Throughout the first century or more of Plainfield’s history the town was very insular.  The local churches, of which there are many, have been important contributors to culture as well as belief.  Only in the last few decades has Plainfield become a growing bedroom community for Indianapolis.  This change has caused residents to learn new ways to deal with the problems inherent in growth, including fear of outsiders and stress on infrastructure and services.

In 1822 Jeremiah Hadley purchased land west of Indianapolis in what would become the town of Plainfield.[1]  Seven years later the Plainfield Christian Church was organized by 17 men and women who constructed a log building in which to worship.[2]  It was 1832 before Elias Hadley and Levi Jessup officially platted the town of Plainfield, its name reflecting the “plain” dress and manner of much of its population, many of whom were members of the Friends church.  They laid out 5 districts with 64 lots.[3]  In 1839 the town incorporated, but later gave up the incorporation.[4]

The early years of Plainfield’s development show how closely connected are the development of communities and their churches.  A group of interested parties met in 1836 to organize the Plainfield United Methodist Church. The church held Plainfield’s first Sunday School in 1844.[5]  In 1849 the Conservative Friends built a meeting house in Plainfield and two years later, in 1851, Friends from North Carolina constructed a meeting house at Sugar Grove, just south of town.  Their meeting had both conservative and progressive members.[6]   Four families organized the First Baptist Church in 1858 and that same year the Western Yearly Meeting organized and completed a brick meeting house on 12 acres along Main Street.[7]  In 1861, 227 Plainfield children attended schools of the Friends Monthly Meeting and only 48 students attended non-Friends schools in town.[8]

A local paper started in 1860 and in 1867 both the House of Refuge for Juvenile Offenders (now the Indiana Boys School) and a public grade school were established.[9]

Local Friends opened the town’s first library at the Plainfield Meeting House and the Plainfield Quarterly Meeting established the first high school, Central Academy, which initially held classes at the town hall before constructing a building on North Vine Street in 1897. By 1885 there were 300 students in indiana elementary schools, but the first graduating high school class in 1900 consisted of only 3 three students.[10]

In 1904 Plainfield incorporated for the second and final time.[11]  By 1910 the town’s population has reached 1,303.[12]   In 1912 residents successfully negotiated a Carnegie library grant of $9,000 to be used toward a new building and on the condition that the town would contribute $900 annually to the library.[13]   The education-conscious residents of Plainfield did not let their interest in reading  be limited by the location of the new library building, however.  In 1916 they established the Plainfield Auto Book Wagon which drove into neighborhoods to lend books.  More than 7,000 books were circulated from the Auto Book Wagon in the first year that it was established.[14]  In 1926 Plainfield’s population reached 3,134.[15]

The decades culminating in the 1950s saw much change in Plainfield.  In 1951 the general offices of Public Service Indiana (PSI) located there.  That same year the first services were held at the new Maple Grove Baptist Church’s cinderblock building.  In 1953 St. Susanna Catholic Church laid the cornerstone for their building.  Their membership was 55 families that year.  Also in 1953 St. Mark’s Episcopal Mission started in a meeting at the public library.  In 1954 the township school system reorganized under a five-member school board of Guilford Township School Corporation, the Van Buren Grade School was established and the Plainfield Christian Church celebrated its 125th anniversary.  The following year the church held their first service at a new building and counted 1,045 persons as members.[16]  By the end of the decade the community had constructed a new high school and three more new churches had begun.[17]

In the 1960s even more churches opened their doors in the small town.  Calvary Baptist held its first meeting in May 1960, Hope Presbyterian had 66 charter members and hired its first full-time minister.  Plainfield Bible Church dedicated a new church building and auditorium.[18]

Not surprisingly, church building was accompanied by home building in the area.  In 1961 the Indianapolis Times noted that there was a “small flow” of young families and new home building on the southeast side of town.  Most of these homes were in the $16,000-$18,000 range.  The article also counted 15 churches in town “with more on the way.”[19]  By mid-decade both Bethel A.M.E., St. Mark’s Episcopal and Calvary Baptist churches had dedicated new buildings.  Plainfield schools numbered 6, including 4 grades schools, and counted 2,173 students and 97 teachers.[20]  That year, the Indianapolis Times claimed that Plainfield was now thought of “only as a bedroom community” for Indianapolis, although residents probably protested that designation.[21]

