Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park – Paterson, New Jersey - Atlas Obscura

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Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Paterson, New Jersey

In the power of this waterfall, Alexander Hamilton saw the potential for industry. 


Settled in the midst of an industrial city is a magnificent natural treasure: Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. The namesake waterfall is a  77-foot-tall raging cascade on the Passaic River, and a wonderful oasis among the Paterson cityscape. 

The industrial value of this fall was recognized by Alexander Hamilton, who saw its potential for water power as being an American answer to the British industrial revolution. He hired Pierre Charles L’Enfant (who also designed the layout of the new capital city, Washington, D.C.) to design a system of canals that would power the town’s watermills.

The result was America’s first planned industrial city. Cotton and wool mills were the first industries to operate in Paterson, eventually joined by manufacturers of other things including locomotives, paper, rope, hemp, and firearms. At the city’s peak production in the 1890s, it was widely known for its silk mills.

A statue of Hamilton commemorates his vision for this national natural landmark. Today, the park offers visitors views from multiple levels.

Know Before You Go

The parking lot is often fairly full but there are usually a couple of spots available. If not just wait, visitation turnover is reasonably quick.

There is a pathway that brings you right up to the raging falls, but occasionally, the bridge along this pathway is closed for repair. If that is the case, visitors can walk along Wayne Ave and access the falls from the backside.

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May 2, 2022

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