Digging Deeper into Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

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The Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey are one of the newest units of the National Park System.

In the relatively few posts that I have made for this blog so far, readers may have noticed that I love new national parks.   A visit to a new national park is much different from a visit to an older national park, as it really takes a good 10 years for most of the trappings we come to expect out of a national park visit to be established.  That means the significance of visiting one of these new places may not always immediately jump out to you on your visit, and it may instead require a bit more digging to find the things that make the place one of the 400-or-so most-important places in the United States.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in the outer New York City suburb of Paterson, New Jersey.  Congress authorized establishment of this park in March 2009, and after more than a year and a half of negotiations on land acquisition, it finally came into being as the 397th national park in November 2011.

This hydroelectric plant was built in the early 20th century by the Society for the establishment of Useful Manufacturers (S.U.M.), a company that was originally founded by Alexander Hamilton.
This hydroelectric plant was built in the early 20th century by the Society for the establishment of Useful Manufacturers (S.U.M.), a company that was originally founded by Alexander Hamilton.

Now its worth noting that many advocates for the National Park System rolled their eyes when Paterson Great Falls NHP was established.   On one hand, it was pretty clear that the intent to use national park tourism as an engine for economic development was pretty clearly a driving force behind the effort.  Ever since Lowell National Historical Park successfully turned the old cotton mills in the Boston-area outer suburb of Lowell, Massachusetts into not just a national park, but a successful tourist attraction, many other declining factory towns throughout the northeastern United States have dreamed of duplicating the success.  Those dreams were pretty clearly part of the equation here.

For example, when reading about the importance of the new national park, the starting point is usually the Great Falls of the Passaic River themselves.   As you can see from the above photos, the falls are kind of nice, and perhaps a bit unusual in being located in such an urban setting, but are not quite at the level of becoming a natural wonder of the world of anything like that.

After the falls for themselves, descriptions of this park’s importance always include the role of Alexander Hamilton in this area.   As Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton was concerned with establishing the economic independence of the fledgling United States, and in particlar, of reducing the reliance of the States on imported manufactured goods.  At that time, the United States were primarily exporting raw crops and natural resources back to Europe, and were importing almost all of its manufactured goods.   To that end, Hamilton established the Society for the establishment of Useful Manufactures, and selected the Great Falls of the Passaic River as the source of hydro-power that would underpin the manufacturing efforts.  The new town would be named after the then-governor of New Jersey, William Paterson, who would actually go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.   The designer of the new capitol city of Washington, DC, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, would even make a cameo appearance here – designing a series of canal raceways to carry the hydro-power of the falls to the mills located throughout the town.   The ruins of these old raceways are still visible in the town today.

Still, with all that being said, the history here still had a bit of an “Alexander Hamilton slept here” feel to it.   After all, there is already a national park devoted to the life of Alexander Hamilton at his former estate, the Hamilton Grange National Memorial,  located in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood.  Additionally, despite Alexander Hamilton’s role in founding S.U.M., its not particularly clear, or at least was not from my visit, whether the manufacturing techniques developed in Paterson, New Jersey really had a larger effect on the Industrial Revolution throughout the United States as a whole.   For example, the recently-established Blackstone River Valley NHP (see Parkasaurus post here) includes the Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  The Slater Mill was founded in 1793, just two years after S.U.M., and is credited with being the “birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.”

Its possible that this slogan simply reflects better marketing by the Old Slater Mill, but it seems that there is a decent argument that the development of factories in Pawtucket had a greater impact on the United States as a whole than-did the efforts of S.U.M. in Paterson.   On the other hand, it iss still early days at this new national park in Paterson, so it will be interesting to watch how that story is told in the years to come.

The Paterson Museum tells the story of Paterson's history, including the historical significance of this locomotive, located in front of the museum
The Paterson Museum tells the story of Paterson’s history, including the historical significance of this locomotive, located in front of the museum.

In order to dig deeper into the history of this place, however, the Paterson Museum, located in an old factory, is a must-stop location at this park.   Inside the Museum, there are a few exhibits on the history of Paterson, from the first American Indians all the way to the middle 20th Century.   There are some interesting historical footnotes about Paterson, including the fact that the engine of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis was manufactured here, as were the first modern submarines.   Perhaps the most interesting footnote to me, however, was the information on the heavy-duty locomotives that were manufactured in Paterson.  This includes Engine 299, which is now located outside the museum, and which represents the heavy-duty locomotives that were used in the construction of the Panama Canal.

The construction of the Panama Canal is truly one of the great achievements in U.S. history, one that changed the course of history.  Although the Suez Canal was completed in 1869 at a length of around 120-or-so miles, the difficult terrain and climate in the Isthmus of Panama thwarted canal-building attempts for decades, despite being less than 50 miles in length.  Over the course of multiple attempts by first the French and then by the United States, tens of thousands of people would die in the construction, until finally the current canal was completed in 1914.  According to the Paterson Museum, the heavy locomotives built in Paterson were instrumental in the ultimate success of that effort.

