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Great Falls - Overlook

A statue of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers (you will recognize him from the ten-dollar bill), rightly takes a place of honor here. As the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton chose to implement a new economic vision for America at the Great Falls. Hamilton founded Paterson to create an economy that required not slavery but freedom, that rewarded not social status but hard work, and that promoted not discrimination against some but opportunities for all.

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Great Falls - Overlook

Born to unwed parents on a Caribbean island, Alexander Hamilton was the child of a father who deserted the family and a mother who died when he was twelve years old. Rejected from the local school on his island because of his “disreputable” family background, Hamilton was tutored by a local woman. While clerking for a trading business, some islanders recognized his potential and took up a collection to send him to New York for a formal education. He left college to fight in the Revolutionary War, rose quickly to become General Washington’s most trusted aide, and later became the new nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

Hamilton believed that America could never be
truly free from Britain, nor from any other foreign
oppressor, as long as the nation remained dependent on foreign goods. Long after the British surrendered, America remained heavily dependent on
England for virtually everything from clothing to military supplies. To strengthen the new nation, Hamilton created a strategy to secure economic independence and founded the city of Paterson in 1792 to begin implementing his plan.

Hamilton took the lead in establishing New Jersey’s first corporation, the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.). The S.U.M. acquired the necessary land and constructed America’s first waterpower system to attract entrepreneurs and workers who would incubate new inventions. The New Jersey Legislature charted the S.U.M. and Governor William Paterson signed it into existence on November 22, 1791.

Two years earlier, Congress had asked Hamilton to prepare a report on how America could promote manufacturing. In December 1791, shortly after establishing the S.U.M., Hamilton submitted his Report on Manufactures, a vision for how manufacturing could invigorate economic activity and make the new nation economically independent. Hamilton wrote, “not only the wealth, but the independence and security of a country, appear to be materially connected with the prosperity of manufacturers.”

The Report outlined how the S.U.M. would translate Hamilton’s ideas into actions, and called for a wide variety of industries—including cotton, sailcloth, flax, hemp, paper, nails, steel and iron work for carriages, and silk. Paterson would become a leading manufacturer in every one of these industries.

The S.U.M.’s founders faced some early setbacks during the first few years. But, in true form, Hamilton persisted, writing to one of the S.U.M.’s first superintendents Peter Colt in 1793, "Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation." Because of this example that Hamilton set early on, the S.U.M. fulfilled the vision of its founder for more than 150 years, from Washington’s first term as President through the end of World War II.

Hamilton was ahead of his time. He believed that hard work and learning, rather than social status or inherited wealth, mattered most in the new nation. He was a courageous early opponent of slavery and a strong advocate for immigration.

Informed by these beliefs, Hamilton’s manufacturing plan was also an economic stimulus for full employment and immigration. In listing the advantages of manufacturing at the time of Paterson’s founding, Hamilton wrote:

  • “Additional employment classes of the community is not ordinarily engaged in business.”
  • “The promoting of emigration from foreign countries.”
  • “The furnishing of greater scope for the diversity of talents.”

These words could be part of one of President Obama’s speeches in the past year.

The perseverance that drove Hamilton to leave behind his penniless days in the Caribbean, and to persist through trying times during the city’s formative years, weaves through every stage of Paterson’s history, and has lead generation after generation of immigrants to Paterson in the hopes of a better life for their families. Like Paterson’s founder, each wave of new immigrants and their children faced changing economic conditions, confronted numerous problems, and struggled to overcome new challenges.

True to Hamilton’s vision, manufacturing and innovation spread rapidly throughout the city, and people of any class, creed, or color soon found the ability to climb higher than they had ever imagined. Paterson became a city where a former slave, a poor farmer, or a recent immigrant could build a better life. In Paterson, Hamilton launched what we have come to call the American Dream.

Click here to watch award-winning Broadway director Lin-Manuel Miranda perform a hip-hop biography of Alexander Hamilton, "The Hamilton Mixtape," at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word, May 12, 2009.

Click here to watch Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow speak at a community gathering celebrating the signing of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park Act in 2009.

Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center

Although it will take the National Park Service some years to build a complete visitor’s center, you can get a great introduction to Paterson’s remarkable history right now inside the Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center. Make sure you drop in to orient yourself with a quick look at the timeline of Paterson’s industrial and cultural history.

Click here for more information on the Cultural Center.

Great Falls - Lawn View

For one hundred years, waterwheels generated the power for Paterson's industries. When electricity replaced waterwheels, the S.U.M. built one of the country’s earliest hydroelectric plants on the riverbank opposite the Great Falls to supply electricity to Paterson’s mills. Today, folks in Paterson are working to increase the amount of energy that the recently refurbished plant distributes to homes and businesses throughout the region.

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Great Falls - Lawn View

S.U.M. Hydroelectric Plant

S.U.M. Hydroelectric Plant As the 20th century approached, electricity began to replace older technologies, but the Falls still remained important. On the riverbank just opposite the Falls, the S.U.M. constructed one of the country’s earliest hydroelectric plants in 1914, replacing the older waterwheels that had powered Paterson’s industries for 100 years. Situated on the bank of the river to take advantage of the natural geography, the plant generated hydroelectricity from the energy of the falling water, remaining operational until 1969.

