Reprinted from .....Images of America: Clayton
Written by Christopher Gassler and Clayton Historic Preservation, Inc.
Clayton's roots began how most stories of American small towns begin: with a family of immigrants. In 1730, Felix Fisler, along with his wife, Barbara, two sons, Jacob and Leonard, and two daughters, Usley and Elizabeth, left their home in Suisenlin, Switzerland, and booked passage on a ship headed for the New World. Aboard the same ship were Sophia Klein and her parents. When the captain of the ship had Sophia's parents killed for their money, Felix Fisler paid the fare for Sophia so she would not be sold as chattel when the ship docked. Sophia then became associated with the family, and 14 years later, Sophia married Jacob Fisler, Felix's son.
After their wedding, Jacob and Sophia Fisler settled near Swedesboro, New Jersey. They lived along the banks of the Delaware River and raised 11 children. During the Revolutionary War, the family fell victim when British soldiers stole the Fislers' cattle and even took some of their younger sons as servants. Jacob eventually purchased 2,800 acres of land near present day Cedar Green Cemetery in Clayton, built a home, and moved inland with his family and their possessions.
Three of Fislers' sons - Felix, Jacob, Jr. and Leonard - served in the army during the Revolutionary War. In addition to the family's first cabin, a second cabin was built where Jacob and his sons would stay when coming home from war. At the time, the town where the second cabin was located consisted of five homes, all located on the land between the Malaga Turnpike (now Delsea Drive), Route 47, and the "Road to Fries' Mill" or "Road to Fislers' Mill," which is now named Academy Street. The crossroads were known as Fisler Town..
After the Revolutionary War, Jacob and his son Leonard jointly bought 3,755 acres, expanding Fisler territory from the land near the Clayton cemetery westward to Aura. Leonard built a home on this land by Still Run Creek, which is now called Silver Lake. Jacob's younger sons moved to the land west of Still Run. The family also owned the land eastward of the cemetery to Fries' Mill and had a homestead next to the lake.
As their territory expanded in size, it also grew in population. More and more families moved to the area, and by 1812, thirty-six families had settled in Fisler Town. Jacob Fisler, now a doctor, donated 4 acres to be used for a facility that would serve as a school by day and a meetinghouse for religious and civic gatherings in the evenings. This new building was called the Useful School House and housed the Methodist church meeting until a church was erected.
In 1847, Francis Wilson bought 1,600 acres of land, which he named Fries' Mill for himself and some other farmers. On his newly purchased land, a sawmill was built, along with a bridge over the stream. A corduroy road, or "pole road", was built to connect Fries' Mill with Fisler Town. In addition to his farm and the sawmill, Wilson also had a store located in this area. He opened up his home to be used as a school during the day, a place for prayer meetings every Friday night, and a location for Presbyterian church services on Sunday mornings. Eventually a small schoolhouse was built in the vicinity. The lake located by Wilson's farm was renamed Wilson Lake in his honor.
With growth comes change, and in 1850, the name Fisler Town was altered to Fislerville. In addition to the name change, there was another transformation in town that shaped the community for years to come: Fislerville Glassworks was built by Dr. Jacob Fisler and Benjamin Beckett, which prompted exponential growth in this tiny town. In 1851, Edmund P. Bacon bought Beckett's shares of the business, but in 1855 Bacon was killed in a train accident. In time, the glassworks went into foreclosure and the business was sold to John M. Moore, who, at the time, had rented buildings from Fisler. Later Moore's brother, D. W. Moore, joined him as a partner in the business. The Moore brothers' glass factory was well known and its workers continued successfully blowing until 1911, when hard times took glassblowing westward.
John Moore owned a considerable amount of land around Fislerville on which he laid roads leading from town to the outskirts, specifically to farms that he rented. During slack times at the glass factory, Moore kept his workers busy by having them clear and prepare the land for roads. He also bought Fisler and Harding Pond - later renamed Moore's Lake and now called Silver Lake - located on the west side of town. Moore was very instrumental in the growth and upkeep of Fislerville during these booming years..
In 1858, Fislerville became a part of Clayton Township, which also contained the towns of Glassboro and Aura. In 1860, the West Jersey Railroad was built from Millville to Clayton Township. In 1862, Fislerville changed names again, now called Clayton for Clayton Township,. The origin of the name Clayton is still a mystery. Some say it is derivative from the white clay deposits found around the town, others say it is named after the Clayton family, whose daughter Hannah married Col. Charles Heston of Revolutionary War fame. By the later half of the 19th century, Clayton was regarded as one of the most affluent towns in south Jersey.