About Plainfield, NJ

plainfield NJ map
Written by NJroute22

About Plainfield, NJ

Plainfield, NJ sits just under Route 22 between Scotch Plains and Green Brook. A heavy commuter town with two NJ Transit Stations. Lots of retail, and considered a fairly decent “walking city” compared to others here on NJroute22.com.

It’s also very populous – in the top 6% of all NJ cities.

Plainfield, NJ

Plainfield is a city in Union CountyNew Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city’s population increased to 49,808, its highest ever recorded population in any decennial census, with the population having increased by 1,979 (+4.1%) from the 47,829 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 1,262 (+2.7%) from the 46,567 counted in the 1990 Census. Plainfield is nicknamed “The Queen City”.

The area of present-day Plainfield was originally formed as Plainfield Township, a township that was created on April 5, 1847, from portions of Westfield Township, while the area was still part of Essex County. On March 19, 1857, it became part of the newly created Union County.

Plainfield was incorporated as a city by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 21, 1869, from portions of Plainfield Township, based on the results of a referendum held that same day. The city and township coexisted until March 6, 1878, when Plainfield Township was dissolved and parts were absorbed by Plainfield city, with the remainder becoming Fanwood Township (now known as Scotch Plains).

The name “Plainfield”, also used in both North Plainfield and South Plainfield, is derived from a local estate or from its scenic location.

aerial view plainfield NJ

Aerial view of Plainfield, NJ.


Plainfield was settled in 1684 by Quakers, and incorporated as a city in 1869. Formerly a bedroom suburb in the New York metropolitan area, it has become the urban center of 10 closely allied municipalities, with diversified industries, including printing and the manufacture of chemicalsclothingelectronic equipment, and vehicular parts. Among the several 18th-century buildings remaining are a Friends’ meetinghouse (1788), the Martine house (1717), and the Nathaniel Drake House (1746), known as George Washington‘s headquarters during the Battle of Short Hills in June 1777. Nearby Washington Rock is a prominent point of the Watchung Mountains and is reputed to be the vantage point from which Washington watched British troop movements.

In 1902, the New Jersey Legislature approved measures that would have allowed the borough of North Plainfield to become part of Union County (a measure repealed in 1903) and to allow for a merger of North Plainfield with the City of Plainfield subject to the approval of a referendum by voters in both municipalities.

Plainfield is the birthplace of P-FunkGeorge Clinton founded The Parliaments while working in a barbershop in Plainfield. Parliament-Funkadelic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Plainfield has been home to former New Jersey governor James McGreevey.

In sports history, Plainfield is the birthplace and/or home of several current and former athletes, including professionals and well-known amateurs. Included in their number are Milt Campbell, the 1956 Olympic Decathlon gold medalist (the first African-American to earn this title), Joe Black, the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game, Jeff Torborg, former MLB player, coach and manager, and Vic Washington, NFL player.

Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed to oversee prosecutions in the Watergate break-in and related criminal activity during the Nixon administration, was born in Plainfield.

There are numerous sites, including homes, parks, and districts in the city that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While not listed, the Plainfield Armory, a prominent landmark completed in 1932, was sold by the state in 2013 as surplus property.

Plainfield’s northeast corner, known as the “Sleepy Hollow” section of the city, was and still is characterized by its array of finely landscaped streets and neighborhoods with homes defined by a broad array of architectural styles, most built during the first half of the twentieth century. As one browses the tree-lined neighborhoods, it is obvious that the lot sizes vary, but the stateliness and distinction of each house are distinct evident, whether a stately Queen Anne mansion or gingerbread cottage. Most lots are nicely landscaped and semi or fully private. Sleepy Hollow has withstood the test of time, remaining a visual destination and a desirable place to buy and live despite the decay in other parts of the city.

