20 September 2012

The Clement Clawson, Jr. Building, Part Two

When Hillsborough Township's first municipal building opened in 1931, there was no special dedication ceremony or any formal acknowledgement of the man without whose help the project would have never gotten off the ground.  Perhaps it's time to rectify that.


Hillsborough Township's first municipal building, photographed in the first decades after opening in 1931.

It was earlier that year that township resident Clement Clawson, Jr. realized he could use his connections as the local administrator for the WPA to get the federal government to pay for the construction of a municipal building for Hillsborough - the first in its history.  This was just the type of "shovel ready" project the WPA was looking for to combat depression-era unemployment, and the Township Committee readily agreed to the plan.

When interviewed by the Somerset Messenger Gazette in 1971, Clawson remembered what he told the committee when he showed up at a subsequent meeting and learned that they hadn't fulfilled their commitment to the project - acquiring the land and hiring an architect.  In fact, they had done nothing at all for two months:

"Now look, today is Monday, and come Friday morning I will receive a wire appropriating the necessary funds.  And I must reply immediately to confirm we will begin the following Monday morning!"
Some fruitless discussion followed concerning a location for the building with the committee favoring the site of the old Poor Farm - the only available property owned by the township.  Clawson insisted that the feds would never approve a location so far from the center of the township, and set out, committee in tow, to look at more centrally located sites.

Their first and last stop was the Mikula farm on the original Amwell Rd. - now renamed East Mountain Rd. - near the intersection with South Branch Rd.  Coincidentally, or maybe not considering its prime location, this was very near the old Jacob Flagg tavern, one of the town fathers' favored meeting places of the 18th century.

After some explanation at Mrs. Mikula's front door and a visit to the Johns-Manville plant to see her husband - who thought he was headed to the boss's office to be fired when he was called off the line - the site was secured.

The original architect's plan was cut by about 50% by a frugal township committee - who were responsible for materials cost - a move that was regretted within a year or two when they ran out of space for records storage and a larger garage had to be added.


Despite reducing the overall size of the building, an engineer's error put ten feet of the building over the property line (!), necessitating a property swap with the cooperative Mikulas, who gave up the ten foot strip in exchange for regaining some acreage at the rear of the property.

The humble building, which now serves as the home of Hillsborough's Department of Public Works, has served Hillsborough well for over 80 years.  And it was mostly due to the vision of one young man, Clement Clawson, who prodded and pushed until it was done.

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