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History of Clifton

History of Clifton

Clifton’s heritage of agriculture, industry, and artisanship reflect the ingenuity and perseverance of the hundreds of generations that have lived here.  Throughout time people have been drawn to this place of beauty and bounty to make their homes, celebrate their lives, and share their talents and traditions.  Each era and each individual is woven into the tapestry of Clifton’s fabric and unique story.


An archaeological discovery in 1970 revealed the presence of Paleoamericans in Bosque County.  These members of North America’s founding human population are Bosque County’s oldest known inhabitants and some of the oldest in Texas.  A rare double burial site of an adult man and young girl was revealed in a deeply stratified rock shelter during the exploration.  The shelter, designated as Horn Shelter (hyperlink to Bosque Museum | Horn Shelter), dates from recent history to the Paleoamerican period, and radiocarbon dating places the age of the man and child to 11,700 years ago.

Native Americans 1300 – 1870

Three primary Native peoples occupied the Bosque River territory prior to white settlement – the Tonkawa; the Caddo; and the Tawakoni, Towash, and Waco branches of the Wichita.  Abundant resources of wildlife, water, and prairie attracted both nomadic and sedentary peoples.  The natives to Bosque County were peaceful with white settlers moving into the area and often assisted as guides.  The region was also the site of hunting and raiding parties of Comanche and other Plains nations.


In the early 1850’s American pioneers and European immigrants began to establish a permanent presence in Bosque County.  Expeditions into the area had revealed the richness of the land, and settlements appeared along its creeks and rivers.  In addition to Americans moving westward, European immigration increased across Texas and the Great Plains.  In 1854 a group of eighteen Norwegian immigrants, led by Cleng Peerson, settled west of Clifton in what is now the Norse Historic District.  By 1880, the Norwegian population in the county had grown to 1,000.  In 1883, families of German heritage moved into the community of Womack, east of Clifton.  Attracted by the fertile farmland, these families joined earlier pioneers of the area in developing an industrious agricultural community.  Many of these outlying settlement families were instrumental in business and civic matters in Clifton’s genesis. 

Old Town

Clifton was established in 1852 as a settlement along the east and west banks of the Bosque River north of the 1884 Whipple Truss Bridge.  The Old Rock School and over twenty homes and businesses comprised the village.  In 1868 a water mill was constructed on the west bank of the Bosque.  The mill furnished flour and meal to area settlers and the City of Waco; the mill later served as Clifton’s first electric power plant. Until the mill ceased operation in 1905 its presence attracted settlers and investors to the city.

New Clifton

In 1852 Marion Kell moved to Bosque County and acquired the W.H. King Survey.  A large portion of present-day Clifton was part of that survey and one of Kell’s richest farms.  The Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railway purchased land from Kell in 1880 and built its depot approximately a mile to the south of Old Town.  After the railroad was completed through Clifton in 1881, commercial development increased closer to the depot; and, in 1882, Old Town merchants moved en masse to Clifton’s present location, and it was at this time that many of the structures in Clifton’s Downtown Commercial Historic District were built. The mill in “Old Town” Clifton then later the railroad in present-day Clifton attracted trade and civic investment; and Clifton emerged as a leader in Bosque County commerce, supporting numerous smaller communities scattered across the countryside.

Chisholm Trail  (hyperlink to TSHA | Chisholm Trail (

From 1867 to 1884, Texas cattle were driven north to market in Abilene, Kansas, along a trail that began on the Rio Grande.  Cattlemen named the trail after Jesse Chisholm, whose wagon tracks to trading camps created a path for herders to follow.  In Waco, the Suspension Bridge provided passage across the Brazos River – at a hefty price.  Some trail bosses opted to drive their herds through Bosque County to a crossing at Kimball Bend, with good grazing to fatten up their herd before the long trip across the plains.  The cowboys and cattle brought good business and great excitement to Clifton and other towns along the trail.  

The 20th Century to the Present

Many of the families that helped to establish Clifton remained in the community.  These families and those who have joined them have worked diligently and passionately together to create a thriving, generous community that is rich with traditions of the past and bright with hopes for the future.  As Clifton grew in citizenry, it also grew in amenities.  Careful to address economic, cultural, and spiritual balance, Clifton’s community leaders have established excellent healthcare and education systems, strong business practices, a burgeoning art and history community, a rich spirit of philanthropy, and a dedication to community service and quality of life.

Do you want to learn more about Clifton’s unique story?  Visit the sites below and the resources listed on your right.