A Riparian Ribbon of Pristine Nature – A Spur for Industrial Growth

Uday Kumar Varma

Paterson Great Falls

The current sojourn to the US took me to the Paterson Great Falls in
New Jersey State. Paterson town is credited to be the first planned
industrial town in the US following her Independence in 1789.

Fueled by the hydro-power generated by the mighty falls of Passaic
, it presents a shining symbol of characteristic American
and offers a unique amalgam of pristine natural habitat;
and human intellect and enterprise,
producing a great experiment where
nature has been tamed to serve human needs.

And yet, this riparian ribbon of natural pulchritude is as soothing
and refreshing as any virgin slice of unalloyed, unadulterated nature.

The writeup pays a tribute to this remarkable site of uncommon

New Jersey, the Garden State of USA, was one of the first to attract enterprise and industry soon after the country became independent in 1789.

Over 240 years ago, in July,1778 when Alexander Hamilton, the trusted compatriot of George Washington temporarily rested at a mighty Fall, the sight fueled his imagination. He foresaw setting up a city of industry powered by the water. The war was not over yet but he anticipated a nascent nation propelling itself into a developmental orbit of great promise.

Hamilton (1757-1804), who later became the first Secretary of Treasury in the first Constitutional government in 1789 under Washington is credited for setting up the modern Banking System, establishing the federal budget process as also establishing the Bank of the United States. Wounded and killed in an honour gun-dual by his own Vice President, his death deeply disturbed the whole nation.

Visionary and an accomplished administrator, his imagination about the place he paused at for some time found full expression just a few years later.

Paterson Great Fall

The fall, known today as the Paterson Great Falls situated in the New Jersey state at a place named after its founder Paterson attracts thousands of visitors every month. William Paterson, one of the signatories of US Constitution in 1788, served as Governor of New Jersey from 1790-93. Later he was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by George Washington.

The fall formed by the Passaic River as it falls into a deep gorge in a wide semicircle, offers a bewitching panoramic view but more importantly it provided a critical component, the power of falling water. With the international harbor of New York only 22 miles away, the fall presented a promise of industrialization riding on the back of hydro power.

Within a quarter of a century, by 1794 developers designed a system of channels to harness the water of the river above the Paterson Grand Falls. The channeled river water turned massive water wheels. The water wheels activated belts, pulleys, gears, and cogs and set in motion the machines that would manufacture the goods to support this new economy and create a city of industry.

Paterson Great Falls played a historic role to shape America’s first planned industrial city.

An Expanding Diversity

Paterson founded the town in 1792. Within years, hundreds and thousands of immigrants from dozens of nations poured into Paterson. Textile workers, ironworkers, and machinists came from northern Europe. Silk workers came from eastern and southern Europe. And post- Civil War, African Americans descended in huge numbers. A hundred years later Latin America and Middle East contributed to the immigrant diversity of the town.

This diversity defines the soul of Americanism.  


A well preserved building that once housed the turbines that rotated under the mighty fall to produce electricity is the most significant monument commemorating the transformative role of this river.

In 1791, Alexander Hamilton and a group of investors founded New Jersey’s first corporation and named it Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturers(S.U.M.) Its mission was to demonstrate that the young country could build a thriving manufacturing economy- all powered by the Passaic River at the Great Falls.

Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, the S.U.M. expanded its hydropower system and leased sites along the raceway for factories. The flow of workers followed suit making Paterson one of the most diverse cities of the US. The process continues even today.

S.U.M. was purchased by the City of Paterson after WWII.

Today, the power house non-functional but stately, stands as a relic and memorial and a tribute to the foresight, industry and enterprise to the founding fathers of the great American Nation.

The Source of Drinking Water

But what has continued uninterrupted is the drinking water supply to over 800,000 inhabitants of this town. 1849 was the year when another enterprise was launched in the form of Passaic Water Company. The Company constructed reservoirs adjacent to the falls in addition to mortar dams that eventually supplemented the water supply system. The Company bought the water rights, made huge profits but also set up one of the most efficient drinking water supply systems. Even when the state took over the company and called it Passaic Valley Water Commission, it continues to supply over 83 million gallons of water every day to the inhabitants of this town fulfilling the better part of town’s requirements.

The Cast iron pipes, the conduits that carried water to the town remain in sight even today and remind one of the pioneering initiative of steam powered pumping.

And Yet a Pristine Ecosystem

The river offers a fine example of a riparian corridor that presents a magnificent ribbon of a rich natural habitat.

The waterways that support the diverse habitat constituted by a variety of flora and fauna. There are insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals. Incidentally, Paterson Great Falls is along the Atlantic Flyway- a primary migration route.

The notable fauna includes the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullantus) -a duck; and the Red Tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), a broad –winged and powerful hawk that can be seen hunting for rodents and rabbits, almost round the year. Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis), only 1-2 inches long and weighing as much as a quarter (roughly 5-7 grams), is an endangered species.

Among the flora, the one that must find mention is an invasive herb that when crushed hits your nostrils with a strong and distinct garlic odour. Alliaria Petiolata or the Garlic mustard is bountiful in the whole belt, that prefers to grow on soils over and in between rocks.

A Tribute to American Enterprise

No man would become a member of a community, in which he could not enjoy the fruits of his honest labour and industry”, wrote Paterson. He was one of those rare administrators who could translate his vision in living reality and with what great demonstration!

The township of Paterson is a tribute as much to its unique habitat as to the famed American quest and thirst for enterprise and development that never cease to abandon the pursuit to tame the nature. But more than anything else it is a celebration of the foresight and vision, of imagination and tenacity, of grit and determination, of the founding fathers of America. 

Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B, he spearheaded the nationwide digitisation programme.

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