19 September 2012

The Clement Clawson, Jr. Building, Part One

Maybe it's time to rename Hillsborough's first Municipal Building, the seat of our township government for six decades, in memory of the young man whose singular effort made the building possible.

Hillsborough Township's first Municipal Building photographed in 2012.
 It was near the beginning of the Great Depression in 1931 that twenty-eight-year-old Clement Clawson, Jr. - son of the mechanical genius vending machine pioneer and a successful businessman in his own right - found himself in the enviable position of being able to do a great good for Hillsborough Township. 

As Somerset County supervisor of emergency relief, he was also the federal administrator for local Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects.  The WPA was a depression era federal program designed to fund "shovel-ready" projects, and put the unemployed to work.  It occurred to Clawson that there was a project right here in Hillsborough - the construction of a much needed municipal building.

From the time of Hillsborough's charter in 1771 - and indeed since the first settlement in the area decades earlier - the town's governing body met wherever it was convenient.  For most of the early period, that meant an annual meeting at the home of a township committeeman, or at a local tavern or inn.  In the later years, space was rented as needed at the Neshanic Hotel or elsewhere.

Full and part time employees, such as the tax collecter and township clerk, simply worked out of their homes.  Township owned road equipment was stored anywhere space could be found.

Clawson realized that the WPA would pay all of the labor costs for a town hall.  All the township had to do, he explained at the next monthly committee meeting, was provide the land and building materials, and hire an engineer and architect.  Clawson would file the paperwork and wait for the funds to come in.  The three-person Township Committee readily agreed to the plan.

But after a couple of months had passed with no update from the township committee on their progress, Clawson went to the next public meeting to find out what was going on.  Incredibly, the committee had completely forgotten about the plan, and hadn't done a thing!

To be continued.....

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