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Historic Clinton
Town History

Incorporated at Maturity

On April 5, 1865, the Town of Clinton became incorporated as a separate entity - "An Act to Incorporate the town of Clinton, in the township of Clinton, Franklin and Union, in the County of Hunterdon."  The first town meeting was held at Weller's Hotel; John B. Weller and his brother had bought the brick hotel from Israel Smith in about 1845.  The meeting was on the second Monday in April, 1865, when the following officers were chosen: Morris S. Stiger, Mayor, and as councilmen John B. Weller, Eli Bosenbury, John T. Leigh, James P. Huffman, John A. Young and Samuel Madison.  John C. Besson was appointed clerk, and Nathaniel W. Voorhees was made Treasurer.  

It may be coincidental that just before this time the first bank, Clinton National, was founded in town by a Board of Directors, with Robert Foster president, and Nathaniel Voorhees, father of the future governor, cashier.  This building site is fitting for its purpose, being of ample proportions with a fine array of features in Italianate style.   A second bank was formed in 1875, meeting in Weller's brick hotel on Center Street.

Maps of 1860 and 1873 show Clinton growing apace, with its present outline not yet achieved, and considerable available land held in a few private hands: some owned, for instance by the physician Sylvester Van Syckel, a Princeton graduate and native son.  Widows occupy some of the small I-style houses.  A directory of 1860 lists Holt's private academy on East Main Street.  In this period, the Methodist Church replaced its first building with a larger more fashionable one, and the new Baptist Church is added to Leigh Street.  The Bird's-Eye Map of 1886, however, shows the Town of Clinton in full bloom, with a train station, newspaper office, Presbyterian Church (before its facelift of 1890) and a number of fanciful tower-bedecked Queen Anne formal residences.  It also shows the popularity of false fronts of parapets on buildings, especially commercial operations, but there were some on houses which still remain in place.

The popularity of iron grilles in fascias, nicely worked into classical Greek design, has been commented upon.  It suggests the availability of a source.  Hiram Deats, well known for his plow improvement, had a foundry in Pittstown, just five miles away and also sold his wares in two shops in Clinton: metal and sheet iron at A. Stiger and Sons and at Hoffman, Foster and Company.

Up to this time, the bridges crossing the South Branch at two locations - between the mills and over to Halstead - were periodically replaced by the Freeholders, who sometimes chose interesting new designs. 9 The Main Street Bridge, raised in 1870, is of special significance because of its early date, and very few of its type now survive in America.  Designed by Francis E. Lowthorp, it is based on the pony truss web system patented by Caleb Pratt in 1844, featuring diagonal members in tension and simple pin joints.  Lowthorp obtained his own patent in 1857.  This bridge has been described as "an outstanding example of the early use of cast and wrought iron in truss bridges." 10  The bridge is also significant for its important role in carrying the former New Jersey Turnpike across the river, allowing commerce and trade to flow in and out of town to great advantage.

The Town of Clinton was at its high point of achievement by the 1880s.  It as picturesquely located in a rich agricultural district with almost inexhaustible limestone quarries, according to County Historian James P. Snell, who found the "village handsomely laid out" and commented that it had "mercantile trade of considerable importance." 11  It had two grist mills, one with a woolen operations as well; two banks, two hotels, and a newspaper.  At the time it also had four active churches, the most recent being the Roman Catholic, and a fine public school.  The school was built atop a hill on John T. Leigh's farm, on land he provided, and it was in design far more impressive than the usual rural school, judging by its representation on the 1886 Bird's-Eye Map of town.  It was lost to a fire.  A new school now occupies its site.

In 1881, a branch line of the Lehigh Valley Railroad was brought to the very edge of West Main Street into the service area traditionally serving the Clinton House Hotel across the road. Although the station is gone, photographs of it, as also a sketch on the 1886 map, indicate that it was on the same scale as the station in Flemington, the county seat, and was in a parklike setting. Prior to this, a coach carried passengers to the station in Annandale, a few miles away, to travel on the New Jersey Central line. With its own connection, a more sophisticated life became possible, with easy travel to distant towns, including New York. And, in turn, it made it possible for entertainers, salesmen, and others, including cityfolk escaping the summer heat, to visit. The depot, which continued in operation until recent times, was equally important to the lifeblood of the town, having three platforms for shipping of various kinds: produce, livestock, ice, lumber and coal among them.

Next to the station, a hay storage facility was first converted into a small entertainment hall, which was twice replaced. The town finally gained a building worthy of the name Music Hall, which still stands: a large tall brick gable-fronted structure, whose original appearance unfortunately has been marred by changes after its original use ended. The Music Hall presented circuses, plays, choral societies, light musicals, dramas, benefit programs, local talents, and eventually, silent and talking movies. Traveling actors came in by railroad and stayed at the two local hotels.12

Next... The Great Fire



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