Destination: Clinton

Red Mill Museum Village

By William Uhl 

A symbol of early American industry, Clinton’s iconic Red Mill still sits aside the Raritan River. Since its construction two centuries ago, the mill’s sleepy water wheel has worked with cloth, minerals, food, and electricity. Now, the mill is home to an array of galleries. Some house historical reproductions, some display pieces from international artists, and others hold fragments of local Clinton history.

Furthermore, it stands as the centerpiece of the Red Mill Museum Village, which also includes the Mulligan Quarry and the Bunker Hill Schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse from 1860. The museum village hosts events like film festivals, blacksmithing exhibitions, and Peg Leg’s Paracon, which exhibits the historical and paranormal importance of the area.

Right across the Raritan is the Hunterdon Art Museum, similarly housed in a 19th-century stone gristmill. What it lacks in Red Mill’s vivid paint job and historical collections, it makes up for with art exhibitions that span forms and materials both conventional and eccentric. “The Art of Construction” uses drywall, PVC pipes, milk crates, and other construction site staples to challenge the viewer’s perceptions of common building materials. “Interconnections: The Language of Basketry” weaves materials like stapled paper and fabricated metal to expand the concept of basketry beyond a utilitarian folk craft. Just a bridge walk away from the Red Mill, each bank of the Raritan offers a different artistic experience – one looking back, and the other looking forward.

A bevy of culinary options complement Clinton’s rich cultural offerings, with just as much creativity and variety. Just a few blocks down from the Hunterdon Art Museum and still adjacent to the Raritan is The Clean Plate Kitchen. A local favorite, its menu is overflowing with treats like Yummus, Cut the Crab, and Not Your Grandma’s Meatloaf. A focus on healthy options, good service, and menu items off the beaten path makes The Clean Plate Kitchen a great choice for something new. If you’re lucky, a few ducks might visit while you dine.

If you’re just looking for a quick bite without compromising on the Clinton experience, the red neon rim of the Clinton Station Diner lights the way to a good meal all day and night. True to its name, diners can choose to eat in Biela, a train car from 1927, or simply watch model trains roll by on a ceiling-suspended track. The menu ranges from diner staples like burgers and omelets to lamb shanks with orzo, stuffed grape leaves, and cheesecake. And for the ambitious eater, the Mt. Olympus—a 50-pound burger—is nearly enough to stop a train.

View of Clinton along the Raritan River

For a more traditional dinner, Dora Restaurant provides a relaxing atmosphere to complement Clinton’s quaint charm. Italian classics like ravioli, puttanesca, and flounder fill the stomach and warm the heart. Pru Thai offers Thai treats like Crying Tiger with a slew of spices, sauces, and seasonings. Ye Olde Sub Base serves up hot subs, cold cuts, and the much-beloved Beer Cheese Soup, all in the heart of historic Clinton. Frank’s Pizza & Restaurant is more than a simple pizzeria, offering Veal Parmesan, Chicken with Capers and Mushrooms, and a wine garlic sauce over pasta. Towne Restaurant has all the charm of a small-town, family-owned diner loved by locals and visitors alike, serving gyros, omelets, Pesto Chicken Focaccia, and more. Finally, to top a day out with a treat, JJ Scoops gives a much-needed sugar dose in a variety of forms. Their cones, floats, and milkshakes are enough to sate any sweet tooth.

If you happen to be in Clinton in late October when the darkness falls, don’t drive home yet—head back to the Red Mill. Each year, the Red Mill Museum Village runs a Haunted Mill fundraiser. Spanning nine acres of the museum’s land, it features mazes, hayrides, and a terror trail. Dozens of live actors come together to transform living history into the living dead.

For what might seem like a sleepy little town, Clinton has variety in spades—historically, artistically, and gastronomically. The variety might be overwhelming, but there’s always time. Regardless of whether you visit a week, a month, or years from now, that water wheel will still be turning, pushed along by the gentle Raritan River.