Since the Canal Zone was returned to Panama in 1999, there are obviously no prospects of a U.S. national park located at the site of the canal itself.   Thus, if Paterson Great Falls NHP were to  become an unofficial “Panama Canal National Historical Park” in its development, and telling the broader story of the construction of Panama Canal, then that would certainly cement this park’s historical importance as of the nation’s 400-or-so most important places in the U.S. National Park System.

Hinclife Stadium was added to Paterson Great Falls NHP in December 2014, making it the first historic place related to professional sports in the U.S. National Park System.
Hinchlife Stadium was added to Paterson Great Falls NHP in December 2014, making it the first historic place related to professional sports in the U.S. National Park System.

Finally, there is one last historic story to mention at Paterson Great Falls NHP.  The Defense Authorization Act of 2015, in addition to creating a number of new national parks, it also expanded the boundaries of several others, including Paterson Great Falls NHP.   In this case, the boundaries of Paterson Great Falls NHP were expanded to include Hinchliffe Stadium, which is notable for the fact that it once played host to a significantnumber of Negro League Baseball games.

It will be interesting to see what the National Park Service is ultimately able to do with this property in terms of restoration and historical interpretation.   Professional sports have not really been a theme that the National Park Service has much experience in interpreting – except for maybe the occasional mention of a U.S. President being a sports fan at the National Historic Site devoted to that President.   Other than that, baseball gets a brief mention at Fort Pulaski National Monument – primarily because there is this photograph from 1862 (in the middle of the Civil War!), which is one of the earliest known photographs of a baseball game.   Of course, Negro League baseball is an important historical theme not just for the accomplishments of African-American ball-players on the field, but because of the imporThis addition will likely make Paterson Great Falls NHP an entry-point for telling the story of the 20th Century struggle for civil rights in the North.   In this case, it will compliment the stories already being told at several other national parks, but which are primarily located in Washington, DC and in states to the south.

If you go to visit Paterson Great Falls NHP, you may want to strongly consider downloading the Mill Mile App, which is available on both Itunes and Google Play.  The App will give you everything you need to plan your visit, and most importantly, an audio walking tour of the area.  The first half of the walking tour is even narrated by famous New Jerseyian Brian Williams – which I guess was more of a big deal just a few weeks ago than it is right now.  There is also one Passport stamp for the park, not surprisingly for “Paterson, NJ”, and its available at three locations, including the Paterson Museum and the NPS Offices.

Overall, these remain early days for the development of Paterson Great Falls NHP.  Digging deeper into this park, however, its easy to see the potential for this place to tell a number of important historical stories.

A detail from the outside of Hinchliffe Stadium.
A detail from the outside of Hinchliffe Stadium.

 

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February 2015 Stamps: Roebling Bridge & Many More

The Roebling Bridge is an engineering marvel that is now preserved as part of the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recretarional River.
The Roebling Bridge is an engineering marvel that is now preserved as part of the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recretarional River.  Picture from 2006.

Eastern national has released its list of new Passport Stamps for the much of February, and the list includes a sizable 17 stamps, 14 of which are truly brand “new.”  Of the remaining 14, three are annivesary stamps, four others are for Trails and Heritage Areas, and the remaining seven are for new areas in national parks.

Headlining the list is a new stamp for the Roebling Bridge in the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River.   Although  most people think of river-based national parks as being primarily about rafting, canoeing, and kayaking, the Upper Delaware SRR also includes notable historic sites like the home of author Zane Grey and the nearby Roebling Bride.  The Roebling Bridge is a true engineering landmark, constructed by the same John Roebling that would later go on to construct the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.

Although in the modern day we are used to bridges that carry land vehicles over water, back in the heyday of canals, bridges were also used to carry water vehicles over water.  In the picture above, you can see that the modern-day roadbed was once used by canal boats crossing over the Delaware River, and the rebuilt wooden towpath can now be used by pedestrians.   Also rebuilt are the icebreakers at the base of the bridge:

 

The base of the Roebling Bridge contains icebreakers.   Picture from 2006.
The Roebling Bridge was built to carry canal boats over the Delaware River, which was often full of lumber being floated downstream.  The base of the Roebling Bridge contains icebreakers to protect the bridge in winter months. Picture from 2006.

The stamp for the Roebling Bridge gives the Upper Delaware SRR a total of three cancellations:  Beach Lake – where the park headquarters is; The Zane Grey Museum – in Lackawaxen, PA: and the Roebling Bridge – also in Lackawaxen.

