The needler in the haystack.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hidden Plainfield: First in Preservation ID'ed


The Babcock mansion has been the Higgins Home for Funerals
since 1934.
 
Yesterday's Hidden Plainfield (see here) is of course the Higgins Home for Funerals, on West 8th between Arlington and Madison Avenues.

Born in 1832, George Babcock moved to Plainfield in 1870 -- the year after the city's incorporation -- and was active in the community right up to his death in 1893. Besides being a founder of the Plainfield Public Library (see
here), he served several terms on the Plainfield Board of Education, and was the 6th president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

His generosity to the Seventh Day Baptist Church was legendary, with his firm supplying the terra cotta tiles and decorative pieces. I was told by an old-time member of the congregation that two of his four wives are memorialized by being pictured as angels in the oval interior stained glass panel above the pulpit.


The principal source of his income was the Babcock & Wilcox firm, which seems to have been incorporated in New York City. The firm is still in existence (see more
here).

At the time of his death, the Babcock Building on West Front Street was under construction (it was to have been a business investment) and the Seventh Day Baptist Church was about to be dedicated. For more details, see the
Plainfield Daily Press obituary posted online by the Library here.

It was Plainfield preservationist John Grady who once remarked that there was an old saying that funeral homes are always first to see the benefit of preservation (pun probably intended).


And that is certainly true in the case of the Babcock mansion, which came into the possession of the Higgins family, which was already engaged in running a funeral home in Elizabeth, in 1934 -- the depth of the Great Depression -- and has been in the Higgins family ever since (see more
here).

Historic preservation didn't become a topic in Plainfield until the 1970s, when John Grady and Dotte Pollard worked on documenting homes in the Van Wyck Brooks and Crescent Avenue areas, which became Plainfield's first two historic districts.

For more about the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, visit their website here. For more about historic preservation in Plainfield, visit the City's Historic Preservation Commission website here.

Where shall we go next week?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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