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Plainfield History

Click to return to LH main pageOur Local History Collection is the largest in Union County, and includes historical and contemporary materials about the city of Plainfield and its inhabitants. The collection is composed of books, documents, photographs, blueprints, maps, newspapers, personal papers, and records of local clubs and organizations in Plainfield and the surrounding communities.

For further information, please contact the Local History Department at 908-757-1111 ext. 136. Don't forget to check out the Library's Research Databases and Community Guide.


Page Link
Collection Name and Description

City Directories
The Local History department holds Plainfield city directories from the 1870s through 1982. The city directories are available in print, on microfilm and in an online searchable PDF format. Because of copyright issues, city directories are only available inside the library.

The 1930 directory listed numerous Plainfield deaths. Additional deaths were noted in some other directories, which are being processed, but no other volume covered as many deaths as the 1930 directory.

Remote Access
Courier Courier News Archive
The records of the Courier News document people, organizations, and events around New Jersey from the 1870s into the 2000s.  The collection includes photographs, film negatives, newspaper obituaries, newspaper article clippings, and ephemera.
Detwiller Blueprint Collection
This unique collection of 16,000 architectural drawings and blueprints documents the rich history of Plainfield's architectural development. It includes residences, houses of worship, businesses, and multifamily dwellings from 1887 to 2002. The drawings have been microfilmed and digitized for preservation and Internet access.
Remote Access
High School Yearbooks
The Plainfield High School yearbooks, dating from 1906 to 2011, are a valuable part of the Local History Department’s Plainfield Collection. They provide a unique insight into the everyday lives of Plainfield teenagers, the effects of local and national events, and the evolution of Plainfield society over several decades. The yearbooks have not been digitized, and are available in hard copy on microfilm. If you are interested in donating a yearbook to help complete the collection, please contact the Local History Department.
Historical Plainfield Newspapers
The Plainfield Periodical Collection includes 23 newspapers and magazines dating back to 1837. These holdings include microfilmed copies and broadsides, as well as digitized titles. The Courier News on microfilm, from 1891 to 1998, is available on microfilm in the upstairs reference section. After 1999, the newspaper is available online through the ProQuest database.
Remote Access
Historical Photograph Collection
The Plainfield Public Library's historical photograph collections include over 50,000 individual photographic prints, negatives, slides and glass plates by over a dozen local photographers from the 1860s to the present.
Remote Access

Historical Plainfield Scrapbooks
The Plainfield Public Library's historical scrapbooks include numerous scrapbooks created by both individuals and organizations. The books contain a variety of materials, such as newspaper clippings, interesting ephemera, letters, photographs, artwork, and more. The books cross multiple collections and span from 1820 to 1997.

local authors Local Authors
This collection includes a broad array of books by more than 100 local authors. A recent inventory showed that Plainfield has had authors since the early 1800s writing about everything from science to poetry to children's books. Authors include: J.M. Benjamin, Van Wyck Brooks, Judy Blume, Adele DeLeeuw, and many others.

Local and New Jersey Maps
Recently inventoried, this collection includes: 98 State maps beginning in 1874, 19 Plainfield flat maps, and 21 framed wall maps of Plainfield, including two copies of the oldest map of Plainfield dated 1832. This cartographic collection includes numerous atlases in the New Jersey Collection. Maps of, and information about, the nine historic districts of Plainfield can be found here. A selection of sixteen digitized images of large-scale maps of New Jersey, the city of Plainfield, and the surrounding areas are now available through the New Jersey Digital Highway.

