Thanks to the ‘train wreck’ known as MTV’s “Jersey Shore”, more than ever, I continue my mission to change misconceptions about my home state of New Jersey, dammit. In the past, I have written about my quiet hometown, the bedroom community of Randolph and waxed poetic about some of the other wonderful traits of the Garden State. And I am not just doing it because I am from there. A large portion of the state is beautiful and full of farms, horses, forests, lakes, and mountains. So you’ve heard me say it before (um, like in the last sentence), despite the industrial area in and around Newark, much else of New Jersey is lush, green, rural and charming. Yes, really.
I recently had the pleasure of spending a lazy afternoon in the quaint little colonial town of Clinton, New Jersey.
A town of about 2,600 people, Clinton is in Hunterdon County, on the South Branch of the Raritan River. When the Clinton post office was established in 1829 the town was named for DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York who was the main man behind the then-newly completed Erie Canal.
Clinton is quintessentially ‘small-town-America.’ From the charming main street lined with shops and restaurants to the formerly covered bridge that spans the river at the end of main street.
The town is best known for its Red Mill which sits on the bank of the river in all its grand red-ness. The only other time I’d been to Clinton was as a kid on a field trip in grade school when we came to see the mill. I am sure at the time I had no understanding of what a mill was or what it did. But it was always cool to load up on the school bus for an adventure. Little did I know, how much I would continue my own little adventures taking extended field trips as an adult (sans yellow school bus). Yay field trips!
The Red Mill sits on the South Branch of the Raritan River just at the end of the small town. Built in 1810, it originally served as a woolen mill. Over the next 100 years, the Mill was used at different times to process grains, plaster, talc and graphite. The Mill was also used to produce peach baskets, as well as to generate electricity and pump water for the town. The Mill was also used to produce peach baskets, as well as to generate electricity and pump water for the town.
Directly across the river, is the Hunterdon Art Museum, a mill established in 1836. It offers exhibitions of contemporary art, craft and design; docent tours; and over 200 education programs for adults and children.
We ate lunch at Nino’s on the River, a lovely little Italian restaurant with a peaceful outdoor patio set right on the edge of the river, just downstream from the mill. It certainly wasn’t the hippest or trendiest of places especially considering we were the youngest couple there, by a wide margin and the food was just decent. But that’s okay, we didn’t come to Clinton to party or to have amazing fare. The breezy outdoor patio made up for any lack of sustenance substance.
Afterwards we still did find a local bar to go have a cold beer in and watch a bit of World Cup soccer. And of course, this was no ordinary bar. The Clinton House has been serving up drinks literally since colonial times. It opened as an inn and tavern in 1743 – when New Jersey was just a wee lass and one of the original thirteen colonies. It was also at the same time that a little school named the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) was formed. New Jersey didn’t actually become a state until 1787.
Once again, New Jersey shows me what’s it’s made of. And there are towns just like Clinton all over. You don’t even have to pull back layers to find these historical all-American towns, you just have to ask a local and they will point you in the right direction.