In the 1980s, the plant was restored with help from the U.S. Department of Energy to produce up to 11,000 kilowatts per hour of clean, renewable energy—enough to power more than 11,000 homes.

Great Falls Bridge

Here you can witness the extraordinary power of the Great Falls, sharing the experience that poet William Carlos Williams once described: “The river comes pouring in above the city and crashes from the edge of the gorge in a recoil of spray and rainbow mists.” Overlooking the deep chasm, you can see why it is no surprise that this natural wonder inspired some of the most influential artists, writers, and poets this country has ever seen.

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Great Falls Bridge

Great FallsA National Natural Landmark since 1969, the Great Falls is at a chasm of basalt at a fault of the Watchung Mountain Range. At the end of the last Ice Age, about 13,000 years ago, the retreating glaciers recast the landscape around the Passaic River, which later carved a new route, deepening its canyon through the basalt and ultimately creating the cascade known as the Great Falls. Today, the 77-foot-high Great Falls pours up to two billion gallons into the basalt chasm daily, second in volume and width only to Niagara Falls in the eastern United States. Click here for more information on the area’s fascinating geology.

The Great Falls lies in a region that the Lenape people called Acquackanonk. The area was fertile grounds for fishing and hunting, and included all of Paterson and the area down river that is now Clifton and Passaic. Dutch settlers arrived in 1679 and purchased the site from the Lenape. The Dutch developed an early plan for the area that divided most of what is now Paterson into a series of homesteads. The Plan, known as the Bogt, had a lasting influence on the eventual shape of the city’s development. Dutch settlements were small farmsteads and for the first hundred years of settlement, the area could be characterized as a sleepy Dutch colonial village.

During the American Revolution, George Washington used the site as a campground. The elevation and cliffs were a key vantage point with a commanding view of a good portion of northern New Jersey. For a brief period during the Revolutionary War, the location was General George Washington’s Headquarters.

The Great Falls as Artistic Inspiration

Throughout the years, the spectacular natural beauty of the Great Falls has inspired many artists to depict the landscape and the city that grew up around it. In 1800, the architect Benjamin Latrobe spent part of his honeymoon at the Great Falls and wrote that Paterson would be the ideal place for an American academy of landscape art. Latrobe, who would later design the U.S. Capitol, said the Falls "combine every thing in themselves and in the magic circle of which they are the Center, of which Nature forms her subliments Landscapes."  

Julian Rix PaintingArtists who found inspiration at the Great Falls did not create in isolation - poets often influenced artists, artists influenced industrialists, and so on. This constant interrelation caused artists from as far away as California to move to Paterson. The work of Julian Rix, the well-known Bay Area landscape artist of the late 19th century, caught the attention of William Ryle, a Paterson silk manufacturer and nephew of John Ryle, "Father of the Silk Industry." Rix moved to Paterson where Ryle financed Rix's portraits, many of which now hang in Lambert Castle next to Garrett Mountain near the Falls. Rix was eventually buried in one of the Ryle family plots in a Victorian cemetery in Paterson overlooking the Passaic River. 

Bluemner's Jersey SilkmillsOne of America’s most important 20th century artists, Oscar Bluemner, is known for his large colorful paintings and powerful charcoal drawings of Paterson silk mills, other factories, and the vibrating river waters below the Great Falls. A major show at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York in 2006 featured many Paterson paintings and sketches by this great American modernist, whose works have also been featured in The New York Times, the New Yorker, and the journal of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Studies for one of his striking paintings of glowing red brick Paterson silk mills, entitled Jersey Silkmills, are in the Oscar Bluemner papers in the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art. 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Great Falls and Paterson’s historic factories have also influenced a number of great writers and poets, from 19th century author Washington Irving, whose only published poem was entitled, “The Falls of the Passaic,” to contemporary novelist Junot Díaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his bestselling novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. One of America's greatest poets, William Carlos Williams, penned the epic poem Paterson. Writing in the journal of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Professor Roberta Smith Favis called the poem "an apt epigraph for Oscar Bluemner's paintings of the textile mills of Paterson. Williams echoed Bluemner's realization that this gritty New Jersey town could stand for the essence of America." Other writers who drew inspiration from the Falls include John Updike, whose novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies, was set largely in Paterson, and beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who grew up in Paterson and was greatly influenced by Williams, often referring to Paterson in poems and poetry readings throughout the world. "Renowned as the author of a 'dirty' poem whose first public reading in a West Coast gallery was said to have turned the 1950s into the '60s in a single night," wrote Walter Kirn in a 2006 essay for The New York Times, "Allen Ginsberg embodied, as a figure, some great cold war climax of human disinhibition." 

Click here to watch Allen Ginsberg at the Great Falls discussing the importance of William Carlos Williams’s work.