Local Clubs and Organizations
The Plainfield Public Library’s collection of local organizations is composed of a variety of materials including annual reports, board meeting minutes, correspondence, financial documents, photographs, scrapbooks, ephemera, and more. The Department also holds a large quantity of vertical files that document the long history of organizations, businesses, schools, and churches in Plainfield. The records date back to 1867.
Personal Papers and Manuscripts
The Plainfield Public Library’s manuscript collection is housed in our Local History Department. It is composed of manuscripts, personal papers, oral histories, vital records and certificates, photographs, scrapbooks, correspondence, ephemera, and other unique material belonging to a particular person or family - usually connected to Plainfield, NJ. This collection contains the papers of Job Male, Plainfield's first mayor and namesake of the city's first library.
Plainfield Police Logs
The Library houses 340 ledgers used by the Plainfield Police Division between 1884 and 1971 to record their daily activities. The logs report items such as arrests, accidents, thefts, criminal dockets, tax ledgers, and lost and found animals. Surnames are indexed in many volumes. Access restrictions may apply to some books. Only some of the ledgers are indexed.
Plainfield Postcard Collection
The Plainfield Postcard Collection contains 2,000 postcards with 1,000 unique images. The Chase collection and the Ricketts collection make up the core of the library's holdings, depicting Plainfield in the early 1900s. 
Remote Access


Return to Genealogy PageIn addition to how-to guides and Reference Department staples on the main floor of the library, the Local History Department, located on the lower level of the library, offers many specialized resources to family historians and genealogists. Be sure to review our Plainfield resources contained in the Local History Collections.

All are encouraged to consult the Local History staff for assistance. This can be done in person; by phone at (908) 757-1111, ext. 136; or by sending us an e-mail. Don't forget to check out the Library's Research Databases and Community Guide.


*Some files require Adobe Reader in order to view - Download Adobe Reader

Page Link
Collection Name and Description
American Ancestors online database
New England Historic Genealogical Society offers access to more than 110 million names in a variety of databases, making family research easy and efficient. Some databases included are Abstracts of NY Wills, New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Massachusetts Vital Record, 1841-1915.  Online genealogical periodicals included in the subscription are The American Genealogists, The Connecticut Nutmegger, New England Ancestors Magazine, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The New Netherland Connections and The Virginia Genealogist.  Databases and resources are updated and expanded weekly.
In Library Use
ancestry online database is the #1 online source for family history information, including the web's largest collection of historical records. This resource has approximately 4,000 databases including key collections such as U.S. Federal Census images and indexes from 1790 to 1930, and the Map Center containing more than 1,000 historical maps.
In Library Use
obituary index

Courier News Obituary Index*
The index is an alphabetical collection by surname of obituaries and articles from the Courier News that were clipped and indexed by the Courier News staff.  The clippings date from the mid-1920s to the mid-1980s. Donated to Plainfield Public Library in 2009, the collection of clippings and articles is being indexed by library staff and volunteers. The index will be updated and posted to the website as it becomes available.

In addition, the 1930 Plainfield city directory listed numerous Plainfield deaths. Additional deaths were noted in some other directories, which are being processed, but no other volume covered as many deaths as the 1930 directory.

family bible
Family Bible Records
The Family Bible Records Project scans and digitizes family bible records, several of which are from families with connections to Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties. The records date back to 1734 and are available online for the purpose of sharing and disseminating these invaluable genealogy resources. Those in possession of family bible records, from any location, are encouraged to submit their records for inclusion on this website.
only available on microfilm

Local Census Collection
A collection of New Jersey state census records for Plainfield and the rest of Union County is held in microfilm format for the years 1865, 1885, 1895, 1905, and 1915. Also in microfilm format:1855 for Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren Counties; 1865 for Middlesex, Monmouth, Salem, and Somerset Counties; 1885 for New Brunswick-Woodbridge in Middlesex County and for Somerset County; 1895 for Perth Amboy-Woodbridge in Middlesex County and for Somerset County; 1905 for North Brunswick-Woodbridge in Middlesex County and for Salem and Somerset Counties; and 1915 for Piscataway-Woodbridge in Middlesex County and for Somerset County.  These selections were made in an effort to include the communities of North and South Plainfield where microfilm coverage was available.

