Meredith Hyland’s story reads a bit like a modern fairy tale. While she was working for Citibank in Paris in 2008, she met Brahim Sadouni. Six months later they married, honeymooning in Provence. A year later, they moved to Clinton, N.J., where Ms. Hyland had lived as a teenager and considered home, buying a small house on the most sought-after street in town.
By 2013, the couple had opened Fourchette, a cheese-and-olive-oil shop on Main Street. They expanded into linens and housewares, and bought the downtown building that housed their store. In 2015, they sold their home and bought the one three doors down, a four-bedroom 1830s house that backs up to the Raritan River, for $520,000. Soon after, they learned that the woman they bought it from had also lived in their previous house, 40 years earlier.
If you’re wondering why anyone would leave the City of Lights for a 1.3-square-mile town in central New Jersey, it makes perfect sense to the couple.
“A lot of people seek out this type of lifestyle,” said Ms. Hyland, 44, who left banking in 2021 to focus on Fourchette, which now has a second store (and will soon have a third). “Clinton is a small but elegant town, where everybody is interested in the good things in life.”
Mr. Sadouni, 55, who grew up on a farm in Algeria, has also embraced Clinton, she said: “He’s passionate about the people here, and has quite a following. People bring their children in to see the cheese man.”
While Ms. Hyland was familiar with Clinton, many people first encounter this bucolic Hunterdon County town as tourists, visiting the eclectic shops on Main Street and the two 19th-century mills-turned-museums that face each across the river. Some end up staying.
“People move here from all over the country,” said Brian Glynn, 78, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway, who lives just outside of town. “It’s quaint, historical and the people are really friendly.”
Kierra and Anthony Grippa were living in Westchester County when they discovered Clinton after searching online for “cute towns in N.J.,” to find a midway spot to meet a friend from Pennsylvania for lunch. “When we first came, I said, ‘I want to live here,’ never thinking we’d actually end up here,” recalled Ms. Grippa, 41, a special-education teacher in New York City who grew up in Southern California.
When Mr. Grippa, now 41, got a job at Rutgers University Foundation, in New Brunswick, N.J., two years ago, the couple began thinking about buying their first house. They looked in Westchester and Central New Jersey before making an offer on a 1998 townhouse in Clinton with three bedrooms and a finished basement. They closed in December, paying $405,000.
“This was a no-brainer,” Ms. Grippa said. “We were getting everything we were looking for — living in a beautiful area, close to my husband’s job and still only an hour from the city. And we paid about half of what it would cost for the same kind of house in Westchester.”
She wanted her family, including a 3-year-old and 1-year-old, to experience the sense of community that comes with living in a small town, and to have access to the nature that surrounds Clinton. “I love the idea of being somewhere that is suburban and rural. We go to the farm stands and visit the alpaca farm,” she said. “They’re getting a taste of art and culture, but in a five- or 10-minute drive, you’re on a farm or in nature.”
What You’ll Find
The town of Clinton is small and historic — not to be confused with the exurban, 34-square-mile Clinton Township that surrounds it. It sits beside limestone cliffs and the Spruce Run Reservoir, and is bisected by Interstate 78 and the South Branch Raritan River. The 175-acre Clinton Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, runs east-west along Main and Center Streets, and north-south along Leigh Street.
Two of the oldest buildings are the Red Mill, an 1810 structure at the Center of Red Mill Museum Village, one of the most photographed sites in the state, and Dunham’s Mill, an 1836 stone gristmill that is now home to the Hunterdon Art Museum. Nearby is the Clinton House, one of the oldest continually operating restaurants in New Jersey.
Center Street slopes uphill from the downtown commercial district, offering numerous examples of Colonial, Federal, Italianate and Victorian architecture, although houses on this highly desirable street rarely come on the market, Mr. Glynn said: “When people get these places, they don’t want to give them up.”
Beyond the historic core are residential neighborhoods with more modest, mid-20th-century houses and newer pocket developments south of I-78. Halstead Place, a 35-unit apartment complex that opened in 2017, is near the town’s northern border. Another apartment complex, View 22, will soon open on the site of an A. & P. supermarket on Old Route 22, offering 120 apartments, 24 of them classified as affordable.