Mary Ellen Kramer Park

Dedicated as Mary Ellen Kramer Park in the 1970s, this area has remained important to the development of the historic district and the city of Paterson for more than two hundred years, from Hamilton’s visits here as the first Secretary of the Treasury, to its use as an early public park in the 1800s, and now as the first area to be upgraded as part of America’s newest national park.

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Mary Ellen Kramer Park

This parkland on the northeast side of the Falls is named in honor of Mary Ellen Kramer, wife of former Paterson mayor Pat Kramer and the remarkable woman who launched the defining effort to preserve and protect the historic district in the 1970s. Hamilton paid several visits to the Falls in the years before he founded the city of Paterson. One of those took place at this spot in 1778, when the area surrounding the Great Falls served as General Washington’s headquarters, and was recorded by a military officer present. Hamilton, who by this time had been taken by the power and promise of the Falls, met Washington and French General Marquis de Lafayette on this patch of green for a midday meal of cold ham, tongue, and biscuits. Today, you can walk up to the edge of the chasm, just feet from the roaring waters, and feel the same heavy mist rising from underneath the Falls that inspired Hamilton more than two hundred years ago.

By the late 1820s, this upper area of the Falls was developed into a playground for some of the more well to do locals. By 1827, this site had a substantial entertainment complex known as the Cottage-on-the-Cliff, which offered fair grounds, gardens, an ice cream parlor, and amusement rides. The site also became famous in the mid-1800s as the location where local ‘dare devil’ Sam Patch caught the nation’s attention with leaps over the Falls in defiance of both common sense and convention. He went on to barnstorm across the nation as the Evil Kinevil of his day.

John RylesIn the 1840s, the young immigrant and prominent Paterson silk manufacturer John Ryle purchased this piece of land, and built a reservoir where he could store water from the Passaic River to power his silk manufacturing site just across the river. The story of John Ryle’s road to success is one that could only happen in America. Orphaned at a young age in Macclesfield, England, he went to work in a British silk mill at the age of five, where he was known as a “bobbin boy.” After Ryle came to the United States at the age of twenty-two, he was able to manufacture America’s first skein of silk in Paterson by 1840. Ryle revolutionized the silk industry and led Paterson to become the largest silk manufacturing city in the world.

Ryle was concerned with more than just silk production, and was a major force in Paterson’s civic life. With the wealth he acquired as a leading silk manufacturer, Ryle opened this piece of land as a public park. In the late 1850s, Ryle realized that the practical needs of the city required the use of this land—including the reservoir he had built—to supply water to the rest of the city for hydrants (for extinguishing fires), residences, and other civilian purposes. Accordingly, the newly formed Passaic Water Company, which Ryle played an important role in developing, acquired the land and built a series of functional buildings nearby that assisted in providing water throughout the city.

Paterson Coat of ArmsAlthough he struggled on his way to the top, Ryle went on to serve as the city’s mayor in the late 1800s, remaining active in the business of silk manufacturing, and even conceiving Paterson’s city motto, “Spe et Labore” (Hope and Labor), which is still written on the Paterson coat of arms. Ryle will forever be known as the “Father of the Silk Industry.”

A picturesque cityscape of downtown Paterson is visible from Mary Ellen Kramer Park. Rising above is the 164-foot clock tower of City Hall, ornately detailed with sculpted wreaths, shields, urns, and eagles. The architectural firm of Carrère & Hastings, designers of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library and the Frick Museum and Estate on Fifth Avenue in New York City, designed Paterson’s City Hall. The architects drew inspiration from the design of the city hall in Lyon, France, the Hôtel de Ville, which still stands in the capital city of the European silk industry, also known as Paterson’s “sister city.”

Mary Ellen Kramer Park is the first area to be upgraded as part of the recently established Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. Click here to watch clips from the celebration of the National Park’s establishment as the 397th addition to the National Park System on November 7, 2011.

Upper Raceway Park

The raw power of the Falls inspired Hamilton, but he would have to harness that power to carry out his vision for the city. Pierre L’Enfant’s unprecedented raceway system diverted some of the rushing waters from just before the top of the Falls into narrow canals. Taking advantage of the sharp drop in elevation, the rushing waters carried power to what would be the site of dozens of mills, a number of which you can view from the path along the Upper Raceway.

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Upper Raceway Park

Selecting the Great Falls area as the first planned manufactory in the United States, the S.U.M purchased 700 acres of the area adjoining the Falls for a little over $8,000. The site had several positive attributes that made the land appealing for industrial development. Water was critical. The change in elevation could be transformed into hydropower. Existing streams could be diverted to create reservoirs that would expand lakes or ponds at the Passaic River’s headwaters. This would serve to retain a supply of water for dry seasons and could be used to regulate water flow. In addition, the site was near major shipping centers of northern New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Finally, the land near the Falls was fully developable and could be readily subdivided into sites that could be sold or leased for manufacturing.

Hamilton selected Pierre L’Enfant, a French-American architect and civil engineer who served with Hamilton during the Revolutionary War, to devise a plan that harnessed the water for hydropower. Hamilton admired L’Enfant’s visionary plan for Washington, D.C., which contemplated expansive growth of the federal government, and took almost 200 years to build out to completion.