The Local History staff can direct researchers to indexes for 1885, 1895 and 1905 but the microfilmed records are in standard census format and not otherwise indexed.

icon Local Records Index & Transcription*
The indexing of Plainfield records is an important part of the preservation of the city's history. Records date back to 1734 and many are part of the Library's own collection; others are on loan to us for special projects. Items include local church records, family bibles, obituary files, and more. The indexes and transcriptions will be made publicly available as they are completed.

Memorial Funeral Home Records
The Memorial Funeral Home records date from 1906 to 1996 and include files from the A. M. Runyon Funeral Home. File data varies, but will always contain funeral and burial information, cause of death, and often other family details. The files are currently being processed, but Local History staff are happy to assist patrons with requests. The collection is not open to the public and private personal information, including Social Security Numbers, will not be released under any circumstances. Indexes will be posted to the website as they are created.

surname file index

Surname Files List*
Surname files are created by staff of the Plainfield Public Library when research is performed for patrons.  These files may contain only a single obituary but may be worth consulting by researchers interested in that surname.  Contact the Local History Department to learn the extent of the documentation associated with particular surnames.  We also welcome donations of any additional information on Plainfield area families that can be added to the files through your own family research.

Special Collections

Our Special Collections include genealogy and family histories, fine art, diversity studies, oral histories, New Jersey and United States history, as well as the original Library collection from the 1800’s. There is also an additional set of books on subjects that support sour collections such as photography, art, architecture, and historic preservation. For further information, please contact the local history department at 908-757-1111 ext. 136.

Page Link Collection Name and Description
corduroy Children's Authors & Illustrators Collection
The Children's Authors & Illustrators Collection documents Plainfield Public Library's Children's Department’s Summer Reading Club of 1969 and the Book Festivals of 1971 & 1977.  The collection includes a variety of items from nearly 70 different authors and illustrators of children's books. Materials include manuscripts, original illustrations, letters, book jackets, galley pages, folded & gathered (F&G) pages, book marks, book lists, photographs, and ephemera. Many of the items are signed, unique and original works.
Diversity Studies
The Library began development of its Diversity Studies Collection in 2003 to gather and preserve research materials on the minority groups of Plainfield.  The collection scope includes published and unpublished resources on the history, culture and literature of African Americans, the Gay and Lesbian community, the Hispanic community and the Caribbean community. Resources include monographs, periodicals, folios, sheet music, and photographs. The collection also includes oral history interviews as part of the StoryCorps Griot, Latinos in Conversation, and Hispanics in America initiatives.
tea time
Fine Arts
The Library's Fine Arts Collection includes two original works by Winslow Homer, three early Audubon prints, two oils by John F. Carlson and one by Jonas Lie. Also included are works by Plainfield artists Riva Helfond, Arnold Schmidt, and Alonzo Adams (image on left), as well as original sketches, drawings and watercolors by various noted children's illustrators. In all there are about forty important works. A Cloisonné and Porcelain Collection was donated by the Library's founder Job Male.
New Jersey Reference (Jerseyana)
The New Jersey Reference Collection comprises a broad selection of New Jersey materials containing 2260 monographs, pamphlets, periodicals and serials covering state, county and municipal history, government, education, genealogy, technology and literature. As a partial depository for New Jersey State documents since 1968, Plainfield Public holds many government items concerning our area and its population. Parts of this collection are not catalogued, including the New Jersey and the Plainfield clipping files. Other clipping collections are to be found in the original scrapbooks of the library. The originals of the Plainfield clippings can be seen in the Archives. Copies are available for viewing in the Reference Department.
oral history
Oral History
The Oral History Collection includes oral-history interviews as part of the StoryCorps Griot, Latinos in Conversation, and Historias initiatives. StoryCorps is a not-for-profit company that conducts oral histories nationwide. These projects ensure that the voices, experiences, and life stories of Union County's African-American, Latino, and Hispanic communities will be preserved and presented with dignity. Since 2007, the collection has grown to include over thirty six interviews with local Plainfield and Union County residents representing fourteen different countries. Many of the interviews were also transcribed with the help of a Union County History Grant.
United States History
This extensive collection contains unique missives and serials from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, War of 1812, World War I, and World War II. Serials and texts from both the Union and the Confederacy give an in-depth perspective of the period. We also hold many volumes documenting all of the presidents, particularly Theodore Roosevelt. Some volumes document the history of specific branches of the Armed Forces and their involvement in the conflicts. Related items include recruitment posters from the First and Second World Wars (image on left). Periodicals from the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century include Harper's, Railway Age, Scientific American, St. Nicholas, the Journals of the Continental Congress, War of the Rebellion and Antiques.

