The Pillars is far more than just a house, you will find out quickly that this bed and breakfast in New Jersey has a story to tell. The story of The Pillars of Plainfield Bed and Breakfast Inn reflects the story of Plainfield and our neighborhood, the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. We are proud to be an active part of the District as well as the many activities it sponsors.
The first inhabitants of this area were the Watchung Indians, part of the Lenape tribe, who frequented the Green Brook and Cedar Brook areas. The footpaths and trade route trails that they established hundreds of years ago became the first roadways in Plainfield, and when the train was extended into Plainfield, it followed one of these ancient pathways.
Plainfield's earliest European settlers were seeking freedoms and opportunities unavailable to them in their own countries. By 1685, seven "good Scot" families had farms along the Cedar Brook in a small village, which by 1760 was named Milltown. In 1788, the Quakers moved their Friends Meeting House to what is now Watchung and East Third Streets, and they established their presence in Milltown. (Today this same meeting house is still an active house of worship and a historical landmark.) The oldest house in our district, the Manning Stelle farmhouse, was built during this time period on the Stelle Farm, which included what is now Cedar Brook Park.
In 1800, a post office was established, the population reached 215 people, and the town name was officially changed to Plainfield. By 1838, the train to Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth) from Plainfield was built, connecting by boat to New York City. Several impressive hotels and resorts were constructed, city dwellers began to spend their summers and vacationsin the country, and some began to stay and build new homes. Plainfield was promoted as the Queen City of the East, sister city of Denver, known as theQueen City of the Plains for its healthy environment. Plainfield today is still known as the Queen City.
The completion of the Central Railroad (now New Jersey Transit) in 1864, with direct connections by train into Manhattan, catapulted the growth of Plainfield. Plainfield was incorporated as a separate village in 1869. By the 1890s there were over 100 millionaires in Plainfield.
The Stelle Farm was subdivided in the 1850s, with one segment of land being sold to E. Dean and Susanne Dow. In April of 1870, the Dows sold the property to Joseph Stockbridge and his wife, who then had the core house that is now known as The Pillars built. At that time, the main floor consisted of the foyer, living room, dining room, and a much smaller kitchen. In fact, the house was built by the same architect as the neighboring house to the right, and it started off in a nearly identical Second Empire style.
The Pillars has changed hands many times in its lifetime and has served many purposes. On March 31, 1874, the Stockbridges sold the house to Samuel R. Jackson, a widower. Mr. Jackson lived here for seventeen years, selling the house to Miss Clementine Yates, a spinster, in April of 1891. Plainfield must have been a fortunate place for Miss Clementine because she was soon Mrs. Clarence Holman. Clementine was responsible for the expansion of The Pillars, with a major renovation and addition in 1896. The addition gave us the library and a much larger kitchen with a servant's dining room (now part of the main kitchen), a washing room (now our office), and a butler's pantry. Her addition also gave us the magnificent Colonial Revival front porch, and the formal fluted columns that eventually were the inspiration for the B&B's name.
At the end of August 1905, the Holmans sold the house to Margaret T. Richards. By then, the Holmans had moved out of the house, which was occupied by William T. Kirk. Margaret must have convinced William to move on, for she seems to have been living here when she sold the property in October of 1912 to Margaret Condit. Margaret lived here during the heyday of the new century and into the Great Depression. Because so many of the homeowners in Plainfield, and particularly in this neighborhood, were commuters to Manhattan and involved with finances (bankers, investors, Wall Street brokers, etc.), the Depression had a devastating impact.
In February 1936, Margaret Condit sold the house to Albert and Marjorie Register. They owned it until 1947, when the Registers sold it to Patricia Sykes Terry (unmarried). It is believed that Miss Terry started to operate the house as a boarding house, but sometime around this part of the house's history, it was officially designated as a two-family residence, and parts were rented out in order to help meet the expenses of such a large home.
In 1951, Patricia Terry sold the house to Harry Howard and Maxine Garde Stout, who turned around and sold it to Emily Garde, widower, for $1.00. We can assume that Emily was Maxine's mother. Emily has a long history with the house, selling it in 1972 to Ira M. Fine, but apparently acquiring it back a short time later. During this time, The Pillars continued as a boarding house, with one, and sometimes two couples occupying each room, sharing the bathroom and kitchen facilities. We know that during the wild seventies, there were many parties on the porch roof, and more than one police raid. The grandeur of The Pillars had faded, and it was on the brink of being lost forever.
The entire neighborhood was now a hundred years old and rough around the edges, a far cry from its more stately beginnings. Concerned homeowners and others interested in historic preservation worked long and hard through the seventies, and they were rewarded with a National Historic District designation for the 152 properties in this region. The District was named in honor of Van Wyck Brooks, one of the better-known residents during the twenty-first century. Brooks was born in Plainfield on February 16, 1886. He spent his early years at 563 West 8th Street, a magnificent home built by his grandfather. After graduating from Harvard University in 1907, Brooks began his career as a prolific author, literary historian, and critic. In 1937, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for his book The Flowering of New England. Because of his love of history, it seemed fitting to name this Historic District in his honor.
Emily Garde sold the house again in 1982, this time to Robert and Lynne Wiley. The Wileys were here for only three years, but started to repair some of the damage that had been done during the boarding house years. They sold the house in 1985 to John and Barbara Ostrander, who continued the process of restoration. However, the financial strain for restoring over a hundred years of wear was daunting. By the early 1990s the house was in foreclosure and in the hands of a bank.
After much negotiating with the bank, Charles (Chuck) and Tom Hale bought the house with the goal of opening a bed & breakfast, the first in Plainfield and the first in this region of New Jersey. They bought the house in 1992, and they spent nearly two years restoring the porches and first floor rooms and renovating the unusable rooms on the third floor. By the time they opened The Pillars as a bed and breakfast in April of 1994, they were beyond broke. They were able to sell the house to Chuck's son, Ken Hale, in April of 1994, allowing it to continue as a B&B and gain recognition through the Internet. By April of 2001, Chuck and Tom Hale were able to purchase the house back from Ken and continue what had become a successful business.
By 2005, Chuck and Tom decided it was time to retire as innkeepers, a second or third career for them. The husband and wife team of Lamont Blowe and Nancy Fiske purchased the house in early November of 2005, continuing to operate the house as The Pillars of Plainfield Bed & Breakfast Inn. We hope that The Pillars adds to its long and interesting story for many years to come, with additions and improvements to both the house and gardens. Please return often to see how we are progressing in the restoration of this gracious home.