Construction of a raceway system began in 1792, but L’Enfant’s initial plan for the raceway system proved too expensive and the S.U.M dismissed him, instead turning the project over to a New Englander with some industrial experience. Although delays and internal financial problems within the S.U.M. slowed the construction process, a successor to L’Enfant with practical engineering experience, Peter Colt, was successful in bringing waterpower to sites with a raceway system, using L’Enfant’s original plans. A system of waterwheels proliferated throughout the area and textile manufacturing was underway.

The S.U.M. made major additions and alterations to the raceway system throughout the first half of the 1800s. In its ultimate form, the raceway system was a three-tier system with Upper, Middle, and Lower Raceways capable of delivering over 2,000 horsepower. Designed this way, the system could take advantage of the drop in topography and re-direct water flow to all of the mill sites.

The raceways adapted and expanded over the first fifty years of Paterson’s history and were essential to the development of the area. As the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Richard Moe, wrote in his testimony to the Senate advocating for the Paterson National Park, “Scholars have concluded that Pierre L’Enfant’s innovative waterpower system at the Great Falls—and many factories built later—constitute the finest remaining collection of engineering and architectural works representing each stage of America’s progress from Hamilton’s time to the 20th century.’’ 

Upper Raceway - PresentAdded in 1828, the Upper Raceway was the last piece of the system that the S.U.M. constructed. The raceway runs along a path behind Spruce Street from where you can view a number of the mills and historic factory buildings.

Beginning with the first successful attempt within the United States to harness the entire power of a major river, Hamilton made Paterson a model of technological and engineering innovation. The abundance of inexpensive energy provided by the raceway system called many to Paterson, and those who came invented and produced goods that redefined the limits of life and changed our nation forever.

In 1977, the raceways were declared a National Historic Mechanical and Civil Engineering Landmark.

For an interactive tour chronicling the development of the raceway system and explaining its function in further detail, click here. The New Jersey History Partnership produced the tour using maps drawn by the U.S. Historic American Engineering Record.


Paterson - The MillsAlthough Paterson’s mills today look much like old red brick factories in any city, it was the work that took place within their walls that put Paterson at the cutting edge of “high tech” in the 19th century. When Hamilton founded Paterson, there was virtually no manufacturing anywhere in America. As Paterson grew, it became a business incubator for the American Industrial Revolution, much like California’s Silicon Valley is today for hot companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook.

Paterson’s industrial achievements in the 18th and 19th centuries were the touchstone of many major components of the American industrial revolution. As a result of Hamilton’s efforts, Paterson became the most important American industrial site between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. During the earliest years of the city’s development, Paterson became the site of the first water-powered cotton spinning mill in 1794 and a candle wick spinning mill in 1800. A few years later, Paterson industrial entrepreneurs began manufacturing paper and soon invented machinery to make paper in one continuous sheet. Iron production also began in Paterson in 1800 and six new iron factories opened in the first quarter of the 19th century. Textile manufacturers built new mills in 1808 and 1809 and, by 1814, Paterson had more than ten mills processing some 1.5 million pounds of raw cotton. Between 1814 and 1829, seven more mills opened. The Paterson canvas industry boomed as naval contracts increased in an effort to provide a domestic supply in case of war. Paterson industrialists ventured into silk textiles in 1827, and their innovations in silk weaving made Paterson the largest silk producer in the world, earning it the label the “Silk City.”

Paterson led the nation not only in silk and other textiles but also in technology for security, transport, and machinery. Paterson is the birthplace of the Colt Revolver, the first American-made steam locomotives, and the first submarine. By 1854, Paterson was the largest producer of locomotives in America. The first submarine had its propulsion engine installed in Paterson and was first tested in the waters near the Great Falls. In the 19th century Paterson also became a world center for steel manufacturing and machinery production.

Progress continued during the 20th century. Paterson factories manufactured more aircraft engines than any city in the nation, including engines for bombers flown in World War II, as well as the engine for Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, built at the Wright brother’s first plant in Paterson and the first airplane to complete a trans-Atlantic flight. In 1949, three sons of Paterson immigrant textile workers—Henry Taub, Joe Taub, and now United States Senator Frank Lautenberg—formed Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP) in Paterson, and in the years that followed built the small business into a global company using electronic payroll and other technology to serve corporations and their employees around the world.

As the author Chris Norwood wrote in her book, About Paterson, “It is impossible to think of any other city whose products cut so deeply into the texture of the United States and not only transformed its national character, but revolutionized American relations with the world.”

For a National Park Service map of the mill district with additional educational teaching materials, click here.

Paterson’s Silk Industry and the “Modern Silk Road”

In his Report on Manufactures, Hamilton identified silk production as one of the most important products for American industry, a recommendation that would increase America’s involvement in international commerce. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the silk mills of Paterson produced the largest amount of silk goods in the world. Led by John Ryle, immigrants from Europe came to Paterson, many with few possessions to call their own, and revolutionized the silk industry. By the 1870s, the industry came to dominate the city’s economy, and Paterson produced half of all silk made in the United States. At the height of Paterson’s silk production, there were approximately 121 firms in existence involved in every facet of silk manufacturing, and over 20,000 silk workers employed. The silk industry catapulted Paterson onto the international stage, helping to lead America into the global marketplace.

