Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hidden Plainfield: History under foot

Ground is subsiding where demolished North Avenue building stood.

Yardstick marks 'ledge' at 20 inches, before dropoff of many feet.

Gap at corner indicates basement may have extended under sidewalk.

Today's (OK, it should have been yesterday's!) Hidden Plainfield, is a reminder about Plainfield history under foot, so to speak.

The location isn't a mystery, it's the gap in the North Avenue Historic District's facade caused by the demolition of a vacant Victorian commercial and residential property that the City had not invested in stabilizing.

Bernice had noted some soil subsiding some time ago, but when I passed by recently it seems to have accelerated. The picture with the yardstick shows that there is a 'ledge' about 20 inches below the sidewalk level, after which there is a gaping void.

It occurred to me that the problem is that the building's basement may have run under the first width of sidewalk pavement, which was a common practice in older commercial buildings and allowed for the delivery of coal to fire the building's furnaces through doors set in the pavement.

View of North Avenue, indicating basement openings and demolished property.

A view of the rest of the block shows the pavement is laid in one continuous strip, with several doors into building basements.

Around the corner on Watchung Avenue.

Skylight with glass rounds lets light into basement storage area.

View down steep steps to basement storage area.

Around the corner, across from the Post Office, I chanced upon one of the basement entries propped open. Though no longer used to deliver coal, the (very!) steep steps do allow for delivering goods to the basement. Some of these under-pavement basements even have vaulted ceiling with rounds of heavy glass to let light into the dark storage areas.

Do you know of more examples around town?

Where shall we go next week?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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