As the first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, Alexander Hamilton knew that industry held the key to the nation’s future prosperity. And he knew just where to get young America’s future started - on the Passaic River that was rushing restlessly through a rocky gorge and down a 70-foot cataract. He lobbied for the creation of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M) and the New Jersey legislature voted the company perpetual exemption from county and township taxes to encourage the building of canals and mills. On November 22, 1791 Governor William Paterson signed the company charter and after investigating proposals from sites in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania a siting engineer declared the Passaic falls offered “the best situation in the world.” A grand new industrial city was ready for take-off. At the time, 1792, there were about ten houses in the area.
A French Army engineer, Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant was retained to create this new industrial vision and he sketched detailed plans of broad boulevards and busy canals but he soon left and went south where his plans would take hold in another new city that would take the name of a certain first President of the United States. Peter Colt, who was treasurer of the State of Connecticut, took over S.U.M. and his energies started the first mills turning in Paterson (Hamilton demurred when it was suggested the new town be named after him).
Colt’s steady hand was critical to the young development of the young town and the family that followed him would shape its future. Son Roswell L. Colt became the head of S.U.M in 1814 and controlled its fortunes until he died in 1856. His brother John got into the cotton business in 1814 in Paterson and in the 1820s began making cotton duck for sailing ships by doubling and twisting cotton yarn. He was the first in the world to successfully substitute cotton for flax in the making of sail duck and it was soon in use on all American vessels. Samuel Colt came from Hartford to manufacture pistols in the 1830s. He did not succeed and would have to return home to make the six-shooter “that tamed the West” Christopher Colt would use his old factory to create the first silk in Paterson. That did better, so much so that after John Ryle arrived from England to helm the looms Paterson transformed into the “Silk City.”
Alexander Hamilton’s vision of a great industrial beehive would, in fact, come true and Paterson would become the third largest city in New Jersey. Of course, old industrial cities have not fared well in recent years. But the urban renewal bug that infested many similar cities has never taken hold in Paterson. Many of the hulking red brick factories from the 1800s are still in place and the elaborate Beaux Arts and Art Deco buildings their wealth spawned are there too. Instead of being torn down the old buildings have been adapted by entrepreneurs looking to turn a buck so at street level the urban explorer sees a panoply of utilitarian downtown storefronts. To truly see the wonder of the streetscape it is literally necessary to “look up, Paterson” but our walking tour will begin by looking down, looking down at the wonder of the Great Falls of the Passaic River, just as Alexander Hamilton did 220-odd years ago...
Great Falls of the Passaic, Overlook Park
McBride Avenue Extension at Spruce Street
The thundering Great Falls roar over a 280-foot crest, plunging 77 feet with more water volume than any Eastern waterfall not name Niagara. Two hundred million years ago hot magna erupted from the earth and cooled to become the basaltic First Watchung Ridge, oblivious to erosion. The trapped Passaic River began poking around for a way around the ridge and finally found it here. Alexander Hamilton was the first to link the power of the Falls to industry after dining at its base during the Revolutionary War. His vision of a great industrial city here was realized over the years as the water turned machines for textiles, steam locomotives, revolvers, electricity and more. The Arch Bridge across the chasm dates to 1888.
S.U.M. Hydroelectric Plant
Passaic River, Overlook Park
In 1791, Alexander Hamilton helped organize the Society for the Establishing of Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.) to harness the energy of the Great Falls to power early American industry. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who would shortly plan the new national capital of Washington, D.C., designed the first raceway to deliver hydraulic power. In 1913-14 Thomas Edison’s Electric Company engineered a switch to electric power with one of the earliest hydroelectric plants in America. Flood damage in 1969 shuttered the plant in 1969 but operations were restored in the 1980s when three of the original turbines were replaced and the last was left as an historic relic.
LEAVE THE PARK VIA THE PARKING LOT AND TURN RIGHT. AT THE CORNER, TURN LEFT, CROSS THE STREET AND WALK UP SPRUCE STREET.
