Clinton Township History Essay
Even before the arrival of European settlers, the area that would become Clinton Township was impacted by roads.
The Lenape path known as the Lower Minisink Trail, which connected the Delaware and Raritan Rivers, crossed the region on its east-west journey. The Northern Branch of the Lower Minisink Trail connected with the main Trail in the western edge of the soon-to-be township. Many artifacts found in the Township are remnants of Lenape activities along the Trail whether from hunting, camping or traveling for trade with other members of the Lenape nation.
German Lutheran and German Reformed pushing west along this Trail from New Brunswick, English settlers pushing east from Easton and Quakers pushing north from Philadelphia met in the wild frontier of West Jersey about 1710, then administered by Burlington County.
It was quite a challenge to get to the county seat to see to legal matters, so the settlers instigated efforts to establish a new county with a nearby seat. The new county, named Hunterdon after former Governor Robert Hunter, formed in 1714.
The new county was divided into several huge townships included Lebanon. The Lower Minisink Tail passed through its center. So important to the region was this east-west trail, its European name, the Easton-Brunswick Road, lingered well into the 20th Century.
Along the Road, which connected in Easton with the road to Philadelphia and in Somerville with the road to New York City, three important settlements developed: Hunt's Mill, Beaver Brook and Lebanon Post Town, each eventually becoming important stagecoach stops. In Beaver Brook, Thomas Jones built a tavern and stagecoach stop just west of his farmhouse in the 1760s. Both structures still exist. The Tavern is now and office and the farmhouse are part of Historic Beaver Brook Homestead and are the Township's oldest structure. An ardent Patriot, Jones became a captain in the Hunterdon Militia during the Revolutionary War and used his tavern as a recruiting station. Capt. Jones helped Daniel Bray of Amwell acquire boast for Gen. Washington's Army to cross the Delaware.
After signing, copies of the Declaration of Independence where sent out to be read to the populace. It soon made it to Beaver Brook where it was read from the balcony of Jones Tavern.
Due to the road and waterpower, the Hunt's Mill section grew in importance, out pacing the agrarian region becoming a business and commercial center. With the mill changing hands several times, the residents sought a new name and decided to honor Dewitt Clinton, late governor of New York and developer of the Erie Canal.
In March of 1841, local leaders gathered in Jones Tavern, now owned by John C. Wert, to form a new township out of the southern portion of Lebanon Township. It named itself Clinton after its largest settlement but retained the Lebanon name for its eastern post office hamlet. This action resulted in the development of two Clinton and two Lebanon's.
In order to improve transportation, the State chartered several roads to be toll roads or turnpikes. In 1806, the Easton-Brunswick Road was chartered as one and given the ironic name the New Jersey Turnpike. Seven years later, the Northern Branch of the Minisink Trail was chartered as the Spruce Run Turnpike. These acts would have little impact on the Township for the next century and a half. In fact, the turnpike companies were soon out of business overtaken by the railroads.
When the Central Railroad of New Jersey pushed its track westward through the region in 1852, it built a station outside of Beaver Brook. A village named Clinton Station developed, swallowed-up Beaver Brook, and became the center of the Township. The village was later renamed Annandale.
Clinton Township remained an essentially sleepy farm community for the next century. Its 1950 population was almost the same as its 1850 population. A severe drought in the mid 20th Century awakened a proposal to use the naturally formed Round Valley as a reservoir. The farm community was moved out in 1959, the project completed in 1965 and opened as Round Valley Recreation Area in 1977.
Roads first made the Township important and would again.
Just after World War 1, the state determined that the Easton-Brunswick Road would be among the first paved for auto use. The Federal road department agreed and granted funds to transform this Lenape Trail into U. S. Route 22. In the meantime, the state decided to extend the other Lenape Trail south from the Township to Trenton eventually giving it the number 31.
It inevitable flowed from this that when the modern auto road system replaced the original, the new in the form of 1-78 would meet the old in the form of US 22 in Annandale, the heart of Clinton Township.
As the original Trail brought in energetic settlers, the new highway has done so as well. The Township has become an energized and invigorated place with an enviable school system, a municipal government that re-invented itself by switching from the old style township to the new style with an elected mayor, an active municipal Recreation Department serving its youth and families, and a lively senior citizens group.
By Frank A. Curcio
For more information, see the Clinton Township Historic Preservation Commission page.