Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Sunday, December 18, 2011

New National Park: Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the chance to take a short trip over to Paterson, NJ to visit America's newest National Park site; Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.   Anyone who knows me, knows that that I have always had a love for our National Parks, and all they do to protect and interpret our natural and cultural past.  So, I certainly couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit a "new" Park.

Paterson Great Falls - Dave Maher

As a native of the Garden State, I was aware of the Falls, but I had never before visited them, or knew of its, and Paterson's prominent role in the birth of the industrial might of the United States.  In the earliest days of the nation, Alexander Hamilton saw the importance of the water power that could be harnessed by the 77ft drop (2nd highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River), by creating the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.).  He realized that to become truly independent from Great Britain, the United States would have to have the industry in place to create what it needed to thrive.  Soon, mills, power plants, and other industries sprung up near the Falls, making the growing city of Paterson a true powerhouse.  Due to the abundance of silk mills near the Falls, Paterson soon became nicknamed "the Silk City."

However, it wasn't just silk that was produced there.  In the 1830s, Samuel Colt's first production facility was located along the Passaic River, near the falls.  It was here that the very first models of his revolving hand gun would be produced.  The Colt plant is largely in ruins today, but there are plans to stabilize and reconstruct some portions, as well as turn other parts into an archaeological "park within a park."  [The Colt Mill was placed on Preservation New Jersey's "Most Endangered" List in 1995]  During the Civil War, steam locomotives were produced in Paterson at a staggering rate of nearly one per day.  In 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, Engine No. 119 (on the right of the image below), which was built by the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works in Paterson, was present at the "Golden Spike" ceremony, marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. 

"Golden Spike" ceremony -

In 1967, the Great Falls was named as a National Natural Landmark.

In 1976, a part of Paterson, including the Falls, became a National Historic Landmark.

In 1977, the raceway and power systems at the Falls were named as a National Civil Engineering Landmark.

And finally, in 2009, a commission was established to include the Great Falls into the nation's remarkable National Park system.  In November of 2011, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park was officially designated.  Over the next several years, the National Park Service, and the community will plan for the park's interpretation and conservation, and make it one of the NPS's "must see" parks.  The city of Paterson, hoping to experience a tourism boom, is very excited to share their Falls with the rest of the world.

Currently there are no Park staff on site, and signage and interpretation are limited, but if you ever find yourself driving I-80 in NE New Jersey, make a quick stop and visit this great collection of industrial history and natural beauty.

Also, be sure to check out nearby attractions such as Hinchcliffe Stadium [which was placed on Preservation New Jersey's "Most Endangered" list in 1997, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Most Endangered Historic Places" list in 2010], and the statue to Paterson native Lou Costello

Please check out these related links:
Paterson Friends of the Great Falls
Paterson Museum

A news story from 2009 about the Great Falls

A video of the Nov 7, 2011 dedication, and the behind the scenes story of making a National Park site

A video I put together of some of the pics and video I took during my visit to the Great Falls

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