In its heyday, Plainfield was a regional shopping and entertainment center. Residents of nearby Union, Middlesex and Somerset counties would drive to shop and explore the business districts of Plainfield. Other than during the holidays, peak shopping times in Plainfield were Thursday nights and Saturday, when Front Street and the areas around it bustled. Parking spots were at a premium downtown during the fifties and early sixties. Businesses of note included Tepper’s, Rosenbaum’s, Sears, Montgomery Wards, Bamberger’s and the Surprise Store department stores, Browning King and Robert Hall clothiers, Dreier’s and Buck and Benny sporting goods, Lipton’s fine jewelry, Lazaar’s, Boise’s and Park Stationers office supplies, Watchung and Thomas Furniture, Coward, A&S Beck, Kinney and David Bruce Shoes, Brooks and Gregory Music stores, Lafayette Radio and Electronics, Safeway, A&P, Acme and Finast food stores and Thule auto parts. Notable eateries included Larry’s Kosher Deli, the Capital Bakery, Grunning’s, The Frontier Diner, Conca D’Oro and Texas Lunch. Other businesses of note included the Plainfield Courier News (bought by Gannett, regionalized and moved to Bridgewater, NJ), Wald, Sav-On and Strand Drug, multiple 5 & 10 retail stores (at various times, Woolworth, LL Green, McCrory and others), Loizeaux lumber, The Model Railroad Shop, Park Hardware, Nechin’s, The Millenary Shop, the Sam-O-Set Laundry and numerous other small businesses.

Plainfield had plenty of entertainment venues. At the peak, there were four operating movie theaters: the Strand, the Liberty, the Paramount and the Oxford theaters. Prior to 1960, Cedarbrook park, at the south end of town, and Greenbrook Park, at the north end of town, provided every opportunity for recreation, including ice skating in the winter, fishing, hiking, visits to the ice cream vendor, playgrounds and quiet walks. As with much else in Plainfield, the ability to use the parks without the fear of predators eroded beginning in the early 1960s.

Manufacturers of heavy goods included Chelsea Fan Corp., Mack Truck and National Starch and Chemical Corp. Plainfield Iron and Metal maintained a large scrapyard on the west end of town.

Civil disturbance

Plainfield was affected by the Plainfield riots in July 1967. This civil disturbance occurred in the wake of the larger Newark riots. A Plainfield police officer died, about fifty people were injured, and several hundred thousand dollars of property was damaged by looting and arson. The New Jersey National Guard restored order after three days of unrest. This civil unrest caused a massive white flight, characterized by the percentage of black residents rising from 40% in 1970 to 60% a decade later.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city had a total area of 6.034 square miles (15.626 km), including 6.023 square miles (15.599 km) of land and 0.011 square miles (0.027 km) of water (0.18%).

Unincorporated communities, localities and place names located partially or completely within the city include Netherwood.

The city is located in Central Jersey on the southwestern edge of Union County and is bordered by nine municipalities. Scotch Plains lies to the north and east, and Fanwood to the northeast. Bordered to the south are South Plainfield and Piscataway. To the southwest lies Dunellen and to the southeast, Edison. All which are in Middlesex CountyGreen Brook Township lies to the northwest, North Plainfield lies to the north and Watchung borders to the northwest. All three of these municipalities are in Somerset County. Plainfield is in the Raritan Valley, a line of cities in central New Jersey, and lies on the east side of the Raritan Valley along with Edison.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 5,095
1880 8,125 59.5%
1890 11,267 38.7%
1900 15,369 36.4%
1910 20,550 33.7%
1920 27,700 34.8%
1930 34,422 24.3%
1940 37,469 8.9%
1950 42,366 13.1%
1960 45,330 7.0%
1970 46,862 3.4%
1980 45,555 −2.8%
1990 46,567 2.2%
2000 47,829 2.7%
2010 49,808 4.1%
Est. 2014 50,955 2.3%

2010 Census

At the 2010 United States Census, there were 49,808 people, 15,180 households, and 10,884 families residing in the city. The population density was 8,270.1 per square mile (3,193.1/km). There were 16,621 housing units at an average density of 2,759.8 per square mile (1,065.6/km). The racial makeup of the city was 23.54% (11,724) White, 50.20% (25,006) Black or African American, 0.91% (455) Native American, 0.95% (474) Asian, 0.05% (26) Pacific Islander, 20.13% (10,024) from other races, and 4.21% (2,099) from two or more racesHispanics or Latinos of any race were 40.37% (20,105) of the population.

