PATERSON - A waterfall in the heart of northern NewJersey's industrial complex that was once featured on "TheSopranos" was dedicated as America's 397th national park today.
The 77-foot Great Falls in downtown Paterson inspiredgenerations of newcomers to America and was memorialized by thepoet Williams Carlos Williams.
It was given the national park designation in a ceremonyattended by New Jersey officials, local schoolchildren, U.S.Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the head of the National ParkService.
The Great Falls, standing at 77 feet tall, is second only to Niagara Falls in water volumeeast of the Mississippi River. More than 2 billion gallons of watera day pass over its summit to the swirling Passaic River below.
Parks department officials said although many national historicsights are small and several are in urban areas, the Great Fallssite, in the middle of a gritty, urban downtown, is a rarecombination of a place of both natural beauty and historicalsignificant.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Bill Pascrell, both native sonsof Paterson, spoke passionately of the historic designationrecognizing the contributions of the immigrant workers who helpedbuild America, past and present.
Considered the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution,the Great Falls once generated power that ran mills producing silk- Paterson is still known as `Silk City' - locomotives, aircraftengines and guns.
Lautenberg, poking fun at being the oldest member of the U.S.Senate, joked that he was with Alexander Hamilton in 1778 when helooked out at the falls and envisioned America harnessing the waterto become a great industrial power. Years later, as the country'sfirst treasury secretary, Hamilton selected the site to become thenation's first planned industrial city.
"The Great Falls inspired Alexander Hamilton - my buddy - 200years ago, and we're going to make them a source of inspirationagain," Lautenberg said.
The Great Falls National Historical Park will cover about 35acres in the state's third largest city and makes the area eligiblefor federal funds. Exactly how much the state will get to run thepark has yet to be determined. The first phase will involvecommunity input, with outreach in English, Spanish, Bengali andArabic, representing just some of the diverse communities that makeup Paterson's solidly working class, immigrant base, according toNational Park officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
To see extended footage of the falls, go to Channel 612 on your iO digital cable box and select iO Extra.