The Red Mill in Hunterdon County is one of New Jersey’s most photographed destinations. It has found itself on magazine covers, postcards, family photos and so much more. The building itself is a four-story grist mill found along the south branch of the Raritan River in Clinton. Beyond this, the Red Mill Museum Village includes the surrounding quarry buildings. The area’s rich backstory makes it another fine addition to our Jersey Through History series.
The earliest section of what’s now known as Red Mill was built around 1810 by industrialist Ralph Hunt. Though his business was ultimately a failure, the mill did successfully process wool for the better part of a decade.
A Storied History
Hunt soon lost more than 400 acres of his family’s property on both sides of the Raritan River. By the late 1820s, John Bray and John B. Taylor took over the mill. Soon after, they would rename the town from Hunt’s Mills to Clinton after popular New York governor DeWitt Clinton. While still in the woolen business, the two began expanding to the industries of grinding feed, flour and stone plaster.
In the mid-1830s, John W. Snyder took over the mill, quickly refitting it for grist. But Snyder soon fell into debt like his predecessors and lost the property in 1842; less than a decade after he took it over.
The Easton Bank eventually split the site into both a mill and quarry. Businessmen John F. Stiger and John A. Young then bought the mill section in 1847. They used the existing machinery to grind flour and grist. Young became the sole owner of the mill in 1868, operating it for three more years. The property would continue to find new owners several times over the next two years.
Wait, Who Owns What… When?
As for the quarry, known as Quarry Hill, the Mulligan family took it over in 1848. Between 1848 and 1858, ownership of the quarry would pass from the Mulligans to George Gulick, back to the Mulligans. During this period, Quarry Hill was home to three lime kilns and an on-site, two-family tenant house. After the final transition of ownership to Michael Mulligan, the Mulligan family were responsible for operating the Quarry; the Mulligan Quarry business was a success, remaining in continual operation until 1960.
The mill section, however, was sold to entrepreneur Philip Gulick – likely a relative of George Gulick – in 1873. (Records show Philip and George were born one year apart.) During his ownership, the third and fourth floor would grind grist while the first floor made peach baskets. This operation would continue for nearly 20 years before Gulick set up The Clinton Illuminating and Water Co.; this new business could be found on the second floor of the mill.
Clinton Illuminating and Water Co.’s purpose was providing electricity for street lights all throughout Clinton. When Gulick died in 1901, Elmer and Chester Tomson took over; renting the location before buying the mill outright four years later.
A Spectrum of Changes
Once the Tomson’s took over, the mill’s operation began to pivot to graphite; during this brief period, the location became known as the “Black Mill” for the greasy black dust it would generate. These operations almost immediately became the focus of public outcry, and the Tomsons soon began grinding talc instead. During the resulting shift in production, the property aptly became the “White Mill.”
The Tomson brothers found an impressive amount of success during their tenure as property owners. In fact, they even built a couple additional edifices upon it. Chester eventually sold the property to the Clinton Water Supply Company in 1928. As far as production goes, this is where the mill’s story would end; however, as previously mentioned, the Mulligan Quarry business continued to operate until the 1960s. In addition to the Mulligans’ Lime Kilns, five of the early quarry buildings still stand today. These include the Quarry Office, Screen House, Dynamite Shed, Blacksmith Shop and Tenant House.
Jersey Through History: The Red Mill Museum Village of Today
The property became known as the Hunterdon Historical Museum in 1996. Then, six years later, the site became home to the Red Mill Museum Village. The Red Mill Museum Village, in full operation Tuesday through Sunday each week, is well worth a trip; it offers visitors a comprehensive look into the mill and quarry’s equally riveting histories. The museum’s outbuildings have been restored and maintained to preserve their timeless significance.
Patrons can wander the property, as well as the Carriage Sheds, Log Cabin, Bunker Hill Schoolhouse and more. These locations offer visitors insight into what life was like in Clinton more than a century ago. Along with the museum’s exhibitions and gift shop, they deliver fun and interesting facts and experiences; the resulting trip culminates as a unique journey into one of the most historic locations in the Garden State. If you’re looking to Jersey Through History, The Red Mill Museum Village is a must-stop.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