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Photos by Fritz Rethage    June 8, 2003    All Rights Reserved

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Great Falls
Paterson, New Jersey

The Great Falls are the second-highest on the east coast (second only to Niagara).  The Great Falls thunders over a rocky ledge, 70 feet deep, about 60 feet wide to a broad basin descending 20 feet through traprock and sandstone to the City of Paterson.



One of the first major US water power system and basis for integrating urban planning with industrial development.  The raceway and power system, constructed from 1792 to 1864, was the first major water power system in the United States. The project, conceived by Alexander Hamilton in 1791 and designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, engineer-planner of the Capitol, and Peter Colt is the basis of the oldest American community integrating water power, industrial development, and urban planning.

It was the abundance of inexpensive energy provided by the Great Falls raceway and water power system that attracted countless creative and innovative men and women who built and continually improved such industries as textiles and textile machinery, the Colt revolver, Rogers' and other steam locomotives, silk manufacturing, flax and jute production, early Wright aircraft engines, apparel manufacturing, and many more.  Source:


A HYDROELECTRIC PLANT and a STEAM PLANT of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (known throughout Paterson as S.U.M.) are in the gorge of Passaic River, just below the falls. From the sidewalk a steep, sodded embankment slopes to the level of the large brick buildings.

In 1791 Governor William Paterson of New Jersey signed the charter giving the tax-free Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures the right to organize and sell stock. Not until 1814, when a drastic reorganization of the S.U.M. took place and the Colt family became virtual dictators of the corporation's affairs, did a business boom start the society on the road to financial success. The history since then has been stormy, marked by numerous court cases and disputes with other organizations. In 1824 the Morris Canal and Banking Company sued to gain rights to the Passaic River. The court ruled in 1829 that S.U.M. possessed title "to the flow of all the waters of the Passaic at the great falls, in their ancient channel without diminution or alteration."

Public opinion forced the society to relinquish its lottery rights in 1848, but the host of other charter privileges remained. When the hydroelectric plant was installed in 1912, the city of Paterson attempted to tax its operation, but the court again ruled in favor of S.U.M. Another suit was lost by the city in 1937. The municipal government contended that he society already had enjoyed 140 years of special rights and that by giving up manufacturing in 1796 and leasing the sites out to private concerns, it has forfeited its tax-exempt privileges.

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 Manufactures" (S.U.M.). It was through Hamilton’s influence that the directors of the S.U.M. located the town of Paterson at the Great Falls. The new town was named after William Paterson, the Governor of New Jersey, in appreciation of his approval of their business plans. The S.U.M. planned to utilize the Passaic River to supply waterpower by diverting its water through a three-tiered raceway system.

Although the S.U.M failed to realize its manufacturing objectives, it did succeed in developing real estate and supplying 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 S.U.M. 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/S.U.M. 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.

The City of Paterson’s Great Falls 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.

Source: Passaic County 2003 Directory

Great Falls is now officially a State Park

Great Falls under state umbrella
, Friday, October 22, 2004

PATERSON -- Standing between the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River and more than 100 residents, Gov. James E. McGreevey announced that the Great Falls is now officially a state park in New Jersey.

"Today is an important day in which we celebrate not only God's natural beauty, but the people of Paterson, the ones who worked in these mills and who walked these streets," McGreevey said.

During a press conference at a site overlooking the falls Thursday morning, the governor also announced the creation of two other state parks, in addition to the Great Falls State Park. One lies along the Hackensack River in River Edge, in Bergen County; the other park includes sections of downtown Trenton.

An unspecified amount of money from the Green Acres fund will come into Great Falls State Park, McGreevey said. Currently there is a bill providing $2.3 million in Green Acres funds working its way through the state Assembly.

The three new parks bring New Jersey's total number of state parks to 52. They are the first state parks created in New Jersey since 2000, McGreevey said, and Great Falls State Park and the park in Trenton are the first urban state parks created in 30 years.

"Some of our most significant historical areas are in our cities," McGreevey said. "And our children in cities need open space and green space as much as any other child in New Jersey."

McGreevey told the crowd that he set a goal when he took office in 2002 to create 200 local parks and two state parks. So far, he has created 205 local parks and three state parks.

The announcement of the three state parks was one of McGreevey's last acts as governor. He announced in August that he would leave office on Nov. 15.

He was greeted in Paterson by roaring cheers, autograph requests, hugs, kisses and supporters yelling, "We love you!"

The park will be 112 acres, though the exact boundaries will be determined at a later date, said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The state will sponsor a competition for companies to submit plans for Great Falls State Park, said Tom Moran, senior program adviser of visual arts for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The state has budgeted $300,000 for developers to build models of their ideas for Great Falls State Park and the park in Trenton, he said. The state will be ready to give contracts to developers in the summer of 2005, Moran said.

Over the next six months, the council on the arts will hold public meetings and meet face-to-face with community leaders to brainstorm ideas for things, such as fences, informational plaques and benches, to be built at Great Falls State Park, Moran said.

In the spring the city will build a 500-seat amphitheater facing the falls and a fountain at the base of the power plant, said Grace Lynch of L+C Design and Consultants in Paterson.

The first phase of upgrades to Great Falls State Park will not include the Allied Textile Printing site, where the first Colt .45 revolvers were manufactured, said Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres. The second phase of upgrades may include the historic ATP site.

The National Park Service is still studying the Great Falls to see if it meets requirements to be included as a national park, Torres said. The requirements include offering historical merit to the country, showing a facet of U.S. history not currently represented in a national park, and sustainability.

"Today's announcement begins the rebirth of Paterson," he said. "With a little imagination, Paterson can become a great tourist destination."

Jose L. Fernandez, director of the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, said that McGreevey instructed him to prioritize making the Great Falls a state park when he started his job in February.

"It does two things, it provides the kind of recreation not available to inner city residents and it preserves and protects one of the last natural wonders in the area," he said.

The River Edge park will be at Historic New Bridge Landing and will include the Steuben House, a historic home built by Dutch settlers, and the pony-truss swing bridge. It will also have a new visitor's center and interpretive center.

The park in Trenton will link the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park to other parks and historic sites.

They include the Hamilton-Trenton Marsh, Stacy Park, Mill Hill Park, the Trenton Battle Monument and three national historic landmarks, the Old Barracks Museum, the John Abbott National Historic Landmark and the William Trent House.

Source: The Record, October 22, 2004

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Paterson Great Falls
[Great Falls Background] [General Photos] [Arbor Day 2004]
[Tour around top of Great Falls] [Tour of Hydroelectric plant]
[Frozen Great Falls 2004]

Paterson Great Falls Movies
Paterson Great Falls: 500k [Close] [Medium] [Long] [River]
Dam at the top 600k    Crest of Great Falls Major 700k
Frozen in 2004  Great Falls-Major 900k       Great Falls-Minor 400k


Passaic River
   Background info [Passaic River/Dundee Dam]
Photos: Frozen Dundee Lake & Passaic River      Panoramic at Dundee Dam

Passaic River Movies
Dundee Dam: 500k [Top] [Flow] [River]
Frozen in 2004 Panoramic at Dundee Dam 2 meg
      Dundee Dam 300k

Other Contacts

New Jersey Department of Enviromental Protection
Watershed Management Area 4   PDF of work in Area 4
American Rivers
American Rivers, 202-347-7550
Paterson Great Falls
Hackensack Riverkeeper, 201-692-8440, 
NY/NJ Baykeeper, 732-291-0176, 
New Jersey Audubon Society, 908-766-5787, 

City of Paterson
Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission

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