History & Culture

A half-moon black ornamental fence facing left with the letters "S.U.M." in ornate filigree. Facing left, it frames a view of the Passaic River & the upper edge of the Great Falls surrounded by trees


History & Culture

National parks preserve and protect not just nature, but the history and culture of a landscape. Explore the stories of Paterson - production, people, and places which helped shape a nation and the globe:

1850s black & white photo of a dirt street lined by stone, brick, & wood 2-3 story buildings, a mountain in the background. Closest at left is the Rogers works, an 0-4-0 steam locomotive, wheel castings, & cannons out front

Paterson Museum


The history of the City of Paterson includes its beginning in 1792 as the ambitious project of Alexander Hamilton and the 1791 "Society for Establishing Usefull Manufacturers" (S.U.M.) at the Great Falls, the early development of water power systems for industrial use, and the various types of manufacturing that occurred in the District's mills into the 20th Century. These included cotton fabrics, railroad locomotives, firearm manufacturing, textile machinery, jute and silk spinning, weaving, and dyeing, and brewing, among many others.

Explore the creation of a nation through Paterson's industries.

1913 photo of men, a woman, & numerous children marching with strike picket signs

Paterson Museum


A core aspect of the Paterson experiment was the relationship between industry and labor. Patersonians were some of the first in the nation to engage in strike actions to fight for better hours, wages, and working conditions - from the 1835 children's "Baby Strike" through the Great 1913 Silk Strike to continued activism today, Patersonians helped create our modern relationship to work.

As such, Paterson is one of the sites included in the 2022 "Americans at Work" National Historic Landmark Theme Study on Labor History.

Paterson Great Falls is also located approximately ten minutes by car from the American Labor Museum, itself a site directly associated with the 1913 strike in Paterson.

Black & white photo of Lou Costello at a table surrounded by smiling men, women, & children - he is turned, grinning, towards his young daughter, standing on a chair

Paterson Museum


Founded within the Lenapehoking, the homeland of the Lenape for over 18,000 years, Paterson succeded thanks to immigrants. The city's founder, Alexander Hamilton, was himself an immigrant - the culture and diversity of the community he created comes from the workers and their families, who helped build up the area - some who owned and operated manufacturing concerns and became wealthy, and others who struggled for better working conditions and pay for themselves and their descendants. All called the city home, raising families and pursuing countless American dreams.

Immigrants still settle in Paterson today to pursue their versions of Hamilton's vision, creating a diverse, vibrant, ever evolving culture.

Explore the stories of the people of Paterson

Three story brick mill buildings w/ angled roofs & green windows & doors stand along a dry water channel, autumn leaves gathered on the ground

VIP Terry McKenna


When families immigrated to Paterson they brought with them their unique cultural identities. People came from all walks of life, and with their diverse backgrounds it only helped to grow the city's distinct personality.

From seemingly endless rows of towering brick mills to compact corner shops, from small homes at the river's edge to a castle atop the mountain, Paterson's built environment is a rich tapestry of history and culture. Each has a story to tell.

Explore these important places in Paterson

Red, white, & blue logo reading "WWII American Heritage City" showing an outline of farms, factories, & skyscrapers, a ship, & a four-engine bomber aircraft


American World War II Heritage City

The combination of people, places, & production which are the core of Paterson's story are highlighted throughout it's history. Alexander Hamilton recognized that this would be critical in times of conflict as well as times of peace.

World War II was a prime example, a period when the city threw it's full effort into military manufacturing, civil defense, and mobilization on the home-front. This history is honored and shared to this day.

For these reasons, Paterson is New Jersey's American WWII Heritage City - recognized through the American WWII Heritage City Program for meeting high criteria for home-front activities and modern commemoration. Only one city in each state can be so designated, highlighting the significance of Paterson's contributions.

Blue cover w/ a painting of a 1700s water powered mill for a Historic Resource Study of Paterson NJ


Historic Resource Study

The National Park Service, in cooperation with the Organization of American Historians, has released the long-anticipated Historic Resource Study (HRS) of Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park: “An Incorporation of the Adventurers”: A History of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, Paterson “Silk City” and its People, and the Passaic Great Falls.

The purpose of the HRS is to provide a historical overview of a park or region and identify a park’s cultural resources within historic contexts. The study expands upon earlier analysis of park resources and provide essential information which will inform decisions about the preservation, management, and interpretation of historic and cultural resources at the park.

This baseline study builds on thematic work accomplished to date, including themes and contexts addressed at the 2012 Scholars Roundtable and the environmental, economic, industrial, and social history associated with resources within the park boundary.

Explore the full Historic Resource Study and the Historic Resource Study Appendices

Last updated: February 11, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

72 McBride Avenue Extension
Paterson, NJ 07501



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