Homes and businesses near the Raritan River are in a flood zone, and some have been battered during recent storms. Janice Kovach, Clinton’s mayor and a lifelong resident, said she is keenly aware of her town’s appeal to tourists and her role in sustaining that relationship, while answering to her constituents. “We’re a community driven by museums and small businesses, and we want to ensure their continued economic viability,” Ms. Kovach said. “But our broader goal is to maintain what we have — the charm and beauty of this place.”
What You’ll Pay
Few homes in this town of about 2,700 residents are on the market at any given time. In the second week of March, there were just four: a three-bedroom 1870 Victorian listed for $450,000, a three-bedroom 1953 ranch listed for $495,000, a three-bedroom townhouse unit for $410,000, and a two-bedroom townhouse unit for $153,320. There were also two quarter-acre lots for sale, for $170,000 each.
In 2022, 27 single-family houses sold for a median price of $500,000, a 13.6 percent increase from 2021, when more than 35 houses sold for a median of $440,000, according to data from New Jersey Realtors. During the same period, the median price of townhouses increased 15.5 percent: 11 sold in 2022 for a median of $381,000, while 15 sold in 2021 for a median of $330,000.
In the second week of March, three apartments at Halstead Place were listed for rent, from $1,840 for a one-bedroom to $4,225 for a large two-bedroom.
The Main Street Bridge, a steel-truss span built in 1870 that seems more appropriate for carriages than cars, leads right into Clinton’s vibrant shopping district, where colorful and architecturally appealing buildings house quirky places like Karen’s Dollhouse Shop, Kilhaney’s Pickles, Charlie’s Bootery and Designer Dawgs hot dog shop.
On one corner is the popular gathering spot Citispot Tea & Coffee, where owner Mark Zhutianli brews specialty coffees while working on the script for his next film, a documentary about the town. “We have many very talented and artistic people here, and this documentary is meant to highlight that,” said Mr. Zhutianli, 53, who moved to Clinton from New York City 22 years ago.
Many of the town’s cultural activities take place at the two museums, while the river draws a sporting crowd for the opening day of trout fishing in early April and for the annual rubber ducky races in early July.
Students in prekindergarten through eighth grade who live in Clinton or neighboring Glen Gardner attend Clinton Public School. During the 2020-21 school year, the school enrolled 426 students, 71 percent of whom identified as white, 18 percent as Hispanic, 6 percent as Asian and 4 percent as Black.
For high school, Clinton and Glen Gardner students can choose to attend North Hunterdon Regional High School in Annandale or Voorhees High School in Glen Gardner, where they are joined by others from 10 municipalities.
Both schools are highly ranked and offer 23 Advanced Placement courses. In 2020-21, North Hunterdon enrolled about 1,350 students; the average SAT scores were 598 in reading and writing and 602 in math. In 2020-21, Voorhees High School had about 816 students; the average SAT scores were 578 in reading and writing and 576 in math. (State averages were 578 in reading and writing and 576 in math.)
A 36,000-square-foot polytechnic facility is currently being built at North Hunterdon Regional High School, to expand the vocational programs.
Private school options include Immaculate Conception School, a Catholic school in Annandale for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, and Hunterdon Preparatory School, an Annandale school offering individualized instruction for students in seventh through 12th grade.
Commuters can drive to New York City, about 52 miles east, on I-78, a trip that takes about 75 minutes. Most opt to catch the Trans-Bridge Lines bus on Center Street, which makes the trip to Port Authority in Manhattan in a little over an hour and costs about $35 one way or $495 for a 30-ride pass.
New Jersey Transit offers train service from Annandale; the trip takes less than two hours. Tickets are $16.25 one way or $463 for a monthly pass.
In October of 1891, a fire raged for several days on Main Street. Because the town had no fire department of its own, the mayor called for help from neighboring towns, and more than a dozen businesses and structures were lost. Six months later, the Clinton Steam Engine Company No. 1 was formed; many of its 40 charter members were merchants who had lost their businesses in the fire. Its first act was to buy a hand- or horse-pulled steam engine, with water to be supplied by the river.
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