John Dorval interned at The Paterson Museum in 2011. He attended William Paterson University. He shares his presentation for Bob Wolk’s Internship in History class.
The Lenni Lenape Indians knew the Falls well as a prime camping and fishing site. They called it “Totowa,” to sink or be forced down beneath the waters by weight, a tribute to this awesome mass of water. Others have called it “ Passaic Falls ”. Today it is commonly known as the “ Great Falls ,” which distinguishes from the Little Falls and describes it well. For it is indeed an experience when the Passaic River is at full flood to see this mass of water in violent motion and hear it roar as it strikes the rocks below and rushes through the gorge. Clouds of spray fill the atmosphere, and rainbows appear and disappear as the sun’s rays set fire to the ever changing mists.
Since the white man first gazed on this natural wonder in the seventeenth century, countless visitors have written about it. Poets have sung of its beauties. Artists have attempted to portray it in line and paint. And it has been photographed from every conceivable angle.
No exact record exists as to who first discovered the Great Falls. It seems likely that, following the settlement of Newark in 1666, hunters or land prospectors from that colony wandered up the river and falls in their explorations of the surrounding wilderness. In all probability it was known prior to the purchase of Dundee Island at Acquackanonck in 1678, when the island was sold by Captahem Peeters, an Indian sachem, to Hartman Michielsom. The latter secured a patent for the island in 1685 from the East Jersey Proprietors.
Land purchases in which the falls were first mentioned were made on March 28, 1679, when Captahem deeded land along the river up to the falls to Hans Diedericks, Gerret Garretson, Walling Jacobs, and Hendrick George. Payment for the land was made in coats, blankets, kettles, powder, and trinkets.
They sailed in March 1680 from Gowanus Bay to Acquackanonck, then traveled on foot to the falls. In their words, “After we had traveled a good three hours over high hills, we came to a high rocky hill where we could hear the noises of water. And Clamb erin g to the top, we saw the falls below us ¯ a sight to be seen in order to observe the power and wonder of God.” One of the missionaries, Jasper Danckaerts, wrote, “I made a sketch as well as I could, very hastily, for we had no time and it rained and snowed very much.” The sketch, probably the first graphic record of the falls, has long since disappeared.
Acquackanonck, which comprised of the land on lower Passaic County from Essex County line to Pompton is said to be derived from three Indian words: “ach-quo-ni-can,” brush or brush net; “hanne,” a rapid stream; and “onk,” a place. Hence, a place in a rapid stream where brush nets are set. This refers to the V-shaped brush nets that were set in the river in shallow places so constructed that fish became entangled in the twigs. This process yielded bountiful catches during the seasons when spawning runs of shad and sturgeon were under way.
By the turn of the eighteenth century, knowledge of the natural wonders of the falls had become widespread, and it began to attract visitors from near and far. Many who saw it left a record of their visit by carving their initials or names in the face of the cliff. A favored place for this early graffiti was on a large flat rock, reached by a deep, narrow defile which provided a path from the valley below to the plateau above the falls. The rock, about halfway down the defile, became known as the Grotto of Records because of the many initials carved on it. From this spot there was a delightful view of the river and the surrounding countryside.
It was said that Washington frequently visited this spot when his army was encamped nearby and conferred with his brother officers. On one occasion he carved his initials in the traprock, with the year “1778,” enclosed in a box with the initials of other officers. These were on the right side of the defile opposite the Grotto of Records and were visible for almost a century.
These early descriptions of the falls speak of the awe inspired by it and portray in various ways the movement of the water as it tumbles over the rocks and drops to the valley below.
Among those who wrote about the falls and the natural beauty surrounding it were the Reverend Andrew Burnaby in his Travels Through the Middle Settlements in North America in the Years 1759 and 1760 (London, 1775); Thomas Anbury, a lieutant in Burgoyne’s army, in his Travels Through the Interior Parts of America in 1778 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1923); Johann D. Schroeph in his Travels in the Confederation (1783-1784), translated by A.J. Morrison (Philadelphia, 1911), and the Marquis De Cassa Yruja, who was there in 1807 and wrote of his visit in travels in North America (New York, 1923).
