Paterson Great Fall-National Historical Park /U.S. Department of the Interior
72 McBride Avenue
Paterson, NJ 07501
A trip to Paterson, NJ to see the Great Falls is an experience. Surrounded by the old mill buildings that once powered the Silk Industry that made Paterson world renowned, the Falls has been turned into a part of the National Park Service. The renovation has now been completed that includes new landscaping and a large parking lot. The surrounding park is as impressive as the Falls.
When walking the park, it is breathtaking to see how the Passaic River approaches the drop and then the water hitting the bottom of the cliffs. It is an impressive site of the how the Ice Age still plays a role in ‘Mother Nature’ in current times. Take time to walk through the park and travel over the bridges and through the landscaped parks to see the Falls through all angles. It is a spectacular park that does not get the credit it deserves. Paterson, NJ still has its issues but it does have a lot of gems too.
History of the Falls-The Formation and early history:
Geologically, the falls were formed at the end of the last Ice Age approximately 13,000 years ago. Formerly the Passaic River had followed a shorter course through the Watchung Mountains near present-day Summit. As the glacier receded, the river’s previous course was blocked by a newly formed moraine. A large lake, called Glacial Lake Passaic, formed behind the Watchungs.
As the ice receded, the river found a new circuitous route around the north end of the Watchungs, carving the spectacular falls through the underlying basalt, which was formed approximately 200 millions years ago. The Falls later became the site of a habitation for Lenape Native Americans, who called this homeland, ‘Acquackanonk’ and later for Dutch settlers in the 1690’s (Wiki).
History of Powering a Free Economy:
The Great Fall of the Passaic River drove the imagination of a young Alexander Hamilton to harness the power of water to manufacturer goods in the United States. The story of Paterson and the Great Falls is on of national importance. Here in 1792, Hamilton founded America’s first planned city of industry and innovation, helping to spur what would become the world’s largest and most productive economy (US Parks.org).
After the Revolutionary War, Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, knew this country needed to be economically independent. He led the founding of Paterson and the Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturers (S.U.M.), New Jersey’s first corporation. The S.U.M. constructed America’s first multitiered waterpower system to attract entrepreneurs and workers who would manufacture goods and develop new inventions. A system of water channels or raceways, the most significant power system of the day, diverted water from the Passaic River above the falls to mills along its route (US Parks.org).
The old Power Plant at the Paterson Falls
Paterson became the manufacturing hub for locomotives, textiles, silk finishing and dyeing, machines tools, paper, sailcloth, twine and airplane engines. By the mid-1800’s, the city was home to the largest producers of locomotives in this country and nearly half of the nation’s silk trade, earning Paterson the nickname “Silk City”. Paterson is also the birthplace of the Colt Revolver and the prototype for the first operable submarine (US Parks.org).
The S.U.M. fulfilled the vision of its founder for more than 150 years, moving the United States from an agrarian, slave-based economy to one based in industry and freedom. Paterson attracted successive waves of immigrant entrepreneurs, skilled craftsmen and workers, the ‘diversity of talents’ Hamilton had hoped would be drawn to America. Immigrants still settle here to pursue their ‘American Dream’ and to weave their threads into the storied fabric of Silk City (US Parks.org).
Visiting Paterson Great Falls:
Welcome to America’s first planned city of industry and innovation. Begin your visit at Overlook Park. View the iconic Great Falls and a monument to Paterson’s founder, Alexander Hamilton. Cross McBride Avenue to the Welcome Center where you can visit the facilities, purchase a gift and learn about tours and programs.
The beauty of the Falls
To get a close look at the river that powered Paterson to prominence, follow the path behind the hydroelectric plant over the Passaic footbridge to Mary Ellen Kramer Park. From there you can peek into Hinchliffe Stadium, one of the few remaining stadiums that hosted Negro League Baseball. Come back across the river, follow the short loop trail along Upper Raceway Park, ending at the Ivanhoe Wheelhouse. Walk across Spruce Street and visit the Paterson Museum, a park partner.
Exhibits include textile machinery, the first Colt firearms, steam locomotives and the first prototype of a submarine.
Regularly scheduled guided tours of the park are available during the summer season. From fall through late spring, reservations are required for all guided tours. You may also download a self-guided tour or smartphone app from our partner, the Hamilton Partnership at http://www.millmile.org.
Accessibility: We strive to make our facilities services and programs accessible to all. For information go to a visitor center, ask a ranger, call or check our website.
Firearms: For firearms regulations, check the park website.
Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
72 McBride Avenue
Paterson, NJ 07501
To learn more about the national parks, visit http://www.nps.gov.
Disclaimer: This information was taken from the National Parks Foundation pamphlet and I give the parks system full credit for the information. Please check out their blogs and website on the falls for more information on visiting the park. The parking lot is currently going through a renovation so call in advance of visiting the falls.