Other new stamps this month include a new stamp for Hatteras Island at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.  This will likely replace the existing stamp for Buxton, NC at the Hatteras Island Visitor Center, next to the iconic Cape Hattereas Lighthouse.  It remains to be seen if this will be a net new stamp for this park, or if it will join the existing stamps for Manteo (park headquarters), Bodie Island, and Ocracoke Island for a total of four.  A few years ago, there was also a fifth cancellation for the town of Nags Head, NC, but that stamp has since been lost or retired.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site's preserved nuclear missile silo is one of the highlights of a visit to the park.  Phot Credit: National Park Service
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site’s preserved nuclear missile silo is one of the highlights of a visit to the park. Phot Credit: National Park Service

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota has added two cancellations this month.   This relatively new national park is the first dedicated to telling the story of the Cold War in the United States.   The first new stamp is simply labeled “Visitor Center,” and will no doubt be found at the brand new park visitor center that had a soft opening in November 2014.   If you are planning a trip to this park, you may want to plan a trip for September 26, 2015 and the official grand opening and dedication of this park’s first visitor center.  Up to this point, the Ranger Contact Station for the park had a stamp simply labeled “South Dakota,” which may now be replaced with the opening of the visitor center.

The other new stamp is for Launch Control Facility Delta-01.   This facility is only open during ranger-guided tours, so be sure to plan ahead!  This cancellation joins the existing stamp for Launch Facility Delta-09, which is the park’s missile silo, and the other major site within the park.

Magnolia Plantation in Bermuda, Louisiana is one of two plantations preserve at Cane River Creole National Historical Park
Oakland Plantation outside of Natchitoches, Louisiana is one of two plantations preserve at Cane River Creole National Historical Park.

Cane River Creole National Historical Park preserves two plantations in northwest Louisiana.  Officially, this park lists one new stamp, for Derry, LA – the site of Magnolia Plantation.  For many years, the Park has had a single cancellation available at both plantation sites, reading “Natchez, LA” on the bottom.  Natchez is the location of Oakland Plantation, which is the site with more-developed visitor facilities, including the only one of the two plantation sites that also offers house tours.  At one point in time, there was a cancellation for Bermuda, LA available at the Oakland Plantation, but it was lost or retired several years ago.  The issuance of a unique stamp for Magnolia Plantation thus gives this park a total of two cancellations.

Among the changes to the National Park System in the Defense Authorization Act for 2015 was a provision renaming First State National Monument to First State National Historical Park, and expanding it to include several additional sites.   This month, stamps with the new park name have been reissued for the existing sites at Dover Green in Dover, DE; New Castle Courthouse in New Castle, DE; and the Woodlawn Preserve in Wilmington, DE.  Additionally, stamps were ordered for two additional sites that are imminently to be added to this park: one for Kent County, DE to be at the Dickinson Plantation site, and another for Lewes, DE to be at the Ryves-Holt House.  John Dickinson was a signer of the US Constitution, and the Ryves-Holt House is reportedly the oldest house in the State of Delaware – so neither of these two new sites seem likely to get the blood racing.

In addition to all of the above stamps, there are three new anniversary stamps issued:

  • Chalmette Battlefield (part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve) | 200th Anniversary 1815-2015 – for the 200th anniversary of the famous Battle of New Orleans that ended the War of 1812 and propelled Andrew Jackson to the Presidency.
  • Fire Island National Seashore | 50th Anniversary 1964-2014 – a stamp that seems a little late to the anniversary stamp party, but nonetheless commemorates 50 years of protecting beaches on the south shore of Long Island.
  • Agate Fossil Beds National Monument | 50th Anniversary 1965-2015 – a stamp that marks 50 years of protecting fossil mammals from approximately 20 million years ago in western Nebraska.

I posted last month my thoughts on the recent trend for anniversary stamps, so I won’t go into that topic again.

Finally, there are a few new stamps for Heritage Areas and Trails:

  • the Essex National Heritage Area in northeastern Massachussetts has a new stamp for the town of Beverly, MA.
  • the Coal National Heritage Area in southern West Virginia has a new stamp for the New River Gorge National River‘s Sandstone Visitor Center.
  • the Juan Bautista de Anza National HIstorical Trail marks the route of Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1776 expedition with more than 200 men, women, and children from Mexico to establish a new settlement at San Francisco Bay.   The first new stamp is for Atascadero, California in San Luis Obispo County where the Atascadero Mutual Water Company manges a stretch of the trail suitable for hiking.
  • The second Juan Bautista de Anza stamp is for Hacienda de la Canoa in Green Valley, Arizona.  This historic site has a new exhibit on the de Anza expedition.

With all of these new additions, we now estimate that there are 1,968 cancellations out there to explore.   Closing in on 2,000!

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