Plainfield is a city in Union County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population increased to 49,808, its highest ever recorded population in any decennial census, with the population having increased by 1,979 (+4.1%) from the 47,829 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 1,262 (+2.7%) from the 46,567 counted in the 1990 Census. Plainfield is nicknamed "The Queen City".
The area of present-day Plainfield was originally formed as Plainfield Township, a township that was created on April 5, 1847, from portions of Westfield Township, while the area was still part of Essex County. On March 19, 1857, it became part of the newly created Union County.
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).
Plainfield was settled in 1684 by Quakers, and incorporated as a city in 1869. Formerly a bedroom suburb in the New York metropolitan area, it has become the urban center of 10 closely allied municipalities, with diversified industries, including printing and the manufacture of chemicals, clothing, electronic equipment, and vehicular parts. Among the several 18th-century buildings remaining are a Friends' meetinghouse (1788), the Martine house (1717), and the Nathaniel Drake House (1746), known as George Washington's headquarters during the Battle of Short Hills in June 1777. Nearby Washington Rock is a prominent point of the Watchung Mountains and is reputed to be the vantage point from which Washington watched British troop movements.
In music history, Plainfield is known as the birthplace of P-Funk. George Clinton founded The Parliaments while working in a barber shop in Plainfield. Parliament-Funkadelic was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Plainfield has been home to former New Jersey governor James McGreevey.
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 Olympic Decathlon 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.
There are numerous sites, including homes, parks, and districts in the city that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While not listed, the Plainfield Armory, a prominent landmark completed in 1932, was sold by the state in 2013 as surplus property.
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.