Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion

Plainfield's Forgotten Gem

by Nancy A. Piwowar

Hidden behind a stockade fence, set far off Randolph Road, on the Muhlenberg property is a red brick building with a large arched window and a scrolled keystone. The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion dates to 1903, and is Plainfield's forgotten gem.

A notice in the local newspaper, Plainfield Courier-News, in 1900, related the possibility of a new hospital building, and the response by the local residents was immediate.  Public subscriptions were received.  Then the decision was made by the Muhlenberg Board of Governors, to build a "new" Muhlenberg Hospital at a new site, and many distinguished men offered land.  James E. Martine offered a lot on Thorton Avenue.  Former Mayor of North Plainfield, John F. Wilson, offered a lot in North Plainfield, but this could not be accepted because it was in a different county.  Finally the Muhlenberg Board of Governors took an option on farm land at the edge of the City on Park Avenue and Randolph Road.

Within four months of the discussions of a "new" Muhlenberg in the local newspaper, it was reported that J. Howard Wright in April, 1901, gave the largest and most generous donation of $10,000 for an operating pavilion for the "new" Muhlenberg in memory of his two grandsons.  Howard Wright Corlies died at the age of 23 from pneumonia in 1899.  Parker Wright Mason died at the age of 19 from typhoid fever in 1900.  J. Howard Wright was a wealthy Standard Oil businessman from New York City, and his two daughters and families resided in Plainfield, for many years. 

The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion also contained a sterilizing room, an etherizing room, a room for the X-ray instrument and a recovery room, which were all considered essential for a modern hospital. 

The 1903 Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion retains many of its original exterior elements including inscription, large arched, scrolled keystone, and northern window. The only evident change is the removal of the roof line skylight.  The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion was designed by Tracy and Swartwout, a New York architectural firm, and Evarts Tracy, one of the architects, grew up in Plainfield on West Eighth Street in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, and he later resided with his wife on Hillside Avenue, in the Hillside Avenue Historic District within sight of the "new" Muhlenberg and the Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion.

The 1903 Tracy and Swartwout Muhlenberg complex of buildings were not built squarely to face either Park Avenue or Randolph Road, but were "built squarely with the points of the compass."  The purpose of this was "to have the operating room face North, so that it would have the full benefit of the North light." [Plainfield Courier-News, July 19, 1902, page one article.]

Plainfield's forgotten gem has survived over one hundred and seven years, and is passed by daily on the way to the satellite emergency department without nearly a second glance because it is behind a stockade fence.  The wall inscription is obscured by the fence, and according to newspaper articles, behind the cornerstone of operating pavilion is a copper box that contains various items including: local and New York newspapers, Muhlenberg Hospital annual reports,  photographs of J. Howard Wright's grandsons, photographs of doctors, nurses, employees, and of the old hospital buildings, names of the contractors, to name a few items. 

The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion serves as a grand monument to Mr. Wright's Plainfield family, and the Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion is one of the only known surviving separate, stand alone operating room buildings extant in New Jersey and most likely in the United States.  It is important to preserve The Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion because it is a monument to the Wright family, Muhlenberg heritage and medical culture, and Muhlenberg's doctors, nurses and staff.