With a year-round population today of just over 150 people, the Village of Clifton is actually located along the borders of Clark and Green Counties, Clifton has gained national notoriety because of one feature: its grist mill, commonly known as Clifton Mill.
Clifton Mill is one of the nation's oldest operating grist mills, but in truth, this is not the reason for its notoriety. Nor is it the fact that Ohio State University Coach Woody Hayes was born here. The main reason for its popularity is because of how this historical building and its surrounding property is decorated for Christmas.
The village of Clifton was named for the high rocky bluffs created by melting glaciers 1000s of years ago. Today the remnants of the melting ice is the Little Miami River. This natural channel made the area an ideal location for a water-powered mills common to Ohio during the 19th Century. In fact, a number of water-powered mills were built in and around Clifton, even years before the village was first laid out.
In 1833 Timothy Bates and Bennet Lewis, two men who owned a general store in what would become the village of Clifton, had purchased the the surrounding land. They surveyed and plotted 32 lots which were laid out in a manner they called "square with the world."
High hopes surrounded the founding of the village. Within two years most of the original 32 lots had buildings occupying them. Even an opera house would be built in the village that could seat more than 500 people. It was generally believed that a new railroad was going to pass through the village which meant the village of Clifton would become even more viable. Unfortunately, when the railroad was actually constructed some years later, it was located 3 miles west of Clifton and the small village of Yellow Springs was built. This fact cast a shadow over Clifton that would remain for decades. In fact, even today the village closely approximates the original layout with a about half of the population originally living here.
Clifton's first mill was established in 1802 and was known as Davis Mill and was a woolen mill. When the War of 1812 began, Robert Patterson, who was the owner of the mill at that time, became Quartermaster for the new army. Because of that position, Patterson was able to secure the contract for his mill to provide the cloth for the new uniforms. Over the following years a number of mills were built in Clifton.
Today, Clifton is known for Clifton Mill, Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, and as Woody Hayes' birthplace.
For any fan of collegiate football, the name of Coach Woody Hayes certainly occupies an important spot in halls of Ohio football. It's probably hard to imagine Coach Hayes as a tiny baby, but on February 14, 1913, Wayne Woodrow Hayes ("Woody") was born to Wayne B. and Effie Hayes in Clifton, Ohio. Woody was the youngest of 3 and not long after his birth, the family moved to Newcomerstown located east of Coshocton. He would later attend and graduate from Denison University.
Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve
Just west of Clifton is the 268 acre preserve that is also registered as a National Natural Landmark. It is located on SR 343. The preserve has set aside several scenic waterfalls as well as some rapids on the Little Miami River. The preserve is especially interesting in the spring during the wildflower blooms. No Pets are permitted.
Today Clifton Mill is an especially seasonal attraction for people from across the country with their outstanding Christmas light spectacular. The mill itself dates back to the early 1800s and is one of the oldest continuously operating grist mills in the state.
Clifton Mill has reached national fame as being one of the top-10 Christmas lighting attractions in the country and for good reason (USA Today's 10 Best Readers Choice in 2014). When the switch is flipped on the first evening after Thanksgiving each year, approximately 4 million Christmas lights brighten the night sky. The lighting extravaganza runs through December 31.