Great Falls and good eats in historic Paterson, NJ
If Niagara is the most powerful waterfall east of the Mississippi, what's the second? Give up? It's Great Falls, and it's smack in the middle of Paterson, N.J., less than an hour away from NYC. Never heard of it? You're not alone.
Leonard Zax, founder and president of the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson, puts it plainly: "This is the most spectacular historical place in America that virtually no one ... has ever heard of, let alone visited."
In 2010, Great Falls was designated a National Historical Park. The 77-foot-high, 300-foot-wide falls -- what Patersonian writer Junot Diaz describes as a "natural treasure of alarming power" -- are what convinced Alexander Hamilton that he had found "the finest site anywhere in the world" for manufacturing.
In 1791, Hamilton and William Paterson set up the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures and, by harnessing the power of the waterfall via an ingenious network of raceways, created what was to become one of the greatest manufacturing cities of the world.
All through the 1800s and into the early 1900s, immigrants from all over the world flocked to Paterson to live and work. The city's huge factories turned out textiles -- so much silk that Paterson became known as Silk City -- Colt revolvers, locomotives, paper, airplane engines (including the one that powered Charles Lindbergh's first solo trans-Atlantic flight) and more.
Though decades away from its glory days, Paterson is still a magnet for people from Latin America, the Middle East and South Asia, and most recently from the former USSR -- an astounding 52 ethnicities in all.
Tour the park
For a great do-it-yourself tour of the park, download the Mill Mile app on iTunes or Google Play. Start at the overlook where Alexander Hamilton's statue stands and go up to the Great Falls Bridge to see the rainbow mist and feel the spray. Treat yourself to a long look at the falls -- consider a picnic there -- and then walk up the hill to the ruins of the Art Deco Hinchliffe Stadium, built in the '30s and once host to games of baseball's Negro leagues. From there, walk along the path of the Upper Raceway, with woods on one side and mill buildings on the other. Stroll by the Art Factory, a former flax and jute mill converted to studio spaces for artists. Snap photos of the giant mills that line Spruce Street, some re-purposed, others waiting to be. Imagine what these streets looked like in the mid-1800s, alive with workers at the paper mills, the Rogers LocomotiveWorks (where more than 6,000 engines were built) and the silk mills, the scene of the famous Paterson silk mill strike 100 years ago. Also be sure to stop at the Paterson Museum for a look at some of the mill machinery from the city's heyday.
When you get hungry
Manny Martinez, a native Patersonian, says the city is a foodie heaven. He recommends Griselda's, 81 Market St., a Peruvian eatery with great chaufa (fried rice with seafood, pork, beef or chicken), Antojitos Poblanos, 246 Grand St., an unassuming Mexican diner with great tacos and burritos or Noces de Colombia, 365 21st Ave., for shrimp salad with fresh avocado. Also try Libby's Lunch, 98 McBride Ave., open since 1926. Regulars recommend the hot dog "all the way," with chili, mustard and onions.
Take NJ Transit from Penn Station to Market Street with a transfer in Secaucus or the #190 bus from Port Authority.