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The Great Falls: New Jersey's Niagara Falls

By Edited Feb 18, 2015 0 2

Great Falls

The Great Falls of the Passaic River (sometimes referred to as the Paterson Great Falls) is a 77-foot waterfall located in Paterson, New Jersey. It is considered to be the second largest waterfall by volume east of the Mississippi River (after Niagara Falls). The Great Falls is a majestic sight for residents and visitors alike, and has played an important part in American history.


Early History of the Falls

Hamilton Statue
The Great Falls helped establish industrialization in America's early years. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury at the time, recognized the potential of the Falls and had a vision of how to utilize the waterfall. In 1791, he helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.) to bring this vision to reality. This society would later help incorporate the city of Paterson in 1792, and name it after the first governor of New Jersey, William Paterson, who was a supporter of the society's vision. Hamilton hired civil engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant (who was responsible for designing the layout for Washington D.C.) to create a series of water raceways to provide power by diverting water from the Falls to the newly built manufacturing mills nearby. Hamilton's ambitious vision helped to make Paterson one of the first manufacturing centers in the country. Although the mills would eventually close down due to a shift away from manufacturing in this country, the Falls, its raceways and the mills remain to this day. 


Recognition of the Falls

The Great Falls has received much recognition throughout the years. In 1967, the Falls was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior.

Hamilton Statue Plaque

Under President Gerald Ford in 1976, the Great Falls was designated as a National Historic Landmark, which granted federal protection from development to the Falls, but not on a local and state level. This designation would not have been earned if not for efforts led by Mary Ellen Kramer, the wife of then-Paterson mayor Lawrence Kramer. She fought the state's efforts to build a highway through the mill district near the Falls. (A park within Great Falls National Historic Park bears her name as a result.)

Landmark Plaque

In 1977, the raceways and power systems associated with the Falls were recognized with a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark designation. However, the park was threatened in the 1990s, when the city of Paterson sought to convert the nearby historic Advanced Textile Printing (A.T.P.) facility into prefabricated townhouses. The facility had fallen into disrepair after being gutted by a fire in the 1980s. Although the townhouses were approved by the city, a local citizen's group fought the city's efforts successfully and helped preserve the natural beauty of this area. Then in 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park Act. This was an historic move that not only further protected the park from any federal development, but added the Great Falls and its surrounding areas to the U.S. National Park System.


Viewing the Falls

Great Falls Sign
If you are planning to visit Paterson, New Jersey, viewing the Great Falls should be a priority. The Falls can be viewed from Mary Ellen Kramer Park on the northside and Overlook Park on the southside. There is also a pedestrian bridge that crosses the chasm of the Falls, which offers an incredible view of its famous rainbow and the power and splendor of this waterfall.

Great Falls Chasm


Jan 15, 2016 6:41am
Awesome photos. I know the Passaic area generally (and a little of Paterson) had no idea these falls were here. Interesting read, thanks.
Jan 15, 2016 10:00pm
Thanks Leigh. The Great Falls are truly a sight to see in person.
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  1. "History & Culture." Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service). 18/01/2015 <Web >
  2. "Great Falls (Passaic River)." Great Falls (Passaic River). 18/01/2015 <Web >
  3. "The Great Falls." Paterson Great Falls National Park. 18/01/2015 <Web >

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