PATERSON — Reaching 77 feet high and 300 feet across, Paterson's Great Falls sends 500,000 to 1 million gallons of water cascading from the Passaic River every minute.

About a decade ago, the landmark was designated a National Historical Park, and the park commemorates the rich history of one of New Jersey's most prominent cities.

Park Ranger Kelsey Sirica said there is a petition process for a certain area's natural and cultural resources to be preserved or conserved before it can be named a national park. Another key requirement is that the site "must have something important to tell" about the story of America.

In the case of the Great Falls, that story goes back prior to 1792, when none other than Alexander Hamilton founded Paterson as the then-new country's first planned industrial city.

"Going to the waterfall, that's actually what inspired Hamilton to build this city. He saw so much power and potential when he first viewed the Great Falls in 1778," Sirica said.

Hamilton was no doubt fascinated by the volcanic rock that formed the cliffs of the falls, forged by the long-ago splintering of the world's continents. So even though there is no volcano in Paterson (which would be cause for an entirely different story here), Sirica said the composition of the materials at the falls is meant to stand the test of time.

"It does not erode rather quickly. It actually takes hundreds and hundreds of years, so it's pretty safe to say for about the next 100 years or so, the shape of our waterfall will stay as it is," she said.

On tours that are given every day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and at the Paterson Museum just a two-minute walk away, visitors get a chance to dive into the history of the site and of the municipality, including its "Silk City" moniker — earned in those early industrial days when Paterson was responsible for producing half of the world's silk.

Information on the park's Junior Ranger program is currently available at the Welcome Center on McBride Avenue, though reports that a proposal is in the works for a modern, $25 million dollar visitor center.

For more on the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, click here.

If you have an idea for a future installment of "Discovering New Jersey," contact Patrick Lavery, Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming, on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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