Researching the History of a Plainfield Home
When Was My Home Built? What Is That Style Called? Who Lived There?
Researching the history of the Plainfield home in which you live, an impressive one which has always intrigued you, or one in which your family once lived is a popular activity at Plainfield Public Library. If you are interested in the story behind a home in Plainfield, the public library is a great place to start.
Print the Department's House History Research Pathfinder and Checklist to help guide you in your search.
Plainfield Public Library's Blueprint Collection is the only one at a New Jersey public library that is known to us. Created in 1982 through the efforts of local architect Charles Detwiller, it includes over 15,000 blueprints, mostly for the city of Plainfield. These have been digitized and are searchable through the Local History Collections Browser.
The blueprints can be searched by address and several other categories, but the most definitive searches for a specific building are made by permit number because while the great majority of blueprints have recorded permit numbers, not all of them are identified by address. Permit numbers for each Plainfield address can be obtained from the city’s Building Department (908-753-3222) [Sample Card].
Not all blueprints are on file at the library. Newer sets of plans are still held by the Building Department and many of the older plans were never received by the library. If your search leads you to discover any blueprints in which you are interested, contact the library to learn how to see them in greater detail or to obtain copies.
Check out these handy Search Tips for the blueprints.
Historic Photographs & Postcards
Plainfield Public Library has collections of both photographs and postcards that can be searched and viewed through the Collections Browser. In many cases photographs of homes are not identified by address because that information was not available, but these images can be browsed or searches can be made using terms for distinguishing features, such as “porch” and “parlor.”
Check out these handy Search Tips for the photographs.
Using city directories you can look up the previous owners of a home. If the information was initially provided to the publishers, the directory can provide the names of residents, their occupations, and, in some years, whether they had a telephone.
Plainfield city directories have also been digitized but are searchable on computers within the library only. Those that cover individuals (rather than businesses alone) run from 1871 through 1982, with some gaps. The “reverse” directory feature in which you can search by address begins with the 1929 directory but the “every word” search function means that searches can now be made in the earlier years back to the point when street numbers changed or did not yet exist.
Search the City Directories.
A collection of New Jersey state census records for Plainfield and the rest of Union County is held in microfilm format for the years 1885, 1895, 1905, and 1915. 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.
The 1905 census for Sussex County and the 1915 census for Warren County (Allamuchy-Pahaquarry) are also available.
Many years of microfilm are also available for neighboring Somerset and Middlesex Counties.
Census records are searchable using the Library subscription to Ancestry.com.
Maps for Plainfield and North Plainfield are available for many different years. Some identify homeowners and provide a “footprint” indicating the shape of the buildings present at the time covered by the map.
Additional maps are also available online. A collection of five Plainfield Sanborn Maps for the years of 1886, 1892, 1897, 1904 and 1910 can be found at Princeton University Libraries. These maps are available on microfilm at Plainfield Public Library.
Sample Sanborn map images: 1904, 1910, 1956.
A selection of Plainfield Library's maps are available through New Jersey Digital Highway.
A complete inventory of Plainfield Public Library's map collection is also available.
Click here for a list of Plainfield street name changes.
Sample Image from Dunham Atlas, 1894.
Particularly during the early part of the 1900s Plainfield newspapers ran articles covering the building and sale of local homes. A digital index to The Daily Press and the Plainfield Daily Press, covering 1887-1916, permits searches for the names of home owners, architects, and streets that may lead to useful
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 is available in the upstairs reference section.
Search Plainfield's early newspapers.
Plainfield City Ordinance of 1893 listing new house numbers for all residences (The Daily Press, May 13, 1893).
There are 10 historic districts in Plainfield: Broadway, Cedar Brook Park, Crescent Area, Green Brook Park, Hillside Avenue, Netherwood Heights, North Avenue, Plainfield Civic, Putnam-Watchung, and Van Wyck Brooks.
The Plainfield Historic Preservation Commission offers this List of Properties located in Plainfield's Historic Districts, as well as other important resources on their website.
Historic Preservation Application
Books to Consult
There are several publications in the Plainfield Reference Collection that contain images and information about local residences. Some of these have been indexed by Local History Department volunteers and are now electronically searchable.
- PR 917.49 PLA Plainfield and Vicinity in Pictures, 1926 (search index) [sample image page 10a and 10b].
- PR 974.936 P69 Plainfield 300 Years,1987 (search index).
- PR 917.49 HOO Plainfield, New Jersey Illustrated, 1895 (search index).
- PR 720 HUN Survey of Historic Building Resources, prepared by Gail Hunton, 1998 (search index).
- PR 974.936 GRA Plainfield, New Jersey’s History and Architecture, by John Grady and Dot Pollard, 2008.
- PR 974.939 SMI History of Plainfield and North Plainfield, by F. T. Smiley, 1901.