Paterson's central role in silk manufacturing formed a connection between America and the Asian, Middle Eastern, and European cultures that also cherished silk. As Richard Kurin of the Smithsonian Institution explains, “Silk both epitomized and played a major role in the early development of what we now characterize as a global economic and cultural system.” In the late 19th century, historians began to describe the old routes of the global trade of silk as the “Silk Road.” In recent years, historians at the Smithsonian and universities around the world have expanded the traditional view of the Silk Road and have recognized that the historical connection between East and West exists to this day.

In 1998 the cellist Yo-Yo Ma created the Silk Road Project, celebrating how people shared art and music along the modern Silk Road and promoting continued cultural collaboration between Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The Aga Khan, Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and direct descendant of Muhammad, has contributed generously to the Silk Road Project, particularly in the Muslim nations. Four years later, the Smithsonian organized—and the National Park Service cosponsored—the 2002 Folklife Festival to celebrate the modern Silk Road. The Aga Khan and Yo-Yo Ma joined Secretary of State Colin Powell in opening the festival. At the festival, Richard Kennedy of the Smithsonian Institute pointed out that since the tragic events of September 11, understanding the United States’ vital connection to the Silk Road has become increasingly more important, and that there is no better time “to celebrate the longstanding relationships that have existed between east and west and north and south.”

Paterson has the second largest Muslim population in America, and the Paterson National Park continues to be privileged with strong Muslim-American support. Dr. Alvin Felzenberg, a political scientist and an expert on New Jersey history, explains that Paterson is a station on the Silk Road not just because of its history as the “Silk City,” but also because of its strong Muslim population and the “large numbers of Islamic citizens who continue to work in Paterson textile businesses.” Dr. Felzenberg, who also served as the Principal Spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, writes that a Paterson National Park would create a connection between Muslims and the Park Service, while promoting valuable cultural interchanges between Muslims and other Americans.

Just as Paterson’s silk industry launched early American leaders into the global marketplace, Paterson’s place on the modern Silk Road will help prepare new generations of American leaders for global citizenship.

Rogers Locomotive Works

Founded by Thomas Rogers in 1831, Rogers Locomotive Works produced some of the first American steam locomotives and helped to make Paterson one of the largest locomotive manufacturing cities in America.

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Rogers Locomotive Works

Rogers Locomotive WorksThe original Rogers factory buildings on both sides of Spruce Street near the Upper Raceway were used for cotton-spinning and producing textile-manufacturing equipment. But soon after the operation began, the company diversified and began producing locomotive parts to supply the budding U.S. railroad industry. Five years after opening operations on Spruce Street, the Rogers Locomotive company built a two-story locomotive erecting shop on the street’s east side, which now houses the Paterson Museum and offices on the corner of Market and Spruce Streets. The company completed its first engine, the Sandusky, at this site in 1837 and continued to produce locomotives here until 1913. In the 1870s, workers completed the assembly of up to three locomotives each week, a remarkable feat at the time.

Rogers Locomotive TrainRogers Locomotive Company produced locomotives for many railroad companies throughout the country, becoming the nation’s premier locomotive manufacturer in the mid-1800s. When the Golden Spike completed the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, a Rogers Locomotive was there to link the nation. Of the 246 American locomotives used to build the Panama Canal, 144 were from Paterson. One of those was Old 299, which returned to Paterson in 1979 and can be seen at the rear of the Paterson Museum.

The Rogers Locomotive Works mill complex dominated Paterson’s downtown and was by far the largest single employer in the city for many years. Thomas Rogers’s son, Jacob Rogers, managed the firm, closing the plant before his death in 1901 and selling the assets to the American Locomotive Company (ALCO). Unlike other leading manufacturers of his time, Rogers declined to make a significant donation to the city of Paterson, and instead left $5 million—almost his entire fortune—to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, then a relatively small museum. The endowment fund that Rogers established catapulted the museum to the forefront of the international art world. Countless masterpieces throughout the museum bear his name as donor—works by Van Gogh, Velazques, Degas, Bellini, DiPaolo, Bruegel. The Met continues to utilize the Rogers Fund to purchase many of the greatest works in the Met’s collection, some of which now constitute the core of the museum’s impressionist collection.

Dolphin Mill

Dolphin MillJust past the buildings of Rogers Locomotive Works along the Upper Raceway path is the Dolphin Mill. The American Hemp Company, which specialized in spinning hemp into rope, erected the Dolphin Mill in the mid-1840s. In 1851, the Dolphin Manufacturing Company took over mill operations and began spinning jute, commonly known as burlap, and manufacturing multi-colored twisted jute carpeting. Originally, the mill was driven by a combination of water-powered turbines and separately housed steam engines; however, the installation of a sole 1200 horsepower engine in late 1901 eliminated the need for these outmoded power sources. The mill prospered for decades, and in 1881 the Dolphin Mill was the largest jute factory in the United States, with over 600 employees spinning 2,172 tons of jute annually.