Items of Interest

The following items may be of interest to Plainfield residents. historians and researchers. For further information, please contact the local history department at 908-757-1111 ext. 136.

*Some files require Adobe Reader in order to view - Download Adobe Reader

Page Link Item and Description
workshop handout Free Databases for Genealogists
Genealogy Workshop Handout from the Fall 2011 workshop. Click here to learn more about local history and genealogy workshops and classes.
vertical file
Local History Vertical File Index*
The vertical files contain newspaper clippings, dating back to the 1970s, on various people and subjects. Most of the clippings are from the Courier News and The Star Ledger.
local records Local Records Index & Transcription*
The transcription of Plainfield records is an important part of the preservation of the city's history. Many of the items are part of the Local History Collection; others are on loan to us for this special project. Items include local church records, family bibles, obituary files, and more. The transcriptions will be made publicly available as they are completed.
Hazel Fields
Notable Women of Plainfield
A descriptive listing of 10 of the most notable women of Plainfield.
Job Male
Plainfield Mayors
A listing of past Mayors of Plainfield, dating back to 1869, along with their terms of office and party affiliations.
Plainfield Public Library Founders
A descriptive listing of the founders of Plainfield Public Library.
vertical file Plainfield Reference Books
Indexes for some of the helpful reference books available. This is an ongoing volunteer indexing project. Please contact the department if you are interested in volunteering.
house history Researching A Plainfield Home
An instructional page detailing the public resources available at the library to research the history a Plainfield home or business.

Search Tips for Local History Collections

Blueprint Collection

  • Best search is by permit number, which is available from the city's Building Department (908) 753-3222.

  • Enter only the street name; do not include the words "avenue" or "street", etc.

  • For numbered streets, try searching on full names as well as abbreviations (i.e. "second" and also "2nd").

  • Omit street directions and their abbreviations (i.e. N. S. E. W. or North, South, East, West).

  • Search City Directories (from a Library computer) to get the names of past owners of your building, then search blueprints by their last name.

  • Learn more about the Charles Detwiller Blueprint Collection.

Please note:

  • The Library does not have all blueprints.

  • Newer blueprints are housed at City Hall.

  • Not all blueprints have an identified street address, so expand your search by omitting house numbers.

  • Digitized blueprint images will appear small in scale. Patrons must come into the Plainfield Room to view larger scale images.
  • Blueprints without digitized images can be viewed on microfilm.

Photograph Collection

  • Not all images are available online, and not all photographs are indexed. Patrons are invited to come into the Plainfield Room to browse through prints in our photograph binders.

  • Data and images from the Courier News Photographic Archive will be available as images are processed and scanned for public access.

  • If you are getting too many results - narrow your search by checking the “Show only records that contain digitized (online) images” box.

Postcard Collection

  • If you are unable to locate a specific postcard, expand your search to include all records by un-checking the “Show only records that contain digitized (online) images” box.


Patrons are welcome to come into the Plainfield Room to view digitized blueprints or those on microfilm,
as well as photographic prints and postcards. Please call ahead to schedule an appointment.
You can send us an email or reach us by phone at 908-757-1111 Ext. 136.


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