4 Spruce Street
Henry V. Butler learned the paper-making trade with his father in New York City and came to Paterson in 1837 at the age of 26 and set up shop in the Passaic Mill, built for him by Roswell L. Colt. Inside the substantial plant built of cut and dressed sandstone with turreted towers Butler developed a process of boiling old hemp rope and cotton waste under pressure in rotary boilers to produce the whitest and finest of writing papers. The Ivanhoe Mill followed in 1850 and soon the complex included ten buildings and was one of the best known in the country. The Ivanhoe Wheelhouse was built in 1865 with a 200-horsepower, 87-inch Boyden vertical water turbine to supply the company’s power needs. Today only the Wheelhouse, recently restored and home to local artists, remains from the Ivanhoe Paper Manufacturing Company.
northeast corner of Spruce Street and Market Street
Hugh Beggs joined up with millwright Alexander Paul in 1827 and began churning out cotton-spinning machinery. in 1835 he established the Union Works on this location and carried on a good business until his death in 1844. Afterwards the foundry was used in various manufacturing concerns.
2 Market Street at southeast corner of Spruce Street
Connecticut-born Thomas Rogers apprenticed in carpentry and blacksmithing, trades he worked in when he came to Paterson at the age of 20 in 1812. In 1832 he partnered with Morris Ketchum and Jasper Grosvenor to form Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor, building agricultural and textile machinery as well as springs, axles and other small parts for the first railroads of America. In 1837 Rogers built his first locomotive, Sandusky, which became the first locomotive to cross the Allegheny Mountains. It was the first locomotive to use cast iron driving wheels and Rogers was soon implemented new features and innovations in his locomotives that were quickly adopted by other firms. He led Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor until his death in 1856 and the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works would ultimately build more than 6,000 locomotives for railroads around the world. The Paterson Museum was organized in 1925 to display natural history items donated to the city library by local citizens. After spending its first 50+ years in the carriage house of former Paterson mayor and philanthropist Nathan Barnert the museum moved into the restored Rogers Locomotive Erecting Shop, constructed in 1873, in 1982. Across the street is the Rogers Locomotive Works Administration Building that dates from 1881.
TURN LEFT ON MARKET STREET. WALK TO MAIN STREET.
260-262 Main Street at Market Street
This prominent downtown intersection features widely differing anchors, all from the 1920s. On the southwest corner you have to look up past the ground floor to where the pale brick and limestone Mainmark Building gets interesting. The 1925 building exemplifies the verticality of the then-popular art deco style and is richly decorated at its roofline.
242-244 Main Street at Market Street
This eye-catching six-story building has a bent shape around the corner characteristic of an elbow but takes its name from its builder, Charles W. Elbow who operated a men’s furnishing store on this corner with his brother. Fred Wesley Wentworth, who began his career as Supervising Architect of the post office and courthouse on Colt’s Hill in the 1890s became the most significant shaper of the downtown Paterson streetscape with over 20 commissions. Here he provided an ornate facade boasting crisp white terra cotta colonettes that rise to meet carved lion heads at the top. The Elbow joined the Paterson streetscape in 1920.
253-255 Main Street at Market Street
Here’s another building where you need to look up to see the elaborate ornamentation. The three-story, six-bay commercial building dates to 1920 and features large display windows on the upper floors. The glazed white terra cotta facade is highlighted by a fanciful cornice lined with tiny smiling faces.
Silk City Trust Company
126 Market Street
Deep into the evening on Saturday, February 8, 1902 defective insulation in a car barn of a surface railroad company ignited a small fire that was quickly spread by a howling gale. It would not be until late Sunday that the fire could be contained and the city sustained nine million dollars worth of damage in the heart of downtown. One of the victims was the Silk City Trust Company and it would take until 1905 for the bank to rebuild its six-story granite headquarters. It is distinguished by large arched window bays and lion head keystones.
Citizens Trust Company
140 Market Street
The Citizens Trust Company organized in 1901 and by 1903 were moving into this six-tory, steel-frame headquarters resting on a rusticated granite base. The Beaux-Arts style facade is embellished with foliage and is enhanced by arched windows over the doors supported by grand pilasters.
100 Prospect Street at Market Street
The blue-gray limestone Burhans Building on the corner of Market Street was untouched by the 1902 fire and has weathered its more than 100 years well. An elaborate classicized pressed-metal cornice, arched windows, and a swag-embellished frieze marks a small-scale version of the more monumental buildings to be built to its west after the fire.
