Plainfield and World War One

Wolcott Calkins II with a star, indicating he was a casualty of war Credits: Jennifer Popper
Credits: Nancy A. Piwowar
Credits: Nancy A. Piwowar
Credits: Jennifer Popper
Credits: Jennifer Popper
Credits: Nancy A. Piwowar
Credits: Nancy A. Piwowar
Leighton Calkins tablet in City Hall Credits: Jennifer Popper
Credits: Jennifer Popper
Evarts Tracy's name on tablet in City Hall Credits: Jennifer Popper

One hundred years ago on April 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War One, the Great War, also known as "the War to end all wars.” The war’s impact on the City of Plainfield and surrounding area was huge.

Plainfield was a recruiting center, and many young men from the area joined the fight. The mode of transportation to duty assignments was by the railroad, and for some the last look of their home town was from the main Plainfield railroad station.

The World War One Honor Roll bronze tablet located in the lobby of Plainfield’s City Hall lists the names of all the men who served in the Great War.  The “stars” next to the name indicate a casualty of the war. Plainfield lost 45 young men. Former Mayor Leighton Calkins lost his only son, Wolcott Calkins II, to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.  

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Sixteen of the men died from complications due to influenza, twelve men died from wounds or killed in action, and seventeen men died of unrecorded causes.  Ten of the men were born in Plainfield, six were born in other New Jersey towns, three were born in New York, one in Kansas, one in Massachusetts, and one in Virginia.  Five of the men were immigrants from France, Ireland, Italy, Russia, and Sweden. The rest of the men’s birthplaces were unrecorded.

The World War One death records from the New Jersey State Archives indicate that two of the men were African American, Clarence M. Jeter and James D. Johnson. Mr. Jeter was born in Plainfield, and Mr. Johnson was born in Virginia, and both men died from complications of influenza. Most the casualties were in their twenties, two were in their thirties, and the youngest at the age of nineteen was Wolcott Calkins II, the Mayor’s son.

A list of the men who gave the ultimate sacrifice can be found on the grounds of Plainfield City Hall on the Plainfield Veterans’ Memorial monument. The 45 men who were casualties of World War One were:

Paul R. Apgar, Patrick H. Breen, Howard J. Breese, Wolcott Calkins II, Edward A. Carty, Collis H. Case, Lucyan Chwalkowski, Daniel A. Compton, Carlos R. Costales, Charles L. Dana Jr., Felix Dinicio, Frank I. Donnelly, Camille DuBois, Willard H. Groff, Marshall Holmes, James F. Hunter, Clarence M. Jeter, James D. Johnson, Martin J. Kane, Arthur Kienzle, Joseph Kusnetz, John J. Larkin, Carl A. Lundstrom, Leon Martel, Arthur F. Mundy, Joseph F. Murray, Ernest J. Neal, James J. Neilsen, Robert Pollock, Russell L. Poucher, Joseph A. Roach, William R. Ross, Louis Rothberg, John W. Schomp, John F. Sharp, Alfred T. Slauson, Courtney N. Starkweather, Harold E. Storr, Harold E. Stow, Herbert L. Terry, Frederick W. Vogel, Irving J. Wahl, Edward T. Walsh, Clarence H. Weber, and James W. Whelan.

One of Plainfield's World War One surviving veterans was Evarts Tracy, the pioneering camouflage officer of the World War One. Tracy was a member of the New York architectural firm, Tracy and Swartwout. The firm designed the 1903 buildings of Muhlenberg Hospital. Evarts Tracy was born in New York City in 1868, and moved with his family to Plainfield as a young child.  He grew up on West Eighth Street in a home located in the Van Wyck Brooks District.  He later built his home on Hillside Avenue, now part of the Hillside Avenue Historic District.

Several Evarts Tracy buildings still exist in Plainfield including: the old Police Station on Cleveland Avenue and East Fourth Street, 1903 Muhlenberg Hospital buildings and Operating Pavilion, and many private residences in the Hillside Avenue Historic District and Netherwood Heights Historic District.

Evarts Tracy gave up his profitable position at his architectural firm to offer his service to his Country. Evarts Tracy died in France in 1922, while he was working on the Reconstruction of France.  His body was returned home, and he was buried in Hillside Cemetery, Scotch Plains, in the Tracy family plot.  A complete article about Evarts Tracy can be found on the World War One Centennial Commission website.

Evarts Tracy, pioneer of American military camouflage, was renowned architect

Plainfield area residents and their families of the World War One era made sacrifices that were felt worldwide. Those sacrifices are commemorated on monuments located within City limits, and are dedicated to Plainfield’s World War One Veterans. Plainfield World War One monuments include: Plainfield Veterans' Memorial Monument, World War plaque at the steps of City Hall, World War One Honor Roll tablet located inside City Hall, flagpole monument on Watchung Avenue, flagpole monument at St. Mary's Church, memorial tablet located inside Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, and Plainfield High School memorial tablet.  

The Public’s assistance is needed to locate any other monuments or memorial tablets dedicated to World War One that are in Plainfield’s churches, schools, or parks. Please supply your information to the Drake House Museum at or call (908) 755-5831. Pictures will be taken and descriptions will be written, and then submitted to the World War One Centennial Commission.

A column on the history of Plainfield, NJ and surrounding towns by Nancy Piwowar.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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