Paterson Great Falls Raceways


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A Tour of the Historic Raceways at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park»

On my most recent visit to Paterson Great Falls, a park volunteer took us on a guided walk along the raceways above the falls. Alexander Hamilton commissioned Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who had designed the plans for Washington DC, to design the new industrial city. L’Enfant, together with Peter Colt devised the system of canals that were eventually designated an Engineering Landmark.


The raceways diverted water from the Passaic River above the falls to factory waterwheels along its length. Water moved through the canals at 25 miles per hour. Textile and locomotive factories sprang up, changing the American economy which had relied on British imports to this point.


The raceway system was so successful it grew into a multi-tiered structure with dozens of factories employing over 40,000 workers. At its height in the 1890s, Paterson became was known as Silk City. The mid 1900s saw the decline of Paterson’s mills and by the end of WWII, most of the factories were closed.


These days there is talk of water being returned to the raceways for improved park visitor experience. There is some concern about funding as well as the prospect of increased mosquito infestation.


Paterson Posts


Location: 72 McBride Avenue Extension, Paterson, NJ

Designation: National Historical Park

Date designated or established: 11/7/2011

Date of my visit: 1/26/2020


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