Great Falls (Passaic River)

Great Falls (Passaic River)

Infobox_nrhp | name =Great Falls of the Passaic and Society for Useful Manufactures Historic District (Boundary Increase)
nrhp_type = nhld

caption = The Great Falls of the Passaic River
location= Paterson, New Jersey
lat_degrees = 40
lat_minutes = 54
lat_seconds = 58.28
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 74
long_minutes = 10
long_seconds = 53.75
long_direction = W
locmapin = New Jersey
area =
architect= Unknown
architecture= No Style Listed
added = August 14, 1986
designated = May 11, 1976cite web|url=
title=Great Falls of the Passaic Society for Useful Manufacturing HD|date=2008-06-23|work=National Historic Landmark summary listing|publisher=National Park Service
governing_body = Private
refnum=86001507cite web|url=|title=National Register Information System|date=2007-01-23|work=National Register of Historic Places|publisher=National Park Service]

The Great Falls of the Passaic River is a prominent waterfall, 77 ft (23 m) high, on the Passaic River in the city of Paterson in Passaic County in northern New Jersey in the United States. One of the United States' taller waterfalls, it played a significant role in the early industrial development of New Jersey starting in the earliest days of the nation.

During floods the Great Falls becomes a spectacular sight, with tremendous amounts of water cascading over the falls.


Formation and early history

Geologically, the falls were formed at the end of the last ice age approximately 13,000 years ago. Formerly the Passaic had followed a shorter course through the Watchung Mountains near present-day Summit. As the glacier receded, the river's previous course was blocked by a newly-formed moraine. A large lake, called Glacial Lake Passaic, formed behind the Watchungs. As the ice receded, the river found a new circuitous route around the north end of the Watchungs, carving the spectacular falls through the underlying basalt, which was formed approximately 200 million years ago.

The falls later became the site of a habitation for Lenape Native Americans, and later for Dutch settlers in the 1690s.

Industrial development

In 1778, Alexander Hamilton visited the falls and was impressed by its potential for industry. Later as the nation's first Secretary of Treasury, he selected the site of the nation's first planned industrial city, which he called a "national manufactory." In 1791, Hamilton helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.), state-chartered private corporation to fulfill this vision. The town of Paterson was founded by the society and named after New Jersey Governor William Paterson in appreciation of his efforts to promote the society.

Although the grand vision of Hamilton's planned city remained unrealized, the society nevertheless successfully promoted real estate development in the area. As a result the falls became the nucleus for a burgeoning mill industry, with construction of numerous raceways. In 1793, two years after the society's foundation, the falls was the site of the first water-powered cotton spinning mill in New Jersey. In 1812, it was the site of the state's first continuous roll paper mill. Other products whose construction used the falls as a power source include the Rogers Locomotive Works (1832), the Colt revolver (1837), and the "USS Holland (SS-1)" (1898).

The society continued operation until 1945 when its charter and property were sold to the city of Paterson. The area fell into disuse with the steep decline of industry in the region during the 20th century. In 1971, the Great Falls Preservation and Development Corporation was established to restore and redevelop the historic mill buildings and raceways.

On June 6, 1976, President Ford designated the Falls and its surrounding area as a National Natural Landmark. The designation protects the site from federal development, but not from local and state development. Redevelopment of the decayed adjacent industrial areas has been an ongoing controversial topic. An attempt in the 1990s to redevelop the adjacent Allied Textile Printing Co. (ATP) facility, destroyed by fire in the 1980s, into prefabricated townhouses was initially approved by the city but later repelled by a coalition of local citizens seeking to preserve the historic character of the district.

Great Falls State Park

The State of New Jersey has announced plans for a new urban state park in Paterson surrounding the Great Falls, called Great Falls State Park. [] The master plan for the park calls for utilizing surrounding industrial areas for parklands that include a trail network and recreation areas, and creating new areas to view the falls.

The falls in literature

The unique history of the falls and the city were described in the five-volume philosophical poem "Paterson" by William Carlos Williams. Among the episodes described in Williams' poem is the 1827 leap over the falls by Sam Patch, who later became the first known person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls.

The falls in television

The falls were featured in the episode "Pax Soprana" of The Sopranos, in which a drug-dealer was thrown over by goons.

Viewing the falls

The falls are viewable from Overlook Park on the north and Hamilton Park on the south. A bridge downriver from the falls, the eighth such structure to be built, also provides viewing of the falls. An adjacent visitor's center provides a historical overview of the falls.


ee also

*List of waterfalls
*List of National Natural Landmarks

External links

* [ National Park Service: On Designation of the Area as part of the National Park System]
* [ Sam Patch and the Great Falls]
* [ Paterson Friends of the Great Falls]

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