gas Light Company opened its plant in 1860 and the Plainfield Electric Light Company started business in 1886. Public Service Corporation of New Jersey was organized in May 1903 and became the Public Service Electric and Gas Company which serves the city today.
Plainfield is located in north central New Jersey in the westernmost section of Union County, 24 miles southwest of New York City, 18 miles from Newark and 12 miles from Elizabeth. Although considered part of the Greater New York area, Plainfield is itself the core city for several surrounding communities comprise the Greater Plainfield area. The Green Brook, forms a natural boundary separating Plainfield from the Somerset communities of Watchung, North Plainfield and Green Brook Township. Other bordering communities are Dunellen, Piscataway, South Plainfield, Edison, Scotch Plains and Fanwood.
The city is approximately six square miles in area and is 100 to 200 feet above sea level. The Watchung Mountains to the north rise to 550 feet.
The city's population grew from 215 in 1800 to 46,567 in 1990.