National Park Status Sought for Paterson Waterfall Site

The New York Times
By:  Robert Hanley, Staff
February 26, 2001

PATERSON, N.J., Feb. 19 New Jersey's two United States senators and one of its House members opened a campaign today to create a national park around the Great Falls, Paterson's landmark and the essence of its birth as a major manufacturing center after the Revolutionary War.

"You're standing on hallowed ground; it's precious land," Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a former mayor of Paterson, told about 50 preservationists and local government officials as the falls in the background tumbled 77 feet into a gorge. The group was clustered on a promenade beneath a statue of Alexander Hamilton, who founded Paterson in 1792 on the dream of harnessing the falls' power for industry.

Senator Robert G. Torricelli said that Hamilton's vision led to the Industrial Revolution, likening its historical importance to Thomas Jefferson's vision of Washington as a cradle of democracy. Designating the falls as a national park would create a "window into America's industrial past," Mr. Torricelli said.

New Jersey's other senator, Jon S. Corzine, was not there but released a statement saying he hoped the campaign for a park would produce the best way to "create living history" of the community's technological and social innovation in the 1800's.

The three lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require the federal Interior Department to explore the suitability of the Great Falls for a national park. Designation as a park, they said, could lead to millions of dollar in federal money to speed restoration of old factories that decades ago hummed with the production of silk fabrics, locomotives and Colt revolvers.

They said they also envisioned restaurants, museums and other attractions for schoolchildren and tourists near the site. Designation as a park would also provide badly needed full- time staffing for the site by the National Park Service, they said.

The Interior Department declared the Great Falls and about 118 acres around it a national historic landmark in 1976. Nine years earlier, the department dedicated the falls as a natural landmark. During the 1990's, the federal government provided about $7 million for renovation of old factories and construction of pathways and bridges for visitors.

Senators Torricelli and Corzine and Representative Pascrell, who was mayor of Paterson from 1990 to 1996, said they hoped their legislation would bring millions of dollars more and quicken the pace of revival.

Mr. Pascrell suggested that Paterson's current leaders were less than enthusiastic about working with the Interior Department and about providing local money to help with the renovations the federal government financed in the 1990's.

"My goal is to create a partnership between Paterson and the National Park Service," Mr. Pascrell said. "I'm confident the City of Paterson is up to the task."

Paterson's mayor, Martin Barnes, who attended today's ceremony, said he endorsed the idea that a national park would be good for Paterson's economy.

"We will give everything we can possibly give," Mr. Barnes said, "because it's the right thing to do."