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Great Falls State Park
History - News Center
New Urban State Park in Master Planning Phase

December 26, 2007 (rt23 news) - The New Jersey State Park System administers over four dozen parks, forests, and recreation areas and more than fifty historic sites and districts. These special places annually host more than 17 million visitors. Recognizing that Liberty State Park is the state’s only true urban state operated and managed park, New Jersey recently designated new urban state parks in Paterson and Trenton. These sites were selected recognizing the importance of public open space and quality recreation in our urban areas. The two new state parks are currently in the master planning phase following a national design competition.

Photo by Gianfranco Archimede of Paterson. 3rd Place Winner. 2006 National Park Service National Natural Landmark Photo Contest

The story of Paterson and the surrounding region centers on the Great Falls and the Passaic River—a place of precious aesthetics incredible beauty and one of New Jersey’s greatest natural assets that supported the establishment of America’s industrial revolution. The Great Falls, at approximately seventy-seven feet tall, rushing up to two billion gallons of water each day off of basalt cliffs, is the second largest waterfall by volume and width east of the Mississippi River. The Great Falls is an aesthetic attraction, but its prominence extends to its utility at the dawn of our new nation.

In 1778, during the American Revolutionary War while at the Falls with General George Washington, Alexander Hamilton had a vision to create a “New National Manufactory.” By 1791, Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, formed an investment group, the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures, or S.U.M., and selected the Great Falls as the place to found America’s first planned industrial city. Previously dependent on foreign industrial powers, the planning and development of Paterson was America’s first attempt to develop an industry-based city in a previously solely agrarian economy. Hamilton enlisted the services of Pierre L’Enfant (the French-born architect and engineer then busy laying out Washington, DC) to plan Paterson and develop a mechanism to harness the Falls’ energy. L’Enfant’s efforts, carried on by Peter Colt, resulted in the three-tiered water raceway system. Historic mills, mostly established in the Allied Textile and Printing (“ATP”) site and along the raceway system, were constructed and operated during the late eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of these historic mills were where some of America’s first manufacturing products were produced.

For nearly 150 years, Paterson was recognized as a center for the production for major manufacturing products, including Colt’s revolver, Thomas Rogers’ steam locomotive, John Philip Holland’s submarine, Charles Lindbergh’s engine and the silk industry. By the late nineteenth century, silk production gave Paterson its most prosperous period, earning it the nickname “Silk City” as by the early twentieth century, Paterson manufactured over half of America’s silk. Paterson’s pride was such that when a fire and flood, occurring months apart early in the last century, devastated the city, Paterson refused offers of outside help. Paterson is also prominent in labor history. Workers were so organized that their Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 became a milestone of the American Labor Movement. With the demise of its industrial base after World War II, Paterson’s economic prowess declined significantly; today, however, it remains culturally vibrant as it continues to attract new classes of immigrants from around the world.

Since its inception, Paterson has fostered a culture that befits its industrial renown. In the nineteenth century, Paterson was one of America’s fastest growing cities, as European immigrants streamed into its bustling factories. The many cultures that came formed a new culture with significant yields. Renowned poet Allen Ginsburg and comedian Lou Costello called it home and invoked it often. The poet William Carlos Williams was so impressed with Paterson that he personified it in his epic poem “Paterson”, in which the mantra “no ideas but in things” prevails. Paterson has always been gateway community for immigrants from many countries, where lifelong bonds were and still are made in the city’s historic neighborhoods. Today, Paterson’s neighborhoods are as diverse as ever, as Latino and Asian immigrants comprise the new major immigrant groups. Their restaurants draw those throughout the New York City metropolitan area in search of delicious Middle Eastern, South American or African American Cuisine, helping Paterson live up to its renowned status as one of America’s melting pots.

Indeed, Paterson’s storied history is integrally linked with the Great Falls and the Passaic River. Paterson’s future will also be shaped by how well a reconnection is made with this natural and historic resource. The waterpower that at the dawn of our new nation drew industry and innovation will now be utilized to draw tourists, visitors and the local community.

Posted by: Staff at
December 26, 2007

Great Falls State Park

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