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Great Falls

Birthplace of the American Revolution
Paterson can be aptly called the Cradle of American Industry. It was near the Great Falls of the Passaic River that plans for an industrial metropolis were developed at the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1791, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton helped promote a private, state chartered corporation, the Society for Establishing Useful Manufacture (SUM). It was through Hamilton’s influence that the directors of the SUM located the town of Paterson at the Great Falls. The new town was named after William Paterson, the Governor of New Jersey, in appreciation for approving their business plans. The SUM planned to utilize the Passaic River to supply waterpower by diverting its water through a three-tiered raceway system.

Although the SUM failed to realize its manufacturing objectives, they did succeed as a real estate developer and supplier of power to the growing number of various industries that were building factories around the area of the Great Falls. The industries that ultimately emerged produced textile machinery, steam locomotives, silk weaving and dyeing, revolvers, aircraft engines, and various other products.

The SUM continued its corporate existence well into the 20th century. In 1945, its property, assets, charter rights, raceway system and steam and hydroelectric power plants were sold to the City of Paterson. Twenty-six years later, the non-profit Great Falls Preservation and Development Corporation was established to restore and redevelop the historic mill buildings and raceways. On June 6, 1976, President Gerald R. Ford visited Paterson and officially designated the 119-acre Great Falls / SUM historic district as a national historic landmark. A number of mill buildings have been rehabilitated for use as offices, living space, cultural facilities and schools. On Thursday, October 21, 2004 Governor James E. McGreevey designated the area as the Great Falls State Park.

Visitor Center
The City of Paterson’s Great Falls Visitor Center, conveniently located across from the Great Falls at 65 McBride Avenue Extension, offers educational services that include historic interpretation and guided walks featuring an overview of the District, its significant industrial architecture, history, and current projects.

For information about Visitor Center hours and services call 973-279-9587.