TwHP Lessons

Paterson, New Jersey:
America's Silk City

[Photo] The Great Falls / S.U.M. National Historic Landmark district.
(Paterson Friends of the Great Falls, Inc., Barbara Small, photographer)


he water cascades over rugged cliffs, drops 77 feet, and rushes through the Passaic River Gorge. Paterson, New Jersey was established in the 1790s to utilize the power of these falls. Massive brick mill buildings lined the canals that transformed the power of the falls into energy to drive machines. These mills manufactured many things during the long history of this industrial city--cotton textiles, steam locomotives, Colt revolvers, and aircraft engines. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they produced silk fabrics in such quantities that Paterson was known as "Silk City." In 1913, however, the mills stood silent for five months as workers joined in a bitter strike that brought the city national attention.

The suburban house where leaders of the radical Industrial Workers of the World rallied thousands of workers on Sunday afternoons still stands. The elaborate home of one of the mill owners still looks down over the city from its prominent position on the side of Garret Mountain. Many of the mill buildings also survive, mute witnesses to a turbulent history.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Paterson, NJ & surrounding region
 2. Great Falls/S.U.M Historic District

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Working "In the Silk"
 2. Strike!
 3. Owners and Workers

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Dye house in the S.U.M. District, ca. 1910
 2. Dye house workers, ca. 1900
 3. Silk weaving mill in the S.U.M. District
 4. Jacquard silk looms, ca. 1900
 5. Belle Vista (Lambert Castle), 1896
 6. Strike rally at the Botto House, 1913

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Working and Workers
 2. Labor Unions and Strikes
 3. Local Industry

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The lesson is based on the Great Falls/S.U.M. Historic District, Belle Vista, and the Pietro Botto House, three of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Great Falls/S.U.M. Historic District and the Pietro Botto House have been designated National Historic Landmarks.



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