There aren’t many places left in the world where you can stroll down a quaint, pastel-colored Main Street, grab lunch from a restaurant that’s been locally owned for 30 years, shop for leather goods, books and clothes and then hit a museum — all within one block.
However, Hunterdon County has its own picturesque destination such as this that’s reminiscent of a “Norman Rockwell painting,” as Tim Betz, assistant director of the Red Mill Museum Village, said.
“Clinton is like this perfect small town,” Betz said. “When you walk down Main Street, you are walking down the classic American Main Street.”
Clinton, which has a population of about 2,700 and pulls in another 2,500 visitors in the fall and winter seasons, has a downtown area mainly composed of its Main Street, which is filled with businesses such as the Clinton Book Shop, the Hunterdon Art Museum, the Red Mill Museum Village, the Clinton House Restaurant, Fourchette cheese and olive oil shop and much more.
“In the fall, it’s a great walkable downtown with beautiful views around every corner,” said Diane Crisman-Race, president of the Clinton Guild, a nonprofit group that promotes Clinton tourism. “The restaurants and the shops are pulling out all the stops for their fall offerings. It’s a little extra special in the autumn.”
During October, the iconic Red Mill Museum Village at 56 Main St. — marked by the bright red mill that can be seen from across the Raritan River in downtown Clinton and serves as the town’s unofficial emblem — is closed for regular visitation as they are hosting their Haunted Village fundraiser, which is held on Fridays and Saturdays of the weekends of Oct. 14, 21 and 28 starting at 7 p.m. until all visitors who have bought a ticket by 10 p.m. have participated.
The 26-year tradition is a large-scale walk-through haunted house, terror trail and hay ride that is mostly volunteer-run and produces about one-third of the museum’s operating budget for the year. About 5,000 people flock to the Haunted Village during October and tickets cost $30 per person or $45 for an express ticket, making it so they can skip the line to the hourlong attraction.
During the day on Saturdays, Oct. 22 and 29, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the museum will also hold Happy Hauntings, or a scare-free event, on the grounds for $10 per person. Some of the other upcoming fall events in Clinton include the Pumpkin Festival on Friday, Oct. 21, where participants can enter their painted or carved pumpkins in competition, and Dickens Day from Friday, Nov. 25, to Sunday, Nov. 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, in which Clinton will be transformed into a Victorian village. Plus, the Clinton Farmers’ Market continues to be held on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Clinton Fire Company lot at 1 New St. until Oct. 30.
Even without a special event, however, Clinton makes for an ideal fall day trip destination because of its plethora of shops and businesses. Laura Cummins, director of membership and events of Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce, said, “Clinton has so many wonderful businesses in that area and they are very good about showcasing what is new for that particular season.”
Besides the aforementioned businesses, some of the others that dot Clinton’s Main Street are the Clinton Fudge Company; Heartstrings, which sells clothing and home décor items; Bearpaw Leather Shop; Made to Order Jewelers; and more.
However, the highlight of Clinton remains as the 10-acre Red Mill Museum Village, which Cummins said is most popular to photograph during the fall or directly following a snowfall. On the grounds are also a replica of a log cabin, an old schoolhouse and the Mulligan quarry buildings.
To reach the museum, which has a collection of over 40,000 agricultural, industrial and domestic artifacts, visitors must cross an antique iron bridge built in 1870 over the river.
On the side of the downtown area, they can also access the Hunterdon Art Museum, a center for contemporary art, craft and design within a 19th-century stone mill that is on the National Historic Register. The museum also holds regular art classes, workshops and a summer art camp.
If you want to stop for a meal while in Clinton, you can check out the Clean Plate Kitchen, a healthy alternative to restaurant dining that was recently written about in the New York Times; the iconic Clinton House; Dora’s Restaurant, which has options for outdoor dining on its romantic terrace; Towne Restaurant, a 30-year Clinton staple; and Pru Thai, a newer Thai restaurant.
“You can definitely spend a whole day here,” said Crisman-Race. “There’s something around every corner in Clinton.”