There were 15,180 households, of which 35.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.9% were married couples living together, 24.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.3% were non-families. 21.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.23 and the average family size was 3.60.

In the city, 25.8% of the population were under the age of 18, 10.5% from 18 to 24, 30.7% from 25 to 44, 23.5% from 45 to 64, and 9.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33.3 years. For every 100 females there were 101.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.4 males.

The Census Bureau’s 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $52,056 (with a margin of error of +/- $3,048) and the median family income was $58,942 (+/- $4,261). Males had a median income of $33,306 (+/- $4,132) versus $37,265 (+/- $3,034) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $23,767 (+/- $1,013). About 12.2% of families and 16.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.5% of those under age 18 and 16.0% of those age 65 or over.


Portions of Plainfield are part of an Urban Enterprise Zone. In addition to other benefits to encourage employment within the Zone, shoppers can take advantage of a reduced 3½% sales tax rate (versus the 7% rate charged statewide) at eligible merchants.

Arts and culture

The Plainfield Symphony performs concerts at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church. The orchestra was founded in 1919, making it one of the oldest continuously operating orchestras in the United States.

In October 2010, former Plainfield music teacher Anwar Robinson and performer Yolanda Adams joined with community residents to try to be recognized by Guinness World Records for assembling the world’s largest gospel chorus.

  • In the teaser trailer for the film, A Good Day to Die HardJohn McClane remarks “the 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey” thus confirming this as his fictional birthplace.

Roads and highways

As of May 2010, the city had a total of 101.79 miles (163.82 km) of roadways, of which 87.58 miles (140.95 km) were maintained by the municipality, 14.21 miles (22.87 km) by Union County.

Plainfield is one of the few large suburban cities in central New Jersey to have no federal highway within it. The only major thoroughfare through Plainfield is U.S. Route 22, connecting Easton, Pennsylvania with Newark and U.S. Route 1/9. Route 22, a mecca for highway shopping and dining, is accessible from Plainfield through North PlainfieldDunellen and Fanwood. In the early 1960s, Interstate highways were completed near, but not through Plainfield. Interstate 287 is accessible through South Plainfield and Piscataway, while Interstate 78 is accessible through Watchung / Warren Township and neighboring communities. The busiest connecting thoroughfares in Plainfield are Park Avenue (north-south), traversing from U.S. 22 to and into South Plainfield and Edison; Front Street (east-west), connecting Fanwood with Dunellen; South Avenue and 7th Street, both of which parallel Front Street, connecting Scotch Plains/Fanwood with Piscataway, South Plainfield and the Middlesex County border.

Public transportation

Plainfield Station, ca. 1910

Plainfield has two New Jersey Transit rail stations on the Raritan Valley Line, formerly the mainline of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The main Plainfield station is in the downtown and a second, smaller Netherwood station is in the Netherwood section, east of downtown and within a mile of the Fanwood border. A third station, located in the west end of town, was closed long ago. The New Brunswick train station is approximately 15 minutes away.

The Central Railroad of New Jersey first offered service to Plainfield in 1839. At the height of popularity, the Plainfield “Jersey Central” train station, with its main station building constructed in 1902, was a hub for commuting to Newark and New York. (The Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal was in Jersey City, where ferries would take the rail passengers to New York City.) The station was located near the main post office and downtown stores. The station was serviced by the now defunct Railway Express postal carrier company.

NJ Transit provides bus service on the 113 and 114 to and from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan; the 5965 and 66 (Limited) to Newark; and local service on the 819 and 822 routes.

In years past, Plainfield was serviced by the Somerset Bus Company with service from Union County to Essex and New York City, the Public Service Bus Company with similar service and Plainfield Transit, providing local service.

Newark Liberty International Airport is approximately 30 minutes away.

Notable people

People who were born in, residents of, or otherwise closely associated with Plainfield include:

plainfield NJ map

About the author


NJroute22 (site admin) is an avid traveler along NJ Route 22 (and almost all of central New Jersey!) Family man, pet lover, and property owner who has a natural curiosity for everything around.