At first glance, the town of Plainfield, NJ appears to be just like many of the municipalities that make up the Garden State but take a closer look and you’ll find a rich history of industry, music, affluence, and even the American Revolution. In April 2019, another chapter of Plainfield’s history is written as The Valerie Fund opens the doors to Grace’s House, a designer show house to benefit expanded care for children with cancer and blood disorders.
We previewed Grace’s House in a blog post two weeks ago and you can refresh your memory by clicking here. Today we would like to share the story of this 150 year-old home is so special.
Let us begin by taking a moment to step back in time to the 19th century when Plainfield Township (the original name of Plainfield) was first officially incorporated into a city in 1869 after being initially settled by Quakers in 1684. This time period was a special one in Plainfield’s history as it was a truly opulent playground for the wealthy Manhattanites of the day. Over 100 millionaires called Plainfield home and leisure became a booming industry with five hotels being built between 1850 and 1878. New York City’s elite flocked to Plainfield for the natural springs, artesian wells, and healthy air quality making it a true destination.
Eventually gaining the nicknames “The Queen City” and “Colorado of the East” for its natural beauty and reputation for a climate that was beneficial for respiratory ailments, the borders of the town fluctuated as it shuffled for land with surrounding towns including North Plainfield and the City of Plainfield. Once the railroad came into town in 1864, life would never be the same for the residents of Plainfield.
Right in the middle of this boom time, Grace’s House was built in 1870 at 950 Hillside Avenue adding to the area’s already stately appeal. This 7,000+ square foot home features three floors of living space and is set on two acres of land in the beautiful Hillside Avenue Historic District. Like many of the other homes in the neighborhood, 950 Hillside Avenue was built in the Second Empire style of architecture. The Second Empire style is characterized by a prominent sloping mansard roof and dormers.
Photo postcard of 950 Hillside Avenue, Plainfield. Part of the Local History Collection of the Plainfield Public Library.
Over the many years it has stood tall and proud, several prominent families have called it home. One of the earliest families to live within its walls was the Martin family. They warmed the halls of the home for four decades and added whole new chapters to its story. Chief among their contributions to the home were periods of construction and modification in 1914 and 1927. These additions brought the footprint of the house to over 7,000 square feet making it an even more desirable residence.
Time marched on and some aspects of the house were altered or even removed outright to coincide with the changing styles of the times or the needs of the families within. According to the home’s owners in the 1980s, some alterations include the wrap-around porch and decorative woodwork around the roof line both being removed during remodels. An entire section of the house was also relocated as the right side of the house was moved from the back to the front, losing the distinctive L-shape of its original construction.
Plainfield began to experience many of the same ups and downs as most of the 17th century towns in Union County. The area was not immune to the Civil Rights upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s with a certain amount of urban decay. However, this turmoil helped give birth to one of the most legendary music acts of all time in George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Actors such as Dudley Moore and authors such as Judy Blume called Plainfield home at one time and even New Jersey’s former governor, James McGreevey, once held a Plainfield address.
950 Hillside Avenue in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
As the world around it changed, 950 Hillside Avenue remained strong and stood up to the elements for as long as it could. 2012’s Superstorm Sandy tried to topple the house and nearly succeeded. It dealt a great deal of damage to the house to the point that it remained vacant and neglected for five years suffering extensive water and roof damage. It risked being lost to time – until Dan and Elizabeth Reichard of ER Development and partners Thomas and George Allen entered the picture.
Dan saw something in this house and knew it still had the power and warmth to be a home once more. He and his team set out to begin restoring the house to its once and future glory when he received devastating news that his granddaughter, Grace, was diagnosed with a Germ Cell brain tumor. After experiencing the care that Grace was receiving from The Valerie Fund, Dan knew he had to do something to give back to all of the other children battling cancer and blood disorders.
The rest, as they say, is history. The opening of Grace’s House, a designer show house to benefit expanded care through The Valerie Fund’s Green Light Initiative, has brought new life to 950 Hillside Avenue. Twenty-two designers have each transformed a space within the home to showcase their skill as designers and to help support The Valerie Fund and kids like Grace.
More information on Grace’s House can be found here.