Barbour Flax Spinning Company

Barbour Flax Spinning CompanyBeside the Dolphin Mill is the Barbour Flax Spinning Company Complex. Thomas Barbour of William Barbour & Sons, a Scottish company that had been identified with the manufacture of linen thread in the flax mills of Scotland and Ireland for many years, came to Paterson in 1864 to establish an American branch of the family’s business. The Barbours immediately imported machinery from factories in Ireland to begin manufacturing flax yarns and threads. Flax weaving was an important industry in the mid-1800s and the mill was a major success.

The Barbour Flax Spinning Company was one of largest linen manufactures in the nation during the second half of the 19th century. In response to increased demand beginning in the mid-1860s, the company expanded production, purchasing and building on several nearby lots. When in full operation, there were over 440 workers employed in the mill. Both steam engines and a 120 horsepower turbine generating waterpower drove the machinery.

During the Barbour Company’s heyday in the 1880s, it became a subject of scrutiny during a national debate on foreign immigration to the United States. As more and more immigrants made the grueling trip to America, not everyone in the United States welcomed them with open arms. Many American citizens and political officials began to differentiate between "desirable" and "undesirable" immigrants. Some argued that government policy should sift through immigrants and restrict those who were believed to contribute less to society.

Mirroring this language of immigration restriction was a parallel discussion about the economic regulation of trusts and corporations. Reformers sought to use government power to crack down on the greed of private interests, and many of these reformers tied this issue to immigration reform. They claimed that private businesses indiscriminately sought cheap labor abroad, bringing so many to America because these businesses had exaggerated the benefits that workers would find here. Foreign workers were eager to come to cities like Paterson, where many had heard through family and friends that employment opportunities were on the rise with the advent of new industry. Companies like Barbour capitalized on that desire for work and economic opportunity, often paying low wages, and as a result, ushered in what some felt to be an unwieldy immigration population.

Responding to this debate, Congress asserted its authority. It formed a Congressional committee to investigate foreign immigration, which produced a report that pushed for tougher immigration restrictions. The workers and owners of the Barbour Flax Company were subjects of the committee's scrutiny. According to the committee, Barbour & Co., as it was then called, had employed agents in England and Ireland to seek out and import skilled labor from abroad and furnish steamship tickets to Paterson "on absolutely no security." This meant that the company paid for the transport of workers—and sometimes their family members—and the workers were to repay the company not immediately, but gradually through deductions from their salaries. The committee members asserted that this was in violation of contract labor law.

A New York Times article from 1888 reported the Congressional testimony of several Barbour Company employees, interrogating everyone from inexperienced spinners to floor supervisors. Click here to read the first-hand historical accounts of Paterson mill workers who received national attention.

The Barbour family maintained a residence in Paterson but lived primarily in New York City and Rumson, NJ. They were among Paterson’s wealthiest and most distinguished families. When Colonel William Barbour died in 1917, he left an estate valued between $10 and $20 million, and John D. Rockefeller acquired his New York townhouse. One of his sons, Thomas, became a well-known naturalist and professor at Harvard University. Another son, William Warren Barbour, was an amateur boxing champion who became a Republican United States Senator in the 1930s. Senator Barbour, who himself was not Jewish, took a strong interest in and advocated for the Jewish population of Eastern Europe under threat of what would be the Holocaust.

Rogers Administration Building

Sitting at the end of the row on Spruce Street is the former Rogers Administration Building, with a striking red brick façade and recently restored signage bearing the name “Paterson Silk Machinery Exchange” to advertise a later tenant. Once the offices of the wealthy owners and managers of Rogers Locomotive Works, the building now serves those in the greatest need. The restored structure opened in 2003 as the William Waldman Independence House (“Indy House”), and provides transitional housing for youth preparing to leave the State’s foster care system. The New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) occupies the renovated Rogers Frame Fitting Building next door, where NJCDC has its offices for the educational and social services it provides to the people of Paterson.

Behind the Frame Fitting Building sits the Rogers Storage Building. Despite its understated functional name, the Rogers Storage Building occupies a very special place in the historic district. The Storage Building’s unique location on top of the raceway reflects a period of Paterson’s industrial growth so intense that Rogers had to expand over the raceway, as no adjacent land was available for even a storage building. Although largely vacant for many years, it retains all characteristic features, including thick brick masonry walls, heavy timber floor framing with tie-rods and wallplates, and sloped gable roof. When renovation is completed for reuse as a conference and community center, the structure will be the first LEED-certified environmentally "Green Building" in Paterson.

These buildings not only provide invaluable contributions to the city, but also serve as gleaning examples of structures that represent the best of Paterson’s history, reminding thousands of the city’s gilded past.


Ivanhoe Wheelhouse

Ivanhoe WheelhouseBeside the Rogers Administration Building, following the path away from the Upper Raceway and before crossing Spruce Street to enter the path along the Middle Raceway, you will come to the Ivanhoe Wheelhouse, the only building that remains of the once extensive Ivanhoe Paper Company. When in full operation, the Ivanhoe Mill was one of the earliest paper mills in the nation. The ten building complex was built to manufacture paper from cotton rags. Today, all that remains of the Ivanhoe Mill is the small handsome wheelhouse building constructed in 1865 that housed an 83 inch water driven turbine. The buildings once occupied the site that is now a Burger King and its parking lot.

