New Outlook: Paterson’s Modern Landscape

Paterson evolves from Silk City manufacturing giant to its modern iteration as a grand mix of old and new.

Hulton Archives/Getty Images.

THEN: Traffic flowed down busy Market Street in downtown Paterson in August 1937. Once a thriving industrial center, Paterson was a dominant producer of silk toward the end of the 19th century and came to be known as Silk City. Having harnessed the power of the Passaic River cascading over the Great Falls, Paterson attracted mills and factories that produced firearms (including Samuel Colt’s famed brand), cotton and materials for the country’s burgeoning railroad networks. The vibrant city even served as the inspiration for an epic poem by Jersey-born William Carlos Williams.

Photo by Marc Steiner/ANJ.

NOW: Market Street today—with the high-rise Hamilton Plaza office building dominating the scene—provides evidence of Paterson’s mix of old and new. Suburban expansion and the advent of giant malls in nearby Wayne and Paramus have lured shoppers away from downtown Paterson, and the Great Falls is now a national park rather than a source of power, but commerce is still an integral part of the city’s identity. Small businesses have replaced the big-name stores, and Paterson’s racial diversity has created a growth industry, providing niche-market goods and services for its heterogeneous population.

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