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Clifton is the largest city located in Bosque County Texas. With a 2020 population of 3,434, it is the 453rd largest city in Texas and the 5822nd largest city in the United States. Spanning over 2 miles, Clifton has a population density of 1,680 people per square mile.
The average household income in Clifton is $61,834 with a poverty rate of 19.95%. The median rental costs in recent years comes to $834 per month, and the median house value is $87,000. The median age in Clifton is 49.1 years, 43.4 years for males, and 53.4 years for females.
Clifton was founded in the winter of 1852–1853, when the families of Frank Kell, Joseph A. Kemp, Samuel and Monroe Locker, and T. A. McSpadden settled in the vicinity. The town was named Cliff Town after the surrounding limestone cliffs. Over the years the name was altered to Clifton. The site was originally on the banks of Clear Branch. The Masonic lodge hall and a log schoolhouse were the first public buildings. The post office was established in 1859. The First Presbyterian Church of Clifton was organized in 1861 and is the county’s oldest church in continuous service. The Baptists built the first church building in Clifton in 1884–85. After the Civil War, Joel Martin Stinnett (1806-1875), the grandfather of Joseph Kemp, built a flour mill powered by the Bosque River. In 1868, this mill was replaced by a limestone mill, which was converted to the electric power plant that provided the first electricity for Clifton homes and businesses. A three-story school known as Rock School was built about 1870 and served the community for more than twenty years. In 1893, a new building was constructed on property donated to the Clifton school system.
In 1880 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway built a station a mile south of Clifton. Merchants moved their businesses closer to the railroad station, and the town thrived as a business and trade center. The Merchant Exchange and Flour Mill, the first steam flour mill in the Bosque valley, was established in 1887 or 1888. The Clifton Record, a newspaper that began publishing in 1895 under the ownership of W. C. O’Brian, continued to serve the community. Clifton served as the county seat between 1890 and 1892. Clifton Lutheran College, later known as Clifton College, opened in 1896. The community was incorporated in 1901. An earlier attempt at incorporation in 1891 failed when the election results were declared invalid. A fire on December 23, 1906, destroyed a large portion of the business district, which was eventually rebuilt. The Clifton Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1907. The town’s need for a hospital was met by Dr. V. D. Goodall and Dr. S. L. Witcher, who formed the Goodall-Witcher Hospital in 1938, which is still operating today along with the Clifton Clinic. The Lutheran Sunset Home for the elderly was established in Clifton in 1954.
In May 1997, the Texas Legislature officially designated Clifton as the Norwegian Capital of Texas. Clifton and the surrounding area was settled by Norwegian immigrants in the mid-19th century. The nearby community of Norse is the final resting place of Cleng Peerson, commonly recognized as the “Father of Norwegian Immigration to America.” The founder of Norse was Ole Canuteson (Ole Knudsen) from the Stavanger region of Norway.
Visitors to Clifton may explore the vast collection of pioneer Norwegian articles at the Bosque Memorial Museum, or take the Cleng Peerson Memorial Highway west to the Norse Historic District. Sites along the route include many 19th century homes and churches. Among them is Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, which was established in 1869. The church is the annual site of the Norse Smorgasbord, a feast of traditional foods introduced to the area by Norwegian settlers. Further down the road a Lutefisk dinner is held annually in Cranfills Gap, near the site of the historic St. Olaf Kirke, often called the Old Rock Church The City of Clifton was officially designated a Cultural District by the Texas Commission on the Arts and the State of Texas on Saturday, October 22, 2011. Clifton is home to the Bosque Arts Center. Housed in a restored three-story building that was the former Main Hall of Clifton College, the organization offers a local outlet for visual and performing arts unique for a city of Clifton’s size. Among its many offerings are a performing theater, classes in a variety of subjects, an annual photography show and a nationally recognized art show, the Conservatory Art Classic. Clifton has twice been designated as one of the top 100 small art communities in the nation. It is home to nationally recognized artists, including several members of the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America. Artist Merritt Mauzey received the first Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in fine arts ever awarded to a Texan in 1946.