Today, the wheelhouse is an exhibit space managed by the Ivanhoe Artist’s Mosaic of Paterson, where you can see contemporary pieces of artwork inspired by the beauty of the Great Falls. Paterson has a thriving arts community, and places like the Ivanhoe play critical roles in fostering the growth and development of local art.

Rosen Mill

This Paterson mill site once housed the Union Works cotton factory and later would be the base of Jacob Rosen & Sons. Founded by a Polish immigrant, Jacob Rosen & Sons became a leading American manufacturer of silk ribbon, with over a hundred looms in this building.

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Rosen Mill

Between the 1880s and 1920, Paterson earned the name “Silk City,” becoming the country’s center for dyeing and weaving silk. The quality of the fabric was so famous that Theodore Roosevelt’s wife wore a Paterson silk dress at her husband’s second inauguration. 

Silk-making was first brought to Paterson by immigrants from Macclesfield, England. As the silk industry grew, the mills attracted workers from France, Italy, Poland, Syria, and other countries. Although they found the pay low and the work hazardous, many workers were able to build better lives for their families, and some were able to become mill owners themselves. 

Middle Raceway

The S.U.M. began developing the raceway system with construction of the Middle Raceway in 1794. It delivered power to factories and mill buildings of some of Paterson’s earliest industries, including cotton, paper, steel and iron work, and silk. These industries expanded throughout the 19th century and Paterson would become a leading manufacturer in every one them.

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Middle Raceway

Originally, a wooden dam diverted water from the Passaic River above the Falls into a reservoir. The water then flowed through what is today the Middle Raceway to a flume in the S.U.M cotton mill (where the Hamilton Mill now sits) and through a waterwheel that powered spinning machines. From the mill, water flowed back into the Passaic River through the tailrace, or draining channel. The S.U.M extended the Middle Raceway to its present incarnation in 1800.

Union Works

Across Spruce Street at the entrance of the path along the Middle Raceway is the Union Works building. Constructed in 1835, it is an early textile building that was owned by the renowned General Thomas D. Hoxsey, a Civil War general. When in operation, the building contained 3,000 spindles and used nearly 7,000 pounds of cotton per week. Water was an essential part of the economic engine that drove Paterson and Hoxsey was a key part of the business leadership that controlled and developed the Paterson water supply and assets.

The mill produced twine, wicks, warps, and other cotton products with the help of 60 employees. In 1868, John H. Chase of Connecticut opened the Union Manufacturing Company on the site of the old Union Works building.

A four or five person operation, Chase’s company manufactured wool flocks, a fabric component used in the production of flannel and satin goods. A year after opening, Chase designed and installed his own 20 horsepower turbine wheel to augment the mill’s production capabilities. By 1891, the building was known as the Rosen Mill and changed the focus of its production to silk goods.

Today, the building houses an ecumenical school. You can enter the path along the Middle Raceway between the building and the raceway, and walk along the oldest part of the raceway system, some of which dates back to 1794.

Hamilton Mill

Hamilton MillIf you continue along the Middle Raceway path, just before the Middle and Lower Raceways meet, you will come to the Hamilton Mill. This is among the oldest mills still standing from the days of the S.U.M. Erected by Henry Morris in 1814, the Hamilton Mill sits on the site of the original S.U.M. cotton mill. The Hamilton Mill operated as a cotton mill until Morris moved his operation to Pennsylvania, after which the new business utilized the mill for silk weaving and “throwing,” a process that twists the silk rather than spinning it like cotton and wool. Mill operations were discontinued after the Civil War. Tragically, a fire severely damaged the mill, but portions of the original brownstone walls and a section over the raceway were incorporated into new construction featuring mixed commercial and residential uses.

Franklin MillFranklin Mill

At the corner of Mill and Ellison Streets sits the Franklin Mill. Constructed in 1870 where the Middle and Lower raceways meet, the Franklin Mill has survived several damaging fires over the past two centuries, having been burnt and rebuilt on numerous occasions. Originally, it housed the production of cotton yarn, silk, steam fire engines, brass domes for locomotives, and other machinery. In the early 20th century, the mill was used as a foundry and silk weaving facility. The building expanded in 1915, and within the past decade, renovators restored the structure to serve as a modern office building.

Essex Mill

Essex MillAdjacent to the Franklin Mill on Mill Street near the corner of Van Houten Street is the Essex Mill, located on the first plot of land ever leased from the S.U.M. to private investors. In 1801, that first S.U.M. lease enabled Charles Kinsey, the mill’s first tenant, to draw enough water from the raceways to drive a budding paper manufacturing business. This first endeavor failed, but during the War of 1812, Kinsey replaced their paper business with textile production.

