Staff Writer for the Courier News.
Published on February 10, 1998
Before Wall Street millionaires made Plainfield famous in the 1880's as the "Queen City," Quaker settlers distinguished the location in 1685 with their plain way of life. The Plainfield Friends Meeting House was built in 1788 on "Peace Street." now Watchung Avenue. It predates commercial development near the North Avenue train station. And now an ornate set of Victorian buildings shares the historic district with the simple weathered meeting house
The meeting house was listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 as part of the North Avenue Commercial Historic District. Members of the Rahway and Plainfield Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends still gather in the building on Sundays and Wednesdays for silent worship. A person may speak if moved to do so. The meeting ends with handshakes and greetings. followed by a coffee hour.
The venerable meeting house, though sturdily built. has suffered water damage and other deterioration that will be addressed by the restoration project. The Meeting will add $60,462 of its own money to the New Jersey Historic Trust grant of $190.691. The Meeting will raise its share in a building-fund campaign.
"We tend to think in terms of how we are led to do things," member Doug Fettig said. "Providence was with us."
Through the rigorous experience of preparing the grant, members learned more about the organization's history and made new friends involved in the strong preservation movement in the city and in Union County.
Barbara Fuller, immediate past president of the Historical Society of Plainfield and program coordinator for the county's Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, said obtaining the grant is "absolutely impressive" Fuller said the opportunity for the public to learn more about the landmark building fits with several efforts to make the city's historic and cultural resources more widely known.
Architect Herbert Githens made a detailed assessment of the problems that need to be fixed. The building will be repainted and shingles. windows, roof slates, paving slabs. and the foundation and chimney will be repaired. Some of the materials used to build the meeting house came from an earlier one erected in 1736 in Plainfield. Besides fixing the building, the Meeting will be more accessible to the public through participation in historic tours and other events. Visitors may now see the interior by appointment, but the Meeting has been unable to keep regular public visiting hours for some years.
Alan Taplow, who has attended the Meeting for about five years, used some of the historical data to develop a website.
"It got very interesting," he said. Since its creation in November. the website has had 330 visits. I think a number of people are hoping this will sort of re-establish us in the Plainfield community." he said of the grant project.
The property includes a historic burial ground where early Quakers disapproved of marking graves with stones.
Among community projects noted in the grant application, the Meeting hosts homeless people through the FISH Hospitality Network and it has an Alternatives to Violence Project in connection with its prison programs. The Peace and Social Concerns Committee also helps people get involved in a food program for 1,500 area families and in contacting legislators on issues of justice and peace.