Franklin Trust Company
146-48 Market Street
Amos Henry Radcliffe was born in Paterson in 1870 and after attending city public schools he attended the New york Trade School where he received his certificate as a first-class blacksmith. Later on he would be elected mayor of Paterson and vault into the United States Congress. He was also president of Franklin Trust Company, which operated from this gleaming white Beaux Arts vault, rendered in limestone. A bronze bust of namesake Benjamin Franklin by Paterson sculptor Gaetano Federici still resides proudly in the corner entrance pediment, even though the bank has long ceased to exist.
155 Market Street
The New York architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, designers of the New York Public Library, many buildings in Washington, D.C. and leading practitioners of the Beaux Arts style in America, won the design competition over eleven other architects for Paterson City Hall in 1892. The magnificent 164-foot central clock tower, adorned with sculpted wreaths, eagles, urns and shields, is a a reproduction of the city hall in Lyon, the silk center of France. When it was dedicated on July 6, 1896 it was acclaimed as the finest public building in the state. It was contemplated as a memorial to the Centennial of the City and two large windows on the Ellison street elevation were created to honor John Ryle, the “Father of the Silk Industry” and a city mayor, and John J. Brown, financial wizard and first Mayor of Paterson. When it was planned $200,000 was set aside for the new City Hall; the final tab came in at $530,971.80 - unfurnished.
United Bank Building
150-56 Market Street
When it came to rebuilding after the 1902 fire, United Bank turned back to the French Second Empire style for its seven-story sandstone headquarters. Above the ground floor the rusticated facade marches upward to richly decorated dormers set into the mansard roof. Step back to see the ornate wrought iron balcony on the second floor.
Second National Bank
9 Colt Street
The Passaic County Bank was organized in 1852 and on July 1, 1874 Congress passed a special act changing the name of the institution to the Second National Bank of Paterson. Considered a conservative bank, the directors let down their hair for this Beaux Arts showcase next to the new City Hall in 1895. After a powerful, two-story, bank-like base the marble and limestone building breaks out into a riot of decoration. The narrow Market Street facade boasts a quartet of fluted Corinthian columns and Corinthian pilasters continue along the broad Colt Street facade. Five balconied windows face City Hall. The building continues to rise above the detailed fourth floor cornice but there used to be even more - it originally carried a steep, two-story mansard roof with tall chimneys, dormers, and end towers that were removed in the 1920s. Next door at 167-169 Market Street the bank added a Classical Revival annex a decade later. It is dominated by a pair of colossal fluted Doric columns that frame a bronze entrance frame.
TURN LEFT ON COLT STREET, BETWEEN CITY HALL AND THE SECOND NATIONAL BANK. TURN LEFT AT THE END OF THE SHORT STREET ONTO ELLISON STREET INTO THE HEART OF A FINANCIAL DISTRICT THAT DEVELOPED AROUND CITY HALL IN THE EARLY 1900S. THE CLUSTER OF BUILDINGS ARE DOMINATED BY THE CLASSICAL REVIVAL MOVEMENT IN AMERICA AT THAT TIME. WALK OVER TO WASHINGTON STREET.
121 Ellison Street at Washington Street
This turn-of-the-20th century three-story brick building with sandstone trim from 1903 stands out by its use of bod, decorative window hoods over the third floor and is elaborate door surround on Washington Street.
TURN AND WALK BACK TOWARDS COLT STREET.
First National Bank
125-131 Ellison Street at Washington Street
The First National Bank was organized in 1864 with merchant John J. Brown at the helm. after their triumph with City Hall, Carrere and Hastings returned to rebuild the bank after the 1902 fire. They gave the building a heavily rusticated appearance, including the columns and arched windows and doorway. The beautiful proportions are set off by a pair of balustrades.
