By Andrew Schmertz
Alexander Hamilton, himself, took time on the Fourth of July to celebrate the birth of the city he founded. He told the story of how he came to Paterson during the Revolutionary War.
“In the aftermath of the Battle of Monmouth we found ourselves, the Army, on our way to Paramus. We took a stop here at these Great Falls,” said historical interpreter Ian Rose.
The celebrations for the 225th anniversary were upbeat. Stories of how Paterson was founded as the nation’s first manufacturing hub, building the locomotives, creating hydro power from the Great Falls and being a key player in the aviation and firearms industry.
“It’s very special obviously. How many municipalities can boast 225 years and have accomplished what those Patersonians did throughout those years? Where industry was born, where dramatic changes took place in America,” said Former Mayor Lawrence Kramer.
The focus today was on Paterson’s early history, less so its recent history. This is a city known for its poverty and crime, and now a mayor who’s under indictment. But the message today was about optimistic for the future.
“As we reflect on Paterson’s history we learned about all the challenges that this city has overcome, fires, to floods, to so many natural disasters and other things. We realized that even though the Paterson of today has many challenges, our past has shown that the people of Paterson can overcome tremendous challenges,” Bob Guarasci, chairman of the Paterson 225 Steering committee, said.
Like other industrial cities, Paterson never recovered from the move away from the manufacturing economy. Today, the census bureau reports the poverty rate at 30 percent.
Leonard Zax helped write the law naming Great Falls a national park in 2009.
“Its landscape, we got one. Its history, we got one. Its people, we have a vibrant life of the city, its culture, its cuisine, its architecture, its buildings and that’s what the national park will do,” Zax said.
The Paterson Museum, which occupies an old locomotive factory, is hosting a new exhibit on the similarities between Paterson and Washington D.C. It’s all part of playing up the historical connection to Hamilton.
“I would love to have the Spirit of St. Louis because the airplane engine was built here in Paterson. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Smithsonian is going to let that go,” said Paterson Museum Director Giacomo DeStefano.
Paterson has one of New Jersey’s largest immigrant populations. Ironic because Alexander Hamilton wrote the alien and sedition acts.
In 2017, it’s that diversity that city leaders say will ultimately put Paterson on the map again, for the right reasons.