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Historic Photograph Collections

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Plainfield Public Library's searchable catalog holds over 50,000 images from more than a dozen Plainfield-area photographers whose works are of significant historical value. Different in content, significance, and chronological coverage; together they form a rare continuum of local history. All are black & white images unless otherwise noted. Be sure to check out our online collection of historical postcards as well.


13 collections
1865 - 2013
1880 - 2003
1900 - 1990
1870 - 1899
1890 - 1933
1900 - 1940
1900 - 1950
1930 - 1939
1950 - 1959
1960 - 1989
1960 - 1979
1890 - 1961
1890 - 2013
1865 - 1984

The Courier News Photograph Archive. In 2009, the Courier News donated over 25,000 photographs and negatives to the Plainfield Public Library.  These original images (1880s to the 2000s) document newsworthy moments and people in Plainfield, Union County and New Jersey history that were not previously represented in the Library’s collection. Portions of this collection, which have been processed, are already available to the public.

The Plainfield Postcard Collection contains 2,000 postcards with 1,000 unique images of Plainfield dating from the early 1900s. The collection is searchable from the online catalog.

The Guillermo Thorn Photographs Born in 1837, Thorn died in 1920. His photographs depict Plainfield at its earliest, e.g. the Babcock building before the fire. All 81 images are viewable on the library's website. Other Thorn images are in the collection of the Historical Society of Plainfield and the Nancy Thompson Library of Kean University.

The Reina Lawrence Photographs Lawrence was born in New York City in 1869, moved to Plainfield in 1882, and died in New York in 1948. For most of her life she was confined to a wheelchair. Despite her disability, she was able to photograph the interiors and gardens of many Plainfield homes. Her still-lifes of flowers and posed men and women are striking.

The John Hoffman Photographs. Born in Califon, NJ in 1874, Hoffman moved to Plainfield as a boy. His photos depict the exteriors of the structures and yards in early Plainfield. Hoffman was a telegrapher and inventor, who tinkered with most of his cameras to improve the quality of the photos or make the cameras easier to use. He designed a device to bolt two cameras together to take dual stereopticon photos. He died in 1942.

The Paul R. Collier Photographs. Born in 1887 (died in 1951), Collier's photographs are some of Plainfield's most well-known images, containing views of local homes, landmarks, churches, businesses and community activities. Collier was a prolific photographer who documented the Plainfield area for 40 years. He worked for the Plainfield Courier News and did private work for insurance documentation. In the late 1990s, the library's collection of 175 Collier images grew sizably with a donation of about 15,000 glass plates and nitrate negatives. All glass plates have been conserved and printed. Prints are generated from the nitrates as funding permits.

The Lloyd Grimstead Photographs are part of a larger collection of photographs owned by the Metuchen-Edison Historical Society.  Grimstead's photographs are entirely of houses in Central Jersey towns.  The 715 Plainfield images cover a large portion of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. Lloyd Grimstead was born in 1885.

The Howard Johnston Photographs. An Assistant Engineer with Union County, Johnston was a railroad and trolley buff. He was born in 1908 and died in Plainfield in 1964.

The Irving & Clotee Georges Photographs. This collection of color prints was taken by Irving Georges, an amateur photographer who lived in Plainfield. His images document the city's African American residents in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The collection highlights adults and youth engaged in athletics, community events, and everyday activities.

The T. J. Lowe Photographs owned by the library are a small part of the work of this City firefighter. The main collection of thousands of photographs of fires and firefighters is still housed at the Fire Division headquarters.

Marjorie & Roger Vail Family Photographs. This collection of prints was taken by members of the Vail family - one of the first families to settle in New Jersey. The Vails have always been an integral part of the life of Plainfield, and were a dominate influence from its beginning.  Three of the original twelve Pioneers of Plainfield were Vails. 

Miscellaneous Photographers. This collection of prints was taken by a variety of identified, mostly local photographers. Images come from magic lantern slides of the 1890s to digital prints submitted for the Library's annual photography contests. Also included is a set of photographs of the early mayors of Plainfield. Photographers include: J. Hervey Doane, Frank C. Langhorne, P. Frank Stone, Stone & Luckey, Howard Rowe, John Grady, Dorothy A. Perruci, William Monroe, Dan Damon, Bernice Paglia, Margaret Minatee, Jackie Schnoop, and more.

Unidentified Photographers. This collection contains prints from unknown and unidentified photographers. It is largely undated as well.


To inquire about fees for the reproduction of photographs, please contact Local History at 908-757-1111 ext. 136.

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