137 Ellison Street
The Young Mens Christian Association began in 1844 in England and the Paterson YMCA was one of the earliest to form in the United States, meeting in the early 1860s. Their first facility on Market Street offered a gym, bible classes, a reading room and an “employment bureau.” In 1892 the Paterson YMCA moved into the elegant former home of John Cooke at this location. Cooke, a Canadian, apprenticed to Thomas Rogers and eventually was building his own locomotives in the Cooke Locomotive Works. A building containing baths, bowling alleys, a gymnasium and an assembly hall was erected behind the mansion. After the fire of 1902 this facility boasting dormitories, a swimming pool, track and a library was constructed. The crisply rendered brick, granite and limestone building is ornamented with shields and decorative keystone arches. The YMCA moved to a new $1.5 million home in 1930 and this building did various duty, thereafter, including a stint as the City Hall Annex.
5 Colt Street at Ellison Street
Like many of Paterson’s historic buildings, the ground floor, with its large arched bays, has been severely compromised so you will need to look up to appreciate the detailing of this white brick and limestone Baroque Revival/Beaux Arts building that was once time was home to various Paterson social societies.
The Hamilton Club
32 Church Street at Ellison Street
For a city of its size and considerable industrial base, Paterson was unusual in its absence of club facilities in the 19th century. That was rectified in 1890 by Garret A. Hobart, who would later be William McKinley’s first Vice-President from 1897 to 1899. The Hamilton Club first adjourned in his residence and moved into this handsome Italian Renaissance palazzo designed by Paterson architect John W. Ferguson and built by Charles E. Edwards at a cost of $100,000. The Great Fire of 1902 left only charred wallsand some furniture pulled out before the flames spread down from the upper eaves. The members voted unanimously to restore the original building down to the minutest detail.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
45 Church Street
Jacob Fabian was the showbiz impresario of North Jersey who built the first movie-only theater in Passaic County in 1914. The Fabian Theatre came along in 1925, debuting with the silent comedy, We Moderns. Fred Wesley Wentworth designed the 9-story brick high rise around the 3,700-seat movie palace. The Fabian was multi-plexed in the 1970s but it staggered to a close in 1993, its last years highlighted only by the premiere of Lean On Me, the story of Paterson high school principal Joe Clark.
Alexander Hamilton Hotel
55 Church Street
The eight-story, 219-room Alexander Hamilton Hotel was built by the Paterson Chamber of Commerce as an initiative to provide the city with a first-class hotel. Their $1.5 million bought what many considered the finest hotel in New Jersey. Charles Lindbergh, comedian and Paterson native Lou Costello, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan would all sign the guest book here. By the 1970s the hotel’s glory days were long gone and in 1984 a hotel employee torched the building. Thirteen people perished in the blaze, the worst fire in Paterson since the 1902 conflagration. The hotel was shuttered in 1993 but a $17.5 million conversion to living and retail space has recently transpired.
TURN LEFT ON MARKET STREET AND CROSS OVER ONTO CLARK STREET. AFTER ONE BLOCK, TURN RIGHT ON WARD STREET.
Passaic County Courthouse Annex
southeast corner of Ward and Hamilton Street
While many of the buildings in Paterson represent a nod to its industrial past in the early 1800s or the bustling prosperity of the early 1900s this eye-catching confection tips its hat to the heritage of the 1600s. The Passaic County Courthouse Annex served was designed in Flemish style, modeled on the Harlem Market in Holland, as a tribute to the Dutch settlers of the area. Built in 1898, its red brick walls are generously banded, trimmed, keyed and quoined with grey limestone - all the way up its gargoyle-protected tower. Until 1932, this is where Paterson went to pick up its mail. In 1937’s Centennial Celebration of Passaic County, the former U.S. Post Office of Paterson was rededicated as the Passaic County Administrative Building and annexed to Passaic County Court House.
TURN LEFT ON HAMILTON STREET.
Old Passaic County Courthouse
71 Hamilton Street
You may be excused if you feel as if you somehow stumbled onto the state capitol tucked away on a Paterson side street. This grand Neoclassical structure was completed in 1903 as the Passaic County courthouse. Designer Samuel Burrage Reed of Bergen County, the approaching 70 years of age and capping off a distinguished career, gave the white marble courthouse a protruding imposing Corinthian colonnade at its symmetrical front, a decorative frieze in its Greek pediment, and a rooftop balustrade. All is surmounted by copper dome ruled by a statue of Lady Justice.
