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More than the Musical: Alexander Hamilton and Paterson, New Jersey

Believe me, I understand the time constraints inherent in an already 3-hour show.

But for purely personal reasons, there are two moments from Alexander Hamilton’s life that I wish had ended up in Hamilton: the Whiskey Rebellion—a Pittsburgh-area incident*—and the founding of Paterson, New Jersey.

This industrial city, home of poet William Carlos Williams and baseball Hall of Famer Larry Doby, is also home to a stunning natural wonder: the Great Falls of the Passaic, a waterfall that sends the Passaic River cascading over granite cliffs as the waterway cuts through town. And it’s a few minutes up the road from my house!

 

Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Legend has it that Washington, Hamilton, and Lafayette stopped and picnicked near the falls during their Revolutionary War encampments in the area. Whether or not he actually had time to stop for a bite or merely took note of the site during his wartime stay, the Great Falls made a big impression on Hamilton.

They lingered in his mind after the war, and once Hamilton became Treasury Secretary, he started working on his idea to harnessing the falls’ power and create a manufacturing hub in New Jersey.

While Hamilton was working on his debt plan, he was also writing his Report on Manufactures and pulling together a group of businessmen to bankroll this new industrial city. And in 1791, the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures founded the city of Paterson as the vanguard of American-made goods.

SUM Building at Paterson Great Falls

Though the mills of Paterson fell into decline like so much formerly thriving American industry in the 20th century, the falls remain. In fact, they’re not only still there, they are thriving as part of the National Park Service.

When you visit Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, you’ll be able to say hi to Ham personally. A statue of Hamilton gazes out across the aptly named Overlook Park, admiring the waterfall and its majestic, picturesque basin of churning spray.

Following the raceways that once powered the factories and pioneered the American Industrial Revolution, you’ll also be able to walk to the Paterson Museum and experience the manufacturing society that Hamilton envisioned.

Hamilton might have become a new man in New York, but it’s here in Paterson that he put his fingerprint on yet another aspect of our new nation.

* obsessive Hamilfans will know that the Whiskey Rebellion was actually included in an earlier version of “One Last Time,” when the song was known as “One Last Ride.” In this iteration, Washington and Hamilton saddle up for one last ride across Pennsylvania to quash the uprising of colonial distillers protesting the whiskey tax. Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whiskey, indeed.