As Plainfield entered the 1970s its population stood at 8,211.[22]  By 1975 it had increased to 9,015.[23]  In 1976, the small town was forced to acknowledge the xenophobic tendencies of some of its residents when the Muslim Student Association acquired 124 acres of land with plans to construct the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) there.[24]  Residents claimed that the construction of the campus violated a residential zoning ordinance and 960 people signed a petition protesting the proposed center; eventually they took their protests to the circuit court which denied their petition.  While the case was being appealed the protests took on a racist cast when a sign at the entrance to the property owned by the Muslim Student Association was knocked down and painted with the letters “KKK.” After the appeal was denied, construction began on the center in 1980 and was completed in 1983.  Now the ISNA serves Orthodox immigrant Muslims as a grassroots organization focusing on developing Muslim identity and supporting North American Muslim communities. [25]

By 1980 Plainfield had hired a Town Manager to advice the Town Board on technical matters involving the now 9,191 residents of the town.[26]  Although the actual population of the town had not grown at a great rate since 1970 townspeople continued to fear growth, in part because they valued their small town atmosphere and in part because of legitimate concerns over sewer capacity.[27]

In the 1990s Plainfield’s growth has accelerated.[28]  The census counted its population at 15,350, representing a 67 percent growth since 1980.  Twenty-nine houses of worship are listed in the Plainfield area currently.[29] The town’s largest employer is Cinergy/PSI with 1,000 employees in 1996.[30]  Reflecting the town’s status as a bedroom community for Indianapolis, there are approximately 400 rental units in Plainfield.[31]  In 1997 the Greater Plainfield Chamber of Commerce presented a 12-month “Strategic Plan,” calling for a Main Street Revitalization program, active support of the Plainfield Housing Committee, promotion of commercial and industrial development, and a plan to address quality of life issues with regard to the Indianapolis International Airport.[32]

In 1998 Plainfield is addressing growth and creating a new view of itself as a viable community peopled by residents who mostly work elsewhere but who have made a monetary and philosophical investment in their town.  They pay local taxes, send their children to Plainfield schools, and attend local houses of worship in significant numbers.

[1] Beryl Hadley Jessup, “Some Highlights in the History of Plainfield,” (1965), 1.
[2] Margaret Moore Post, “Our Town Yesterday,” (n.d.), 85.
[3] Beryl Hadley Jessup, “Some Highlights,” 1.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Post, “Our Town Yesterday,” 92.
[6] Ibid., 87.
[7] Ibid.,  87, 95.
[8]John R. McDowell, “The History of Hendricks County, 1914-1976,” (1976), 30.
[9] Ibid., 30; Jessup, “Some Highlights,” 4-8.
[10] McDowell, “History of Hendricks County,” 30.
[11] Jessup, “Some Highlights,” 1.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Jessup, “Some Highlights,” 6-7; McDowell, “History of Hendricks County,” 30.
[14] McDowell, “History of Hendricks County,” 31.
[15] Ibid., 28.
[16] McDowell, “History of Hendricks County”; Jessup, “Some Highlights”; Post, “Our Town Yesterday.”
[17]Jessup, “Some Highlights”; Post, “Our Town Yesterday.”
[18] Post, “Our Town Yesterday,” 97-98.
[19]Indianapolis Times, August 10, 1961.
[20] Jessup, “Some Highlights,” 6; Post, “Our Town Yesterday,” 91-100.
[21] Indianapolis Times, March 14, 1965.
[22] “Plainfield, Indiana,” A Community Resume,” by Cinergy/PSI.
[23] McDowell, “History of Hendricks County,” 28.
[24] Post, “Our Town Yesterday,” 102.
[25] William D. Dalton, “Islamic Society of North America,” in David J. Bodenhamer & Robert G. Barrows, eds., Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 834.
[26] Indianapolis News, December 22, 1977.
[27]June 22, 1998 interview with Bill Brooks, former editor of Plainfield newspaper.
[28] U.S. Census, 1990.
[29] National Directory of Churches, Synagogues and Other Houses of Worship.
[30] “Community Resume.”
[31] Ibid.
[32] “1998 Strategic Plan.”