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The History of the Charles Detwiller Blueprint Collection

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MarshThis unique collection originated with the enactment of an 1896 Plainfield municipal ordinance requiring the safekeeping of architectural drawings filed in application for building permits. The first building permit in Plainfield was issued on January 27, 1896 to George W. Moore. By 1969, 40,800 permits had been issued.

The City changed its retention requirements in 1970, and the original drawings were moved to the Wardlaw School for storage. After the duCret School of Art took ownership of the building, the drawings had to be moved again. Local architect Charles H. Detwiller Jr. stored them for several years, until 1982, when he was able to arrange for their transfer to the Plainfield Public Library.

This incredible architectural resource continues to grow through periodic transfers made by the City’s Division of Inspections and through donations of drawings privately held by homeowners.

There are over 16,000 sets of drawings in the Detwiller collection, documenting over 100 years of residential and commercial architecture in the Plainfield area, from 1887 to 2002.

Despite the depth of the collection, not every property is included. In some cases drawings exist only for add-ons like garage or attic remodels, but not for the original structure. One reason for these gaps is that at the time the drawings were released from the City’s jurisdiction, property owners were allowed to take the drawings of their own buildings.

Although the majority of drawings are of Plainfield buildings and date from 1896, there are exceptions. Some earlier drawings, donated by homeowners, are of structures that predate the building permits. Also, Detwiller's personal drawings represent clients from a variety of Plainfield-area communities.

Approximately 500 architects are represented in the collection. Drawings by early 20th century African-American architect Edward R. Williams and Robert L. Robinson are in the collection. Architects Charles Smith and George Ernest Robinson are both represented by local buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

These drawings reflect changing architectural styles through the years. Plainfield's eight historic districts reveal virtually every important style of American residential architecture, ranging from Victorian to English Cottage to Sears Catalog. The availability of these drawings has played an important role in the rebirth of the residential neighborhoods.

The collection includes drawings of important community structures, such as Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center and Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, both of which have recently undergone renovations. Several buildings on the National Register, such as the Plainfield Fire Headquarters and the Plainfield Railroad Depot are also included.

To save the Detwiller collection for future generations while eliminating the problems of theft and damage, the blueprints and drawings have been microfilmed. To provide faster and easier public access to the collection, they have also been digitized. Homeowners and researchers now have images and data at their fingertips through their home computers.

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