Great Falls, New Jersey: America's Newest National Historic Park

11/07/2011 08:31 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012

PATERSON, N.J. — A waterfall in one of New Jersey's largest cities that inspired generations of newcomers to America, fueled the Industrial Revolution and was featured in everything from a William Carlos Williams poem to an episode of television show The Sopranos became the nation's newest national park Monday.

The 77-foot Great Falls in downtown Paterson was given the national park designation in a ceremony attended by New Jersey officials, local schoolchildren, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the head of the National Park Service.

The Great Falls is second only to Niagara Falls in water volume east of the Mississippi River. More than 2 billion gallons of water a day pass over its summit to the swirling Passaic River below.

Parks department officials said although many national historic sights are small and several are in urban areas, the Great Falls site, in the middle of a gritty, urban downtown, is a rare combination of a place of both natural beauty and historical significant.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Bill Pascrell, both native sons of Paterson, spoke passionately of the historic designation recognizing the contributions of the immigrant workers who helped build America, past and present.

Considered the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, the Great Falls once generated power that ran mills producing silk – Paterson is still known as `Silk City' – locomotives, aircraft engines and guns.

Lautenberg, poking fun at being the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, joked that he was with Alexander Hamilton in 1778 when he looked out at the falls and envisioned America harnessing the water to become a great industrial power. Years later, as the country's first treasury secretary, Hamilton selected the site to become the nation's first planned industrial city.

"The Great Falls inspired Alexander Hamilton – my buddy – 200 years ago, and we're going to make them a source of inspiration again," Lautenberg said.

The Great Falls National Historical Park will cover about 35 acres in the state's third largest city and makes the area eligible for federal funds. Exactly how much the state will get to run the park has yet to be determined. The first phase will involve community input, with outreach in English, Spanish, Bengali and Arabic, representing just some of the diverse communities that make up Paterson's solidly working class, immigrant base, according to National Park officials.

Darren Boch of the National Park Service, a Paterson native who has been named the new park's first superintendent, said an initial assessment will be made to determine how best to design the park to be "an interpretive experience" consistent with other national parks.

The area was named a National Historic District in 1976.

Paterson officials hope Monday's official designation as a national park will help revitalize the city and make it a tourist destination.


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