The needler in the haystack.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Plainfield mayors' portraits will be unveiled tonight

A full-length portrait of Job Male, Plainfield's first mayor
and founder of the Plainfield Public Library, hangs in the
Library's Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room.

From Male to Mapp, portraits of Plainfield's mayors will be unveiled at the Plainfield Municipal Court this evening at 7:00 PM.

From Plainfield's first mayor, Job Male in 1869 to the current mayor, Adrian O. Mapp, 37 individuals have served as the city's elected chief executive.

Scottish-born Male, who emigrated to the United States as a 9-year-old, worked his way up from a boyhood job as a toll collector on a bridge over the Passaic River to a wealthy investor in railroads and the Hoboken and Jersey City waterfronts, which were then great rail terminuses. (I am remembering these points from having read them somewhere in the past; the Wikipedia entry says he was born in Somersetshire, which is in southwestern England -- see here.)

In Plainfield, Male developed the Crescent Avenue neighborhood as Plainfield's first planned residential development, shrewdly donating the land on which Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church now stands to lure the town's elite away from East Front Street, which was then considered the premier neighborhood.

A Unitarian himself, he reserved a less choice property for his own denomination, which was not as socially prominent nor as wealthy as the Presbyterians.

At the time, Plainfield was a township, and Male led the effort to get the Legislature to grant a special charter to establish the City of Plainfield, which succeeded in 1869.

Those with long memories will recall that oversized portraits of the mayors up to the late Rick Taylor were once on display at City Hall. Mounted in metal frames, they stood chest high and were arranged in a zig-zag pattern in the rotunda.

At some point the exhibit was deemed too bulky and taken down. The portraits were retrieved from the boiler room and given a safe shelter in the Library's local history collection when I was working at the Plainfield Public Library in the mid- to late 1990s.

The portraits have been reproduced in a uniform size and will be identified with the name, dates of service and party affiliation of each mayor. Space is being reserved to add future mayors to the collection.

The Mapp administration is to be commended for bringing this portion of Plainfield's history into the light.

The Municipal Courthouse is at Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street. Parking in the street or in the public lot across from the Police Station entrance.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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