A publication of the Citizens' Research Group on Muhlenberg Hospital
August, 2009 edition
The Best Kept Secret in Plainfield
The citizens of the Plainfield area, who have for over a year opposed the closure of their beloved Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center (Muhlenberg Hospital) based on humanitarian reasons, now must send another clarion call to the public about the possible loss of the historic core hospital architecture at the Muhlenberg site.
All along many thought the battle of Muhlenberg was about the development rites of the Muhlenberg properties. Whether that is the question or not - this question now has surfaced - are the Plainfield area residents ready, willing and able to stand up to fight for the historic buildings that currently exist on the property? The same buildings that have stood on the Park Avenue/Randolph Road grounds since the opening in 1903, located in the center of the property and passed by daily without a thought to their historic significance to Plainfield, to New Jersey, and to the Nation.
In 1877, Muhlenberg Hospital was incorporated. In 1879, Muhlenberg had its physical beginnings in the West End of Plainfield, when the first hospital in Union County was built at Muhlenberg Place. Within twenty years it became evident that a larger facility and more land was needed. Since the location near the railroad tracks made it impossible for further expansion, the Board of Governors began to look for a more suitable location.
After many twists and turns and coaxing, the farmers at the southeastern part of Plainfield agreed to sell their farm land. Public money built Muhlenberg Hospital. All private donations totaled in excess of $83,500. $11,000 was for the land; $70,000 for the buildings, grading, driveways, and sewer plant; and $2,500 for furniture and furnishings. An additional $10,000 was donated by a gift of J. Howard Wright for an operating pavilion in memory of his two grandsons, Howard Wright Corlies and Parker Wright Mason. Ernest R. Ackerman (N.J. State Senate, 1905-1911; President of N.J. Senate, 1911; U.S. Congressman 1919-1931) donated a gift of a ward in memory of his father, J. Hervey Ackerman.
The 1903 building essentially looked like one large structure, but really consisted of five parts: the columned entrance facing Randolph Road which comprised the main reception building including the superintendent's quarters, general offices, and staff dining room; the operating pavilion; the two wards for men and women; the large kitchen and the eye and ear and clinic department. Although surrounded by fencing and other structures, it appears that a portion of those 1903 buildings are still in existence. Some alterations are evident. The 1903 main building with pediment removed is behind the 1936 columned building; however, the 1903 operating pavilion retains many of its original elements including inscription. An architectural historian would have to determine whether or not the historic significance of the remaining 1903 core Muhlenberg structures outweigh the alterations.
What historic significance are these forgotten 1903 treasures? Other than being the oldest hospital in Union County and one of the oldest in New Jersey, Muhlenberg Hospital was designed and built by the architectural firm of Tracy and Swartwout of New York City. Many of the Tracy and Swartwout firm's buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, including: Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness, Denver, (1905-1911); the US Post Office and Courthouse now known as Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse (opened in 1916), in Denver, The Missouri State Capital building (1912-1916) in Jefferson City, Missouri. Other buildings include: Former Yale Club, now the Penn Club, New York City, (1900); Skull and Bones, cloister-garden at Yale University, New Haven, (1906); Connecticut Savings Bank, New Haven, (1906); the Department of Commerce Building, Washington, D.C., (1912); George Washington Memorial Hall, Washington, D.C., (1915), and Ridgewood High School, Ridgewood, New Jersey, (1919). Muhlenberg Hospital's 1903 buildings were some of the earliest Tracy and Swartwout buildings.
The partners of the Tracy and Swartwout firm were Evarts Tracy (1868-1922) and Egerton Swartwout (1870-1943). Both men were Yale graduates: Tracy in 1890 and Swartwout in 1891. They met at the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, and in 1900, formed a partnership called Tracy and Swartwout located in New York City.
Evarts Tracy was a most interesting man. He was born in New York on May 23, 1868, and moved with his family at the age of six to Plainfield, New Jersey. His parents' house is located on West Eighth Street in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, Plainfield, New Jersey. As stated earlier he graduated from Yale in 1890, and he was a Bonesman, Yale's secret society. Tracy was the great-great grandson of Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the only one to sign three other historic documents: The Association of 1774, The Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States.
Tracy married Caroline Streuli on June 23, 1894. In 1900, Evarts Tracy built his own house in Plainfield, New Jersey and occupied it in 1901. Tracy's residence was built perpendicular to the road, and one could surmise that he watched the construction of Muhlenberg from his residence on Hillside Avenue. Tracy's residence is now part of the Hillside Avenue Historic District, Plainfield, New Jersey.
In 1896, Tracy designed a Nurses' Home for the "old" Muhlenberg in the West End of Plainfield, and it was completed in 1897. In 1901, The Board of Governors of Muhlenberg selected nine architects to submit plans for the "new" Muhlenberg, Tracy and Swartout won the competition, and the plans were adopted in 1902. On December 28, 1903, the patients were transferred to the "new" Muhlenberg Hospital.
Tracy was not just an architect by trade. He was also a creative and curious soul and into the latest inventions of his time. He purchased a locomobile, "Best Built Car in America," and it was expensive and elegant. He thought so much of his locomobile that the archtitectural plans of his Hillside Avenue residence shows that he designed a large locomobile opening and door so that he could drive his locomobile right into the basement of his house. This no longer exists at the residence, but what a concept for 1900. The story goes that he also gave people rides around the city.
References are made that Tracy retired from the architectural firm in 1915, but in actuality he offered his services to the country in the Great World War (WWI). He entered the United States Army and commanded Co. 15 at the Pittsburgh Camp. He had an idea about camouflage, and he was appointed captain in charge, and later commissioned Major of Engineers, commanding the 40th Camouflage Regiment organized in France. His ideas of camouflage were used on ships and over two million soldiers were transported to Europe without a loss of life by German submarines. He became known to the French government, and Lieut. Colonel Tracy was selected to work on the reconstruction of France. He was in Paris for two months in 1922, when he developed heart disease and died in the American Hospital on January 31, 1922. He was survived by his wife Caroline and five sisters and one brother. (He was one of nine children of Jeremiah and Martha Sherman Evarts Tracy, and two of his brothers pre-deceased him.)
His military service during WWI was memorialized in the Plainfeld City Hall bronze memorial tablet.
Just who was Lieut. Evarts Tracy, perhaps his tombstone reveals the man:
"Sacred to the memory
Lieut. Col. Evarts Tracy
Born New York May 23, 1868
Died Paris January 31, 1922
An architect who in the service of beauty
erected noble buildings
A soldier who in the service of his country
won achievements expressing a valiant soul
As Major of Engineers
pioneer camouflage officer
in the United States Army
he performed important labors
was twice cited for bravery in action
awarded the distinquished service medal
As a man and a friend he was loved."
[Hillside Cemetery, on a hill overlooking Muhlenberg Hopsital]
Much more needs to be learned about Lieut. Colonel Evarts Tracy including information about his design of the old Plainfield Police Headquarters, his locomobile history, complete listing of all his architecural designs and buildings, his camouflage military experience, his Plainfield educational experience, and a further look at the historic significance of the 1903 core Muhlenberg buildings. If anyone would like to assist, please call Nancy at (908) 757-0095.
Sources: Plainfield Courier-News, December 18, 1903, and February 1, 1922.
Muhlenberg Hospital, Plainfield, New Jersey, Report for 1903-1904, June, 1904.
History of Union County, New Jersey, 1864-1923, by A. Van Doren Honeyman, 1923.
Various internet websites.
[update No. 4, 11/4/09]
by Nancy A. Piwowar