Long before it appeared on post cards or in wedding photos, the iconic Red Mill in Clinton became part of the community starting in the early 1800s.
“It’s such an integral piece of the heritage of Hunterdon County and New Jersey, and it pulls at your heart strings if you’re from here,” said Red Mill Museum Village Assistant Director Marie Salthouse.
Around 1810, the oldest section of the Red Mill was built to process wool.
“It failed due to imports of cloth and material. I always say history is relevant to today’s world because that’s why business failed and served as gristmill under many owners for many different years. It really was a point of commerce for Hunterdon County for many years. It failed as a graphite mill because of public outrage, once called the ‘Black Mill,'” said Paul Muir, Red Mill Museum Village executive director.
Locals complained about the black dust, so eventually the owner, Chester Tomson, began grinding talc. In 1928, Tomson sold the mill to the Clinton Water Supply Company. Decades later, five local men determined to honor a piece of history and purchased the Red Mill, restored it and opened the property as a museum. There are 12 buildings on site, including a screen house where stone from the onsite quarry was crushed and sorted. Today, there is still a blacksmith on the job.
“It’s the center of activity [and the] hottest show in town!” said blacksmith Paul Salvetti.
“The blacksmith was core of the operation because if something was broken, he was the first person you would go to make the part or to make the repair,” said Muir.
Salvetti says for most visitors there’s a sensory aspect.
“First off, there’s the smell. It smells wonderful. It’s kind of cold and dark in here, so it plays with your eyes. If you’re in here long enough you can taste it, hear the ring and get to watch metal transform from just a piece of lump into something interesting,” he said.
About 20,000 people now visit the Red Mill Museum Village each year including thousands of school kids. With 10 acres of property and a dozen buildings, there’s a lot to explore. The majority of the buildings are original.
“I’d love people to think of the impact it had in New Jersey, and what the importance of the economy and what that economy did for the society for Clinton, Hunterdon County, and really through the state of New Jersey. This represents the core and the foundation of local communities throughout the entire state,” said Muir. “It really is still today the foundation of the community. It’s a place where people can come and learn, they can come and share in the community and share in some camaraderie also. It still very much serves as the foundation of the economy in a much different way in tourism and historic aspects.”
Staffers hope visitors leave the Red Mill Museum Village with a new respect for history.
“History is still alive and this place isn’t static. In the past, it’s part of who we are now and there are pieces we can carry on for future generations too,” said Salthouse.