There are many small towns in New Jersey, relics that were the places of early American colonial life, that have stories dating from the Revolutionary War, and were hubs of local farming and industry. They’re part of the story of our state, how it was founded, and they’re worth a visit. In Hunterdon County, a little under an hour’s drive from Montclair, is Clinton, New Jersey. It is a quaint little spot worth a weekend stop, especially in the fall when the place is bustling with Halloween decorations and autumnal color. Read on to plan your Clinton getaway.
History of Clinton
Built along the South Branch of the Raritan River, Clinton’s a picturesque hamlet with Victorian-style houses, sleepy charm, and a tiny population of under 3,000 people. The town was officially founded on April 5, 1865. The area was best known for its two prominent mills that used the flowing water using water wheels. The Red Mill dates back to 1810 and is the site of a historic village, while the Stone Mill was a reconstruction built in 1836 and then used to mill continuously until 1952. In 1891, an incident known as The Great Fire swept through Downtown Clinton, destroying 23 buildings and 17 businesses on Main Street.
Clinton’s biggest attraction is undoubtedly the historical Red Mill that sits across the river from the downtown promenade. It was built by Ralph Hunt sometime around 1810, originally to be used in processing wool. Mills were the centers of the industry during this time, so it was no surprise that the town’s name mimicked The Mill and came to be called Hunt’s Mill. However, when the market for domestic cloth took a downturn, the property was purchase by the Taylors, a merchant family who dominated the local region. They renamed the town Clinton, after the popular New York governor, DeWitt Clinton. While The Mill continued to process wool, the Taylors expanded the business to grind feed, flour, and stone plaster. As industry and demand changed, so did The Mill. It was bought and sold for its milling ability, as well as the property’s mining potential. For a short time, it was even called “Black Mill.”
Because of its importance to the town’s history, many locals took it on themselves to fund the restoration of The Red Mill. Five, community-minded men, known as the Red Mill Five, purchased the building in order to restore it as Museum. It is thanks to them that the waterwheel still spins vigorously after so many years. The Stone Mill, a second important building in the town’s history, is on the downtown side of the river and is now home to the Hunterdon Art Museum.
Today, the Clinton Historic District encompasses much of the town, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Here you will find significant architecture, history, and commerce in the great state of New Jersey!
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Things to Do
The Red Mill | 56 Main Street
This should be the first stop on any trip you make to Clinton because it is the center of historical importance within the town. Inside The Red Mill, you can learn about the history of milling, how the waterwheel functions (even seeing it up close!), and wander the historic village to see examples of an early American way of life. The village includes a schoolhouse, log cabin, various storage facilities that supported the mill, and even a dynamite shed for storing the old quarry’s TNT! The Red Mill is open most Saturdays and Sundays during the year from 12PM to 6 PM. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and children under 12, and free for children under six, along with active and retired military families. However, during the month of October, The Mill celebrates Halloween with the Haunted Red Mill, decorating the entire property as a haunted house. It’s a big local attraction and you need to buy tickets online here in order to attend.
The Mill also hosts a Holiday craft fair and festival of trees during the last weekend of November which should not be missed!
Hunterdon Art Museum | 7 Lower Center Street
Located across the river from The Red Mill is the Hunterdon Art Museum. The museum is on the site of The Stone Mill, a grist mill dating back to 1763 when it supposedly ground wheat for General George Washington’s army during its encampment in Morristown. After grinding wheat for more than a century, the mill was closed. The owner at the time was Joseph Kreisler, a man well into his 80s. After a brief talk of converting the mill into a pencil factory, he became interested in a local discussion for turning it into an arts center where studios could be rented and exhibitions hosted. By the time it sold in 1952, the consensus was for the mill to be converted into a museum.
Today, the museum contains important twentieth-century art prints from renowned artists, like Salvador Dali, and hosts the works of locally significant artists. The Hunterdon Art Museum showcases contemporary arts and acts as a center for craft and design. It also hosts more than 300 classes and workshops for children and adults, including painting, drawing, history of art, embroidery, and even printmaking. There is even a summer camp on offer if you’re interested in an art experience for your children. Book a poetry or crafting workshop when you visit and enjoy!
The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday with tickets for adults costing $7. Please note, you must be vaccinated or show proof of a negative Covid-19 test in order to visit the museum.
Walk the Town | Start at The Red Mill + head East on Main Street
There are so many beautiful streets in Clinton that it is an absolute must to pick a road and walk it. Downtown’s historical storefronts as beautiful, while the nearby homes are detailed with fine wood porches, lush with landscaping, and decorated with classic Americana. Leigh Street, in particular, is known for its prevalence of Victorian buildings, however, there is also a rich history of Folkstyle, Greek Revival themes, and even Italianate-style houses.