A decade later, in 1825, John Colt, president of the Paterson Manufacturing Company, leased the mill and revived the production of cotton cloth. The original mill building was replaced by a smaller three-story structure in the 1850s, and steam engines were installed to supplement the hydropower. In 1870, the Essex Mill’s owners expanded it to form the mill’s current structure. In the following decades, the property was used to produce mosquito netting and silk in addition to the cotton cloth.

In recent years, the structure has been renovated and now serves as government subsidized housing for local artists and musicians.

The Paterson Museum

The Paterson Museum displays an impressive collection of the products manufactured in Paterson that transformed both America and the world, including some of the first Colt revolvers, the world’s first motorized submarines, aircraft engines from Wright Aeronautical Corp.’s Paterson plant that made the engine for the first transatlantic flight, and silk looms that would help make Paterson the largest silk manufacturing city in the world.

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The Paterson Museum

On the corner of Market and Spruce streets, the former Rogers erecting shop is now home to the Paterson Museum. Completed in 1871, the building was the final stop along a locomotive assembly process that stretched two and a half blocks. Here, workers completed the assembly of up to three locomotives each week in the 1870s—the heyday of the Rogers Company. Each completed locomotive would be wheeled out through a set of double doors, and the building could accommodate a dozen at once—this is why you can see twelve sets of doors on its Spruce Street front.

The restoration of the Rogers erecting shop was completed in 1982, when the building’s owners shifted the entrance to the parking lot on the far side of the building and inserted an elevator for office tenants on the upper floors. Renovators remade all twelve wooden doors, rebuilt the windows, and updated brickwork throughout the structure.

The Museum displays an impressive collection of the products manufactured in Paterson that transformed both America and the world, including some of the first Colt revolvers, the world’s first motorized submarine built in 1878 by John Holland, aircraft engines from Wright Aeronautical Corp.’s Paterson plant that made the engine for the first transatlantic flight, and silk looms that would help make Paterson the largest silk manufacturing city in the world.

Another value of the Rogers building is the chance it offers for a close-hand look at what these old mill and factory buildings can be turned into architecturally. The sprawling ground floor, which was oppressively loud and harsh in the days when it functioned as a factory, today appears as a grand and monumental space.

The City Beyond

Paterson’s story is not confined to just the blocks around the Great Falls. Paterson today is a culturally rich, vibrant, and diverse city, where the descendants of old Patersonians mix with a continual influx of newcomers to the city. From authentic ethnic cuisine to many shops and markets, the neighborhoods surrounding the Great Falls have much to offer.

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The City Beyond

If you’re hungry after finishing the Mill Mile tour, try a Texas weiner hot dog, invented here in Paterson, despite its name. Along Market Street, the restaurants and groceries of the Little Lima district offer delicious Peruvian specialties. You can enjoy a coffee in Paterson’s Little Italy along Cianci Street just north of Market Street. Here you’ll also find Lou Costello Park, with a statue of the famous comedian and Paterson native son. And South Main Street has wonderful Turkish and Lebanese restaurants.

Just a short walk from the Paterson Museum you will find the streets of Downtown Paterson lined with magnificent Beaux-Arts, Italianate, and Art Deco commercial and civic structures. The distinguished New York architectural firm of Carrère & Hastings designed Paterson’s City Hall, modeling its tower after the city hall in Lyon, France, once the silk capital of Europe. 

Paterson is also home to a talented artistic community. Paterson’s Art Walk each spring draws thousands of visitors from around the region to enjoy art, music, and events in many of the historic structures around the Great Falls National Historic Landmark District. 

Download the Paterson Great Falls Brochure

What is Mill Mile?

Mill Mile is a self-guided walking tour and educational platform intended to teach students and visitors about the remarkable history, geology, social and cultural importance of the area around the site of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.

The Great Falls is about 300 feet wide, towers 77 feet high, and pours up to two billion gallons of water into a canyon each day. This natural wonder is the second most powerful waterfall east of the Mississippi. President Obama signed bipartisan legislation to make the Great Falls a national park, and you can play a role in helping make it a national park like no other.

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Visitor Information

Cultural Center

Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center
65 McBride Avenue
Paterson, NJ 07501

Hours of Operation:
Monday through Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm
Saturday and Sunday 12:30pm to 4:30pm (Summers Only)

Free Admission

Visit the Great Falls Historic District Cultural Center on the corner of Spruce Street and McBride Avenue, just across from Overlook Park. Orient yourself with a quick look at the timeline of Paterson’s industrial and cultural history, and meet the Center’s friendly, knowledgeable staff.

Click here for more information on the Cultural Center.

Paterson Museum

Paterson Museum
Thomas Rogers Building
2 Market Street 07501
Paterson, NJ

Hours of Operation:
Tuesday through Friday 10:00am to 4:00pm
Saturday and Sunday 12:30pm to 4:30pm
Closed Mondays

Admission: Adults $2.00 suggested donation, Children free

Located on the corner of Market and Spruce Streets, the Paterson Museum is housed in the former Rogers Locomotive Works erecting shop. Explore the impressive collection of products made in Paterson that transformed both America and the world.

Click here for more information on the Paterson Museum.