Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guest Post: Historic Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion

The 1903 Operating Pavilion is at right in this postcard view.
(Postcard in the collection of Nancy Piwowar.)

Plainfield native and historic preservation champion Nancy Piwowar authored an article in the Fall 2010 issue of The Communiqué, the newsletter of the Historical Society of Plainfield on a little known architectural gem on the Muhlenberg Hospital campus, which is reprinted below. Some links to further information can be found at the end of this post.

Another postcard view. Today, you will see a newer building on the left, built in front of the one pictured here
-- see satellite view below. (Postcard in the collection of Nancy Piwowar.)

The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion: Plainfield's Forgotten Gem

by Nancy A. Piwowar

Hidden behind a stockade fence, set far off Randolph Road on the Muhlenberg property, sits a red brick building with a large, arched window and a scrolled keystone. The 1903 Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion is Plainfield's forgotten gem.

A 1900 notice in the local newspaper, Plainfield Courier-News, announced the possibility of a new hospital building, and the response by the local residents was immediate.  Public subscriptions for the building project were received.  When the decision was made by the Muhlenberg Board of Governors to build a "new" Muhlenberg Hospital at a new site, many distinguished men offered land.  James E. Martine offered a lot on Thornton Avenue.  Former mayor of North Plainfield, John F. Wilson, offered a lot in North Plainfield, which could not be accepted because it was in a different county.  Finally the Muhlenberg Board of Governors took an option on farm land on Park Avenue and Randolph Road at the edge of the city.

In April 1901, it was reported that J. Howard Wright gave the largest and most generous donation of $10,000 for an operating pavilion for the new Muhlenberg in memory of his two grandsons.  Howard Wright Corlies died of pneumonia at the age of 23 in 1899.  Parker Wright Mason died of typhoid fever at the age of 19 in 1900.  J. Howard Wright was a wealthy Standard Oil businessman from New York City, and his two daughters and families resided in Plainfield for many years.

The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion also contained a sterilizing room, an etherizing room, a room for the X-ray instrument and a recovery room, which were all considered essential for a modern hospital.

The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion was designed by Tracy and Swartwout, a New York architectural firm.  Evarts Tracy, one of the architects, grew up in Plainfield on West Eighth Street in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. He later resided with his wife on Hillside Avenue, in the Hillside Avenue Historic District within sight of the new Muhlenberg and the Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion.

The 1903 Tracy and Swartwout Muhlenberg complex of buildings were not built squarely to face either Park Avenue or Randolph Road, but were "built squarely with the points of the compass."  The purpose of this was "to have the operating room face North, so that it would have the full benefit of the North light." (Plainfield Courier-News, July 19, 1902, page one.)

The 1903 Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion retains many of its original exterior elements, including inscription; scrolled keystone; and the large, arched, north-facing window.  The only evident change is the removal of the roof line skylight. This architectural gem is passed by daily on the way to the satellite emergency department without a second glance because it is now behind a stockade fence, which obscures the wall inscription.  According to newspaper articles, behind the cornerstone of operating pavilion is a copper box that contains various items including local and New York newspapers, Muhlenberg Hospital annual reports,  photographs of J. Howard Wright's grandsons, photographs of doctors, nurses, employees, and of the old hospital buildings, and names of the contractors.

The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion serves as a grand monument to Mr. Wright's Plainfield family.  It is one of the only known surviving separate, stand alone operating room buildings extant in New Jersey and most likely in the United States.  The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion merits preservation for its architectural and historic significance and as a a monument to the Wright family, Muhlenberg heritage and medical culture, and Muhlenberg's doctors, nurses and staff.

The 1903 Operating Pavilion and companion building are outlined in red.
(Google maps, December 2010.)

Plainfield photographer Paul Collier documented surgical staff
of the Muhlenberg Hospital in this undated photograph (ca. 1920s).
(From the collection of William Garrett.)
The Drake House, Plainfield's historic house museum, is owned by the City and managed by the Historical Society on the City's behalf.

The work of the Society is supported by membership dues and volunteers who staff the museum and organize its exhibits and programs. The Drake House is at 602 West Front Street (at the foot of Plainfield Avenue) and is open Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00 PM and at other times by appointment. Contact: (908) 755-5831 or email

The Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony is tomorrow (Friday, December  10) at 7:30 PM, to which the community is warmly invited.

15th Annual Drake House Tree Lighting
Caroling, a surprise visit by Santa with a gift for every child, and refreshments.
A special Gingerbread House which will be awarded to a lucky family.
Three theme-decorated trees in the period rooms as well as in the Ballroom.

The Drake House
602 West Front Street
(at the foot of Plainfield Avenue)
Info: (908) 755-5831
or visit

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Perhaps the building could be classed as a historical land mark so it cannot be destroyed, in fact, the whole hospital should be declared a landmark and rememberd for the 130+ years it served Plainfield and surrounding towns with excellent health care.

Anonymous said...

Sadly there's probably little chance of historic designation of any Muhlenberg property. Solaris/JFK would probably oppose rather than support, as it would lessen their chances of selling it all off, which no doubt is their real goal. The Muhlenberg identity has virtually disappeared. JFK is even selling control of the once highly regarded Muhlenberg home care department to the business-oriented Meridian system, and won't use Muhlenberg as part of new venture's name.