Old Paterson High School
80 Hamilton Street
This modest protrusion near the center of Paterson was where Peter Colt, the architect of the Great Falls raceway, and his family lived from Colonial days until deep into the 1800s. At the turn of the 20th century it was decided that Colt’s Hill was the perfect site for the new courthouse and post office. And why now throw in a new Neoclassical high school as well? The well-proportioned brick school building faced the courthouse with its own colonnade of twinned, fluted Ionic columns and stone roof balustrade. It now does duty as a social services building.
TURN RIGHT ON GRAND AVENUE.
St. John the Baptist Cathedral
381 Grand Street at Main Street
Irish-born architect Patrick J. Keely commenced his career as a church builder in Brooklyn in 1847. He rapidly became the go-to architect of the Catholic church and was credited with the design of over 600 churches. He designed every nineteenth-century Catholic cathedral in New England. Large cathedrals were his specialty. And this was one. This Gothic-inspired dark stone church was consecrated on June 29, 1890 and made a cathedral on December 9, 1937. The large ventral window was designed by the Pyne Studios of Paterson, New Jersey. When it was installed in 1940 it was the second largest in the United States.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET. CONTINUE PAST MARKET STREET, THROUGH THE INTERSECTION TRAVERSED EARLIER IN THE TOUR.
Paterson Savings Institution
231-235 Main Street
The Paterson Savings Institution was incorporated in 1869 by the state legislature with a capital of $100,000 and swiftly ascended to the top rank of stock savings banks in New Jersey. It was able to afford this elegantly attired six-story brick and terra-cotta home in 1890. Built to be fire-proof it proved its mettle in the Great Fire of 1902 by sustaining only minor damage and serving as a firewall to prevent the conflagration from spreading further south.
Quackenbush Department Store
186-196 Main Street
Peter Quackenbush was born in Paterson and educated in the public schools. He began clerking in the dry good stores of John C. Van Dervoort, like himself a descendent of the earliest Dutch families to the region. Quackenbush opened what was destined to be Paterson’s largest department store in 1878. This scrumptious Beaux Arts confection from 1902 is another place in town to spot lion heads - look above the lavishly carved double-scroll capitals.
TURN LEFT ON COLLEGE BOULEVARD AND CONTINUE AS IT JOGS LEFT PAST CIANCI PARK AND BECOMES VAN HOUTEN STREET.
Colt Gun Mill
Van Houten and Mill streets
It was not unusual for boys in frontier America in the 19th century to be entranced with firearms; Samuel Colt happened to be more precocious than most. Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814 Colt was discovered at the age of seven dismantling and assembling a gun. He went to work early toiling in his father’s silk mill but he soon talked his way onto a merchant ship bound for India working as a hand. By the time he returned home a year later, the 16-year old Colt had fashioned a white-pine model of a multi-barreled, repeating pistol. He handed his wooden gun to a Hartford gunsmith named Aaron Chase who created a handgun capable of firing several bullets in succession - the dream of gunmakers for the previous 200 years. Colt raised money to produce the guns by traveling the countryside giving demonstrations of nitrous oxide, calling himself “the celebrated Dr. S. Coult of London and Calcutta.” The most famous six-shooter in history was financed by laughing gas. Colt fine-tuned his pistol design and by 1836 had secured French, English and American patents. Samuel Colt was twenty-two. Colt and several investors went into business at this site as the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, making rifles, carbines, shotguns and muskets on a lot that housed an 1813 rolling mill and nail factory. Colt tore down the building and constructed a four-story brownstone structure measuring 100 x 40 feet. Although he sold several hundred weapons over the next few years, Colt was never able to land a contract with the United States Army and the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company went bankrupt in 1842. The Mexican War and the opening of the West were just on the horizon, however, and Samuel Colt would become one of America’s richest men making guns on the Connecticut River back in Hartford. As for his first mill, the first silk processing in Paterson would took place in this structure. In the 1840s, as the demand for silk grew, the mill was expanded by the addition of three new buildings. Today the remains of the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company comprise some of the oldest building stock in the Historic District of Paterson.
FOLLOW THE ROAD AS IT BENDS TO THE LEFT AND BECOMES MILL STREET. TURN RIGHT AT THE INTERSECTION ON MCBRIDE AVENUE TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN OVERLOOK PARK.