Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plainfield Public Library Local History Project Updates: Maps

"Map of Building Lots and Villa Sites beloinging to Evn. Jones Plainfield, N.J., Union County 1868. Plotted by J.W. Soper, C.E. and Surveyor, Bergen, N.J." Part of the Local History Collection of the Plainfield Public Library, NJ. From Plainfield Public Library

For the past month or so, it's been one exciting discovery after another in the Plainfield Public Library's Local History archives. First, Sarah Hull, archivist, discovered a host of important historical documents in the shelves. Then, I found these maps (above and below) in a collection I have been processing. (I stood on a ladder while just barely leaning above the processing table to capture these images.)

"Map of 41 Villa Sites in the City of Plainfield, New Jersey to be sold at auction on Tuesday, October 12th, 1869 at 12 o' clock M., on the premises. By Adrian H. Muller, P.R. Wilkins & Co., John Medole, 163 Pearl St., N.Y." Part of the Local History Collection of the Plainfield Public Library, NJ. From Plainfield Public Library

Maybe I should back up a bit to explain how I uncovered the maps. After I had completed my work on Plainfield's clubs, Sarah gave me the Courier News clippings to inventory. The newspaper donated its photographs and negatives to the library, as well as its clippings collection (about 12 Paige boxes full). As it turns out, there weren't just acidic newspaper clippings in the files.

During my inventory, I uncovered all kinds of records, pulling them out of the crumbling yellow and nearly orange newsprint to protect them from further damage. The two most significant discoveries were those maps, folded into tiny envelopes next to clippings. As I gingerly unfolded them onto the Local History room table, I called over another volunteer to show her what I had. I showed Sarah, who asked Jane Thoner, the library genealogist, to take a look, as well.

Jane was able to tell us that the second map shows a portion of what is now North Plainfield, and that several of those streets do not exist today. Both the maps are important findings because 1. the library did not have copies of them, 2. they show a very specific point in time in the city's history, and 3. they document intended building developments (the second one wasn't built, as Jane was able to tell us from the houses in that neighborhood).

Some of the other noteworthy items in the collection include a set of original photographs of the eccentric inventor Samuel Rushmore. He became quite famous for cutting down all the trees on his Plainfield property (numbering more than 1,200) to protest the corrupt election of a New Jersey state judge. (From what I understand, the land has since been reforested.) The photos also include a few shots of the famed coffin he placed on the upper story balcony of his home to protest corruption in Jersey City's highest offices during the 1930s and 1940s.

A good portion of the larger folders hold stories and background information filed by reporters. There also were numerous transparencies with accompanying print versions. The more I uncovered, the more evidence I had that these weren't just clipping files, they were reference files. I suspect that the reporters used these files to write their stories.

When I finished removing all the ephemera and other non-newspaper clipping records, I was able to create several series from the materials (which now fill two heavy Paige boxes -- library school grads, you DO need to be able to carry 40 lb boxes, as mandated in many job ads). The "Churches" series is very interesting. If you want to know the history of the Plainfield area churches, their ephemera files is one good place to start. Nearly all the places of worship published little booklets with their histories, especially when they were celebrating big anniversaries.

Within the "History" series, I found the contents of the "Plainfield Riots" folders at once riveting and disturbing. There were first-hand reports of the events as well as other records of the riots. Many of the reports link the Newark riots to the Plainfield riots, naming the youth of the two cities as the primary drivers of the events, especially the killing of a police officer. Also in the same series is one of my favorite records, a thin, red leather-bound book published in 1901 that describes the history of the Plainfield Fire Department. The images within the little book are fascinating. Best of all, other than the binding being a bit worn, the book is in excellent shape!

Another source of amusing images was the file for the now-defunct Muhlenberg Hospital, the home of a noteworthy nursing program. The pamphlets and booklets in the folder show images of many, many nurses over the years. One booklet from the 1960s, shows a nurse and doctor in a particularly provocative pose. I was especially tickled by their headwear. Their nurses' caps were very tall. I imagine that they were not easily balanced on their heads, even with all the hairspray and pins.

Finally, this treasure hunt of an assignment reminds me yet again that our local archives and special collections, whether they live in local history rooms such as Plainfield's or at nearby universities such as Drew and Stevens, are infinitely important to preserving our cultural heritage. I cannot drive that point home often or strongly enough. I hope that my little project of writing about my visits to archives and special collections, as well as sharing my work experiences and the collections with you will help raise public awareness to local treasures.

Please continue passing my blog along to anyone who might be able to help fund your local archives and special collections.

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