Waterpower Drove America's Early Industry
The Great Falls of the Passaic River77 feet high and 260 feet wideare the heart of historically industrial Paterson, New Jersey. Their great power and raw energyas up to two billion gallons of water a day plunge into the gorgeinspired 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
Paterson Great Falls is a new national park area "in progress" with limited services and programs. Here you encounter a park in its infancyand 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
Getting to the Park
Source: NPS Brochure (2011)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
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
Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021