Not much is known about Henry and Catherine Simmons. Henry was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1868; Catherine was born in Bermuda in 1890. Henry Simmons purchased 4 lots on Fanwood Avenue in 1909 and, according to his obituary, lived at 1160 Fanwood Avenue with Catherine for 25 years.
He was a janitor at the Plainfield Post Office for 16 years before his retirement in 1934. He was a member of Stone Square Lodge, 38, of Plainfield.
Henry died in 1936. In his estate he left everything to his wife Catherine, which included their home and 3 other properties nearby.
In 1944, Catherine conveyed all of the properties to Rev. and Mrs. Rufus Sweeney, the Assistant Pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church. Catherine moved to Plainfield where she died 3 years later. Mrs. Sweeney was the soloist at her funeral.
In 1947, the Sweeney’s conveyed Catherine and Henry’s home to Grace and Joshua Briggs. The Briggs family had also been very active in the life of St. John’s Baptist Church.
Joshua was part of the Deacon board. In a very direct way, the Simmons home passed from church member, to Reverend, to Deacon so that each could be close to their Church.
Grace and Joshua were married in their home town of Petersburg, Virginia in 1919. By 1930 they had moved rent a home on Randolph Place in Turkey Swamp with their five children and Grace’s mother. In 1940, they had moved to West Broad Street; Joshua was working as a Laborer in the WPA, the Federal works program; Gracie and 16 year old Mabel worked as housemaids.
They purchased 1160 Fanwood Avenue in March, 1947. In the 1950 Census, Joshua has taken a job as elevator operator in a tool and die plant; son Leonard, now 23 years old, worked as a laborer in construction.
Evidence of Joshua’s devotion to St. John’s Baptist Church is evident from numerous newspaper accounts of events at St. John’s. For example, in 1958, Joshua served as a pallbearer at the funeral for Fannie Donaldson, mother to Samuel Jarvis. In 1959, he participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for a new sanctuary for St. John’s Baptist church.
Due to the Town’s announced plan to acquire their home, the Briggs sold their home to their daughter Mabel in 1965 and moved to Plainfield; she sold their home to the Town of Westfield the following year.
In 1970, Grace died at the age of 70 and Joshua died four year later at the age of 76.
Brightwood Park is on the North end of Prospect Street. Go past Franklin School and look for the entrance on the left.