Paterson Great Falls
National Historical Park
New Jersey
Park Photo
NPS photo

Waterpower Drove America's Early Industry

The Great Falls of the Passaic River—77 feet high and 260 feet wide—are the heart of historically industrial Paterson, New Jersey. Their great power and raw energy—as up to two billion gallons of water a day plunge into the gorge—inspired Alexander Hamilton's vision to harness waterpower to manufacture goods in the infant United States.

Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton knew America could not be economically independent while depending on British manufactured goods. In 1792, his investment group, the Society for Useful Manufactures (SUM), began to develop Paterson, a planned industrial city. Canals, raceways, and spillways were built to drive its factories and build a US market economy.

Called "Silk City" in the heyday of its textile industry, Paterson's 100-plus factories employed thousands of skilled and unskilled laborers. Mills processed cotton, flax, paper, hemp, and jute fibers. Waterpower fueled Samuel Colt's first firearms factory. Union Pacific locomotive #119, built here, took part in the "Golden Spike" ceremony in Utah to open the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Paterson remained a hub for building aircraft engines through World War II.

Labor and management would clash in Paterson over long hours and harsh working conditions. An 1835 textile workers' strike, one of the nation's earliest labor actions, reduced the workday for children from 13½ to 11 hours. A six-month silk strike in 1913 focused on the threat of emerging technology and sought an eight-hour workday, but Paterson's silk workers would not win an eight-hour workday until 1919.

A succession of waves of immigrant workers drove Paterson's early growth and industrial might. Their talents and traditions created a diverse, vibrant culture. Immigrants still settle today in Paterson to pursue their versions of Hamilton's vision and to weave their threads into the city's fabric.

The Great Falls of Paterson became a National Natural Landmark in 1967, and part of Paterson was designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1976. The Great Falls raceway and power systems became a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark the next year. Established in 20t1, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park preserves and protects the heritage of this area along the Passaic River.

A Brand New Historical Park

park map
(click for larger map)

Paterson Great Falls is a new national park area "in progress" with limited services and programs. Here you encounter a park in its infancy—and you can return in coming years to watch it mature.

Don't miss seeing the Great Falls. Their beauty and power are central to Paterson's story. Trace the paths of the Passaic River and millraces. Take in the mill buildings' architecture in the National Historic Landmark District around the park. Or relax and reenergize by enjoying the natural features at the heart of this historic industrial city. Some structures, like the 1813 Phoenix Mill, Paterson's oldest mill, and the Rogers Locomotive buildings, have been rehabilitated for new uses as affordable housing and office space.

The Paterson Museum at 2 Market Street next to the park is a partner site of the National Park Service. Museum exhibits on Paterson history include textile machines, Colt revolvers, two steam locomotives, and the first modern submarine's prototype, which was tested in the Passaic River.

For a Safe Visit
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Be careful crossing busy streets. Lock all valuables out of sight in your car.

Getting to the Park
From the Garden State Parkway
Take exit 155P to Route 19 North. Go two miles and take I-80 West/Grand Street exit. Stay to right for Grand Street exit ramp. Turn left at light onto Grand. At second light on Grand turn right onto Spruce Street. At second light on Spruce bear right onto McBride Avenue Extension, then make immediate left into Great Falls Overlook parking area.
South: Take Exit 159 (Saddlebrook) onto I-80 West. Follow the I-80 West directions below.

From I-80
Take Exit 57 B-A. Follow the Downtown Paterson signs. Turn left at second light onto Cianci Street, and left at first light onto Market Street for ¼ mile. Turn right onto Spruce. Go one block and turn right onto McBride Avenue Extension, then immediately left into Great Falls Overlook parking area.
East: Take Exit 57B, circle onto Grand Street exit. At end of exit ramp turn left onto Grand. At second light on Grand turn right onto Spruce Street. At second light on Spruce bear right onto McBride Avenue Extension, then turn immediately left into the Great Falls Overlook parking area.

Source: NPS Brochure (2011)


Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park — November 7, 2011

For More Information
Please Visit The
Link to Official NPS Website

Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


Foundation Document, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, New Jersey (April 2018)

Foundation Document Overview, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, New Jersey (June 2018)

General Management Plan and Environmental Assessment, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (Draft, January 2016)

Great Falls Historic District, Paterson, New Jersey Special Resource Study (November 2006)

Junior Ranger Book, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (Date Unknown)

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form

Great Falls of the Passaic/Society for Establishing Usefull Manufactures (Great Falls/S.U.M. Historic District) (Russell I. Fries, February 9, 1976)

Handbooks ◆ Books expand section


Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021