Along Center Street, an 1880’s mansion, located at No. 93, is said to have been built by a member of Clinton’s “aristocracy” at the time. Further down the block, you will find examples of Colonial Revival houses, along with homes in the Dutch Colonial style at 125 & 130 Center Street. Read here for a more detailed analysis of the homes in Clinton.
Visit the Churches | 91 Center Street
Historic churches can sometimes be straight out of a Tim Burton movie, but the steepled houses of worship in Clinton are old and iconic. Make sure you take a wander around the old cemeteries too.
Where To Eat
Scout’s Coffee Bar & Mercantile | 11 Main Street, High Bridge
(Photo credit: @scoutscoffeebar)
Classic coffee drinks and a hip selection of food make Scout’s a great place to grab a snack — or an avocado toast. The cute storefront is just a short stop outside of Clinton in High Bridge, NJ. With a variety of steel-cut oats, delicious toasts, and freshly baked pastries, you eat light or have your fill.
The Clean Plate Kitchen | 49 Main Street
Locally sourced, good food is the primary goal of The Clean Plate Kitchen. The eatery offers fresh dishes, are vegetarian and vegan friendly and has adorable outdoor seating along the Raritan River. It’s a popular spot that shouldn’t be missed!
Juniper Hill | 73 Beaver Avenue, Annandale
(Photo credit: @juniper.hill)
A family-friendly tapas and cocktail bar, Juniper Hill is a trendy local hot spot. From grilled octopus to pork cheek, there is a fresh dish for every kind of eater. The menu changes depending on what is available and in season, making sure that you are always served the best offerings from local farms and carefully chosen vendors.
Designer Dawgs | 3 Main Street
You don’t see gourmet hot dogs on offer everywhere you go (though it would be nice!). The selection is vast, as are the dogs — they even come with a side of yummy popcorn. One hotdog will leave you stuffed, so be prepared to share with friends. And don’t worry, it’s supposed to be served in a doggy dish — hence the “Dawg” in the name.
JJ Scoops | 1 Main Street
JJ’s is a quirky and vintage-inspired ice cream parlor with more flavors and combinations than you know what to do with. The ice cream is perfect after a hot dog from Designer Dawgs, with whom they share a back terrace. Enjoy simple flavors or go all the way with a custom sundae with all the toppings — it’s your choice and will be flavorful any way you try it.
Where To Shop
Fourchette | 36 Main Street
This cheese shop carries a wonderful selection of kitchen condiments, oils, bottles of vinegar, honey, and other accouterments for your next charcuterie board. With the variety of high-quality products, there are so many items to choose from. Stop in for cheese and handcrafted home decor items for your next dinner party.
Christie’s Artisan Bread & Pastry Shop | 27 Leigh Street
Christie’s is a surprisingly delightful bread and pastry shop. While it doesn’t look like much more than a casual dining place from the inside, the bread it insanely good. You cannot go wrong bringing home a French country loaf, fresh coffee cake, and biscotti — everything is delicious, and you’ll thank yourself on Monday morning when you have a yummy piece of toast for breakfast.
Heartstrings | 10 Main Street
A highly favored spot for locals, Heartstrings is an excellent weekend stop for those that love jewelry and gifts. High-quality products with vintage 1920s styling, you are bound to find something for yourself or a friend. Check out the selection of home decor to find old-world inspiration or snag a handmade figurine or two. Even if you’re not in the market for anything, stop by to have a peek at the delightfully creative displays.
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Kilhaney’s Pickles | 41 Main Street
A whole shop dedicated to pickles? Yep, that’s Kilhaney’s. With rows of local pickles in every kind of flavor, this shop is a must-stop. Grab some salsa, uniquely flavored cotton candy, and a jar of housewarming pickles, and your holiday shopping will be done in one store. Mama Pickles says, “be sure to stop on by.”
Greens and Beans | 19 1/2 Old Highway 22
A magical plant store and flower shop, the storefront will stop you in your tracks. It’s worth peeking inside the beautifully decorated shop and picking up a weekend bouquet with a plant on the side. Just be sure not to let the shop kitties out when you enter!
Karen’s Dollhouse Shop | 14 Main Street
Collecting dolls isn’t exactly a modern pastime, but trust us, you do not want to miss this shop. Miniature objects and houses are a treasure, and you will find yourself feeling like a kid. Take notice of all the handmade buildings throughout the store and all the fantastic accessories. Everything is so tiny but expertly handcrafted!
While it’s a little bit of a drive, Clinton, New Jersey, is the perfect town for a day trip. Be sure to visit this fall to see all that it has to offer!