Passaic Falls (also known as the Paterson Great Falls) was perhaps the most unusually-situated waterfall we could recall given that it was smack in the middle of a lot of urban developments that were close enough to New York City that we even entertained taking the subways in New York City and the PATH in New Jersey to get here. But after visiting this most unlikely of places to find an impressive waterfall, we learned that this place was also at the forefront of the American Industrial Revolution where hydro power was a well-recognized source of energy to power the machinery and the economy that would eventually transform a frontier into the modern day United States.
The history here was evident as there was a statue of Alexander Hamilton who was Secretary of the Treasury at the time as well as historical buildings around the falls. There were also other historical relics further downstream that we didn’t have time to visit. As for the significance of Alexander Hamilton, apparently he had a strong desire to develop Paterson into an industrial city in an attempt to fulfill a vision of making America economically independent from the British. Eventually, this desire and political backing resulted in Paterson becoming an early adopter of industrial might, eventually earning it the title of “Silk City” given its role in powering the textile industry at the time. During our visit, we saw restored and aged remnants of the industry that was once here (even without seeing the rest of the relics further downstream). These relics provided the reason for the restoration and preservation of the Great Falls of Paterson, which was recently the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (part of the US National Parks System) in 2011.
Strangely enough, our visit to the waterfalls here in mid-October 2013 were during the US Federal Government shutdown. However, this site was still not totally absorbed into the National Parks System so it remained open despite the rest of the National Parks being closed (even adversely affecting our intentions to go to Acadia National Park in Maine a couple of weeks earlier in our road trip to the Northeastern US and Southeastern Canada). Thus, we were allowed to enjoy the 77ft high 260ft wide waterfall that was the very last waterfall of our epic trip through the cradle of both the US and Canada.
Our visit to the Passaic Falls merely revolved around the main overlook near the car park (see directions below), where we were able to see the falls nestled in a short gorge beneath what appeared to be some kind of pipe spanning the gorge. Neighboring the gorge and the falls was the SUM (Society for Useful Manufactures, which was Alexander Hamilton’s investment group) Hydroelectric Plant. The main overlook area was also where we noticed the Alexander Hamilton statue.
When we had our fill of this frontal but distant view of the falls, we then walked along McBride Avenue towards a smaller car park near its junction with Wayne Avenue. From there, we went through an open gate that led us over some bridges past some diversion flow to the hydro plant while affording us a view of some wider but smaller series of waterfalls further upstream from the Great Falls itself. That section of the river seemed like a typical river surrounded by urban developments (something similar to what we saw at the High Falls in Rochester so the water did have a little bit of that urban runoff smell.
We eventually went onto the bridge next to the pipes spanning the gorge carved out by the Passaic River and the Great Falls. The view from the bridge was what you see in the photograph at the top of this page, and we thought it was probably the prettiest view of the falls that we were able to get. On the other side of the bridge, there was a little park-like area where some locals were chilling out either talking amongst themselves, trying their luck at fishing the Passic River, or even checking out the furthest overlook nearest to the head of the gorge by the falls.
We only spent about 15 minutes or so at this bridge section (probably another 35 minutes or near the main overlook near the car park and SUM Hydro building) because admittedly, this area was a little bit rough around the edges during our visit. We were content to check out the best views of the falls from the bridge, but we didn’t go all the way across it as the thought of our safety (especially with Tahia coming with us) definitely crossed our minds. We weren’t sure about what some of the group of loiterers were doing there though the smell of marijuana smoke was strong (possibly suggesting some drug activity taking place here). In a way, I guess these observations were kind of the good with the bad that we had to accept as part of an attractive place encroached by urban blight. I’m sure lessons could be learned by city planners and developers regarding the impact that such developments have on natural attractions (i.e. resources) despite their lure of economic gains.
In any case, even with the urban blight, we were glad to have visited Passaic Falls as it definitely expanded our minds, taught us a little more about American history, and demonstrated the resiliency of Nature despite man’s efforts to exploit it.
We pretty much followed some online directions courtesy of the National Park Service. So we’ll describe exactly the route we took to elaborate on it a bit. We’re well aware that there are many ways to reach this place from all directions, but since it’s pretty easy to get lost in the city, we figured the following step-by-step instructions might help you (as it did for us).
Since we visited this waterfall as part of the very long drive from Watkins Glen to White Plains North Metro Station, we detoured to Passaic Falls as we came into Paterson, New Jersey from the west. So as we were driving east on the I-80 into the city of Paterson, we then took the ramp for exit 57B for Hwy 19 North. Once we got onto the Hwy 19N, the freeway quickly ended at Oliver St.
Just when the freeway ended, we had to keep left because one of the next lights was for Cianci Street, where we had to turn left. This was a very busy intersection so we had to be patient (pretty much waiting until the light turned yellow) before being able to go across the traffic to the left. Then, we had to go one light while on Cianci St to Market St, where we turned left. We followed Market St all the way to the three-way intersection with Spruce St, and we turned right onto Spruce St.
At the next light, we turned right to go onto McBride Ave, and the car park for the Great Falls of Paterson (or Passaic Falls) was on our left. Note there was also a car park on the right, but that was for the Great Falls Historical District Cultural Center and not for the falls itself.
Finally, we had entertained taking public transport from Penn Station in New York City to Paterson, New Jersey. We were advised to take the NJ Transit Train from Penn Station to Secaucus Junction, then take the train from this station to Paterson. At that point, we would have to walk about a mile or so to the Great Falls of Paterson Historical site. We eventually decided against this idea since we still had our rental car and we opted to visit this place on our way to returning it in White Plains, New York. That ended up freeing up the entire day to tour just New York City the next day instead of devoting a whole half-day or longer to get back here by public transportation.
By the way, to give you some context, Paterson, New Jersey was 229 miles (4 hours drive) southeast of Watkins Glen, 38 miles (45-60 minutes drive) southwest of White Plains, and 22 miles northwest of New York City (which was why we had entertained using the public transport given the traffic in the city).
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