Hillside Avenue Historic District
The Hillside Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The historical significance of the Hillside Avenue Historic District can be seen by looking briefly at Plainfield's past and the events which brought it to that particular point.
Plainfield began life as a more or less rural village, a Quaker community. Like many towns in New Jersey the advent of the railroad changed the town forever. The city is situated at the foot of the Watchung mountains and has natural springs. These qualities coupled with the town's natural scenic beauty gave Plainfield the reputation as being a healthy place to live. Because of the healthy atmosphere, in the late 19th century Plainfield was dubbed the "Colorado of the East" and called the "Queen City" after Denver. There were several hotels to accommodate the wealthy New Yorkers who came to Plainfield to relax and go boating.
It was during this period that many wealthy New Yorkers built fabulous homes and villas along the wide tree-lined streets. Plainfield quickly became, in effect, an early suburban bedroom community. In his autobiography, the well known critic Van Wyck Brooks, a native Plainfielder, described the town at the turn of the century as a full blown Wall Street suburb.
Even though the advent of seashore popularity did away with Plainfield's attraction as a spa, the city retained its attraction and desirability as place of residence. This continued right up through the 1920's and 30's when magnificent Tudor style mansions were erected in town.
The Hillside Avenue Historic District represents predominantly a period from 1900-1925. Each structure individually could stand on its own merit as a significant example of a building type. As a cohesive unit, a neighborhood, this street has local and statewide significance. This street is representative of an era in this country, a time of laissez faire economics and a period of no income tax that made homes and streets like this possible.
The street and all the buildings have undergone little or no change, which in itself makes the street somewhat unique. Where alterations have been done, they have in all cases been very sympathetic to the character and style of the building. Because of the uniform setback and the lot sizes even the contemporary structures serve more to blend in rather than stand out in their surroundings.
The residents of Hillside Avenue are substantial and caring citizens who maintain their homes and are very much aware of the unique qualities their neighborhood embodies.
In April of 1970 a walking tour was sponsored by Plainfield Heritage Inc. This tour was concentrated in the Hillside Avenue area and was led by Mrs. Sandy Brown, a prominent architectural historian and the New Jersey advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The tour attracted over 200 people, residents and citizens who came because they cared that this street was a part of their heritage and they wanted to see it saved.
The Hillside Avenue Historic District represents an era and an important piece of local and state history. The fact that these buildings have survived intact replete with plantings, walkways, and gardens in itself makes it special. The future and preservation of this street should be of importance to each and every citizen.
Hillside Avenue Historic District in Plainfield, between Watchung and Martine Avenue, contains a collection of some of the finest turn-of-the-century high style houses built in Union County. There are numerous excellent examples of Classical Revival buildings. Completed both in brick and frame, the finest examples in the district are 980, 999, 1000 and 1020 Hillside Avenue and have Georgian influences. Other prominent Colonial Revival buildings are at 950, 955, 996 and 1045 Hillside Avenue.
The Shingle and Spanish Colonial Revival styles are also in evidence within the Hillside Avenue Historic District.
The finest Shingle Style is at 975 Hillside Avenue, but good examples also exist at 1239 Watchung Avenue, 907, and 1070 Hillside Avenue.
Spanish Colonial Revival buildings in Plainfield are uncommon and quite restrained and only three of serious note are in the Hillside Avenue Historic District — 1009 and 1040 Hillside Avenue and 1234 Watchung Avenue.
A single example of the Second Empire style is at 937 Hillside Avenue. This building is one of the earliest in the district and relates to an earlier more sprawling period of development in the outer regions of the city.
Overall, the Hillside Avenue Historic District is an eclectic composition of elegant buildings portraying the myriad of architectural styles practiced in the early 20th century.
As early as the last quarter of the 19th century, Plainfield was firmly established as a suburban bedroom community. Because of the fine railroad connections with New York City, many prominent New Yorkers chose to work in the city and live in Plainfield. These businessmen provided the strong architectural and cultural base upon which Plainfield developed. The Hillside Avenue Historic District is a representation of this social evolution in Plainfield from 1880 to 1930, the peak of the city's development.
Hooker, Ralph Moreton. Plainfield, New Jersey. New Jersey: Daily Press, 1895.
Lapsley, H.G. History of Plainfield. New Jersey: Recorder Press, 1942.
Smiley, F.T. Plainfield, Union County. New Jersey. V. 16. New Jersey; Plainfield Courier News, 1901.
† John A. Grady, Directory and Yasmina King, Treasurer, Plainfield Heritage, Inc., Hillside Avenue Historic District, Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Palces, Washington, D.C.