Great Falls.

If I asked you to name the location of the second largest waterfall in the United States east of the Mississippi River, many states would probably come to mind: Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Maine, or Tennessee might all seem logical candidates. What if I told you, however, that this landmark was found in New Jersey, a mere 40 minutes outside of New York City? And what if I added that one of our Founding Fathers was so impressed by the waterfall that he imagined using it to power a city of innovation and industry? After nearly two years of writing this blog, my greatest takeaway has been the places I have discovered on the road across our great nation, the little-known spots that are worth detouring from the highway to find.

Paterson Great Falls is a National Historic Park, located in Paterson, New Jersey. The waterfalls were formed in the ice age over 10,000 years ago, as the course of the Passaic River changed after a glacier receded. The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, saw the waterfalls and imagined an industrial city that would harness the great power of the falls to drive the creation of the first planned industrial city in the United States. The falls singlehandedly led to the creation of Paterson, New Jersey, an industrial powerhouse for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The third most populated city in New Jersey, Paterson has struggled since the end of the Second World War with high unemployment and crime, although lately has been the focus of intense state-level efforts to revitalize the city (via Wikipedia).

On a mild Saturday afternoon in January, I set off to learn more about the Great Falls and the historic city where they are located.

2012 Honda Accord in Honda dealership garage.
The Accord went for an oil change and tire rotation at the local Honda dealer last week, the last scheduled service before 100,000 miles. The service advisor reported that the car was in great shape.
Menu at McGovern Honda.
In a previous post, I shared that McGovern Honda has a working diner in its showroom that is free for customers. I had already eaten when I showed up for service, but I still grabbed a picture of the menu. My favorite title? “Breakfast Sandwich of your Accord.” Get it? Get it? Get it? Ok… I guess you do.
Map with a pin in Paterson Great Falls Park.
The destination: Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park.
View of the NJ Turnpike through the windshield.
Back in my home state on the New Jersey Turnpike. The weather was surprisingly pleasant for a mid-winter day.
Tops Diner in Harrison, NJ.
My girlfriend helped me plan the trip, and our first stop (at her recommendation) was to Tops Diner in Harrison, NJ. Originally opened in the 1920s, Tops has consistently been named one of the best diners in New Jersey.
Vanilla milkshake on diner table.
What NJ diner meal is complete without a milkshake? It was absolutely fantastic.
2012 Honda Accord in front of Tops Diner sign.
Paterson Great Falls Visitor Center.
Nestled in the historic district of Paterson is this small, nondescript Welcome Center for Great Falls, run by the National Park Service.
View of path and footbridge over gorge.
To view the falls, you follow a path to a footbridge, which crosses over the river gorge. This bridge was also used for a very memorable scene in season one of HBO’s series The Sopranos, when Mikey Palmice and Joseph Marino throw Rusty Irish off the bridge into the river below, on the order of Junior Soprano. I mean, hey… this is New Jersey we’re talking about.
View of Great Falls of Paterson, NJ.
The view from the footbridge. The falls were very impressive.
View of Great Falls, in black and white.
Another view of Great Falls.
View of Great Falls and the footbridge.
The view at the falls, facing toward the footbridge.
Ice formations on the rock face across from the falls.
My girlfriend and I were fascinated by the ice formations on the rocks around the falls. The spray from the waterfall froze upon hitting the rocks, creating very interesting shapes.

And new in 2018… The Open Road Ahead now has a YouTube channel! I intend to post more video content in the future, but for now I thought some footage of the falls would be appreciated, to capture the power of the water in a way that still images can not.

Upon the recommendation of one of the Park Rangers, we also visited the Paterson Museum, which examines the history of the city. The museum originally was formed in 1927, but in 1982 moved into a former locomotive repair shop in the industrial heart of the city.

Street of old industrial buildings in Paterson.
Set in the 19th century industrial heart of the city, the Paterson Museum (on the left) is housed in a 19th century train repair building.
Spools of silk on silk winder.
Spools on a silk winder. Known as the “Silk City,” Paterson was a major center of silk production in the 19th century.
Display of Colt pistols.
Samuel Colt was known for his repeating revolver pistols. Colt Manufacturing’s first factory was in Paterson, NJ.
Fire engine.
One of Paterson’s first fire engines.
Holland's Boat 1 Submarine.
John Philip Holland was an Irish inventor who created some of the first submarines for the US Navy. In the foreground is Boat I, a working submarine he built in 1878. In the background is Fenian Ram, another early prototype built in 1881. Both boats would influence the design of the USS Holland, the United States Navy’s first commissioned submarine.
Two locomotives behind the museum.
The two locomotives behind the museum are evidence of Paterson’s history of train manufacturing.
Odometer showing 98486 miles.
Another journey over. 98,486 miles… the Accord is fast approaching the 100,000 mile mark!

Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park is open year round. The Welcome Center is open from Wednesday through Sunday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm. Although you can visit the falls at any time, I would recommend stopping by when the Welcome Center is open, as the Park Rangers are very informative and helpful. Paterson Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm. Both Great Falls and Paterson Museum are completely free for the public (although the museum will gladly accept donations). Despite the city of Paterson having a less than stellar reputation, I was impressed by the scenic historic district. The Falls were breathtaking, and were definitely worth a stop if you are anywhere near this section of New Jersey. Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.


12 thoughts on “Great Falls.

  1. Another great post! It’s so wonderful that people have taken the time and garnered the resources to preserve artifacts and history of these places.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m with Jill on this. That milkshake looks divine! Love those falls – yes it’s hard to believe there are such hidden wonders so close to us if we just take the time to go visit them! Glad the Accord got a clean bill of health, and I can’t wait to see what you have planned for the 100k celebration. I just subscribed to your YouTube channel. Welcome to the community!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tyson! I have a couple ideas for 100k, but it’s going to depend on where I’m near when the milestone rolls around.

      Only area of even moderate concern on the car is the rear brake pads, which are at 4mm and will probably need replacement when I do the timing belt service in a couple months. Otherwise, all systems seem good to go.


  3. So many facts and fun photos (and alliteration)! I perused your post and quickly picked up on “my girlfriend” so was hoping to see a couple of photos of the two of you. Alas, I found no such thing. However, that milkshake almost made up for it, and the fact that you’re so close to 100K made my heart rate rise just a tad. Do you have big plans for that event?

    So as I comment, I have visual of a bit of your response to Tyson’s post above, and it’s evident that he asked the same thing. Of course we want to know!

    Your posts are thorough, informational, and interesting; the perfect combination and I am glad that I follow them. Keep me in the loop!


    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Tia! I’m glad you enjoy the post! The milkshake was worth every calorie… one of the best I’ve ever had.

      The 100k milestone trip is still being planned. I have a couple ideas, but nothing definitive yet. I’ll keep you all posted!


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