The beauty of the falls resulted in what may have been an embrassing moment for one distinguished visitor. The Marquis Francois Jean de Chastellux saw the falls while on his way to visit Washington at his headquarters nearby. Attracted by its roar, he spent so much time admiring its wonders that he was late for his dinner with the general. An account of the episode is contained in his Travels in North America, published in New York in 1827.
At the Godwin House, or Passaic Hotel, established near the falls in 1775, folios were provided for the benefit of guests. In these, visitors were encouraged to write their names, the dates of their stays, and their comments.
Over a long period of time, the area of the falls was a productive source of fish for the Indians and later for the white settlers. During the spawning season, shad and other anadromous species would come in great numbers to the waters below the falls, where their upstream progress would be stopped. The Indians used weirs and V-shaped brush traps, spears, and other devices to catch the fish. Many of these were dried for later use. The settlers who purchased lands from the Indians accepted fishing rights as a portion of their legal titles.
Spring shad runs were events of great importance to the early white residents. The progress of the shad up the river was closely followed and reported daily. Crude traps formed by lashing saplings together were placed in the river with a small opening on the upstream side. These would be drawn into a pen made by building rough walls of stones. After the fish had swum into the pen the opening would be closed and the quarry gathered. In some of these hauls as many as five hundred fish might be taken.
Sturgeon, as well as shad, made their way to the foot of the falls and, because of their size, were especially prized. One of the largest ever reported was taken on August 31, 1817, and was said to have weighed 130 pounds. A news story cov erin g this event appeared in the Bergen Press and Paterson Advertizer on September 3, 1817, under the headline THE MONSTER TAKEN.
With the building of the Dundee Dam at the head of the tidewater at Passaic in 1858, migratory runs of shad, sturgeon, and other species to the falls ended. Perch, trout, bass, catfish, and other freshwater species continued to provide food and good sport for many years. But, gradually, with the increasing industria liz ation along the river and its resulting pollution, many species disappeared. Today, sunfish and hardy carp are about the only fish left, and fishing the Passaic at the falls is a pleasant but usually unproductive pastime.
In spite of increased industrial activity in the vicinity, the popularity of the falls was but little, if any, diminished throughout the early and mid-1800′s. The facilities there went through processes of enlargement and improvement. In 1850, William Archdeacon, then owner, advertised the Cottage on the Cliff at Passaic Falls , where target practice ranges were available to military companies and where a spacious dining hall attached to the cottage could accommodate two hundred persons at a time for dinner.
Peter Archdeacon, who had purchased the falls grounds in 1839, had further improved the property and replaced the Clinton Bridge with another covered structure in 1844. A third bridge at the same location was built by John Ryle, the next owner; this one was open at the top, with paneled sides, and like the first two, was built of wood. In March 1868, the bridge was declared unsafe and was replaced by an iron bridge with open sides so the falls would be visible. This bridge, constructed by the Watson Machine Company, was eighty-five feet in length. It remained in place until 1888, when another iron bridge, 125 feet long, replaced it.
On April 6, 1917, the day the United States declared war on Germany , the fifth bridge was locked and closed to the public, in order to prevent sabotage of the hydroelectric facilities at the falls. Later, the flooring and side rails were removed, and for more than fifty years crossing of the chasm by pedestrians ceased.
The foregoing are but a few of the pieces of the history recorded in the long history of the falls. There were many others. The attraction of the Passaic River lured and continues to lure the daring, the curious, and the careless.
Thomas Rogers, the founder of Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor was born in Groton , Connecticut , on March 16, 1792. Among his relatives was a Thomas Rogers who came to the New World on the “Mayflower.” Earlier in Thomas Rogers’ life he was a carpenter; he served through the War of 1812 and then went back to work in Paterson . He was employed by a Captain Ward to make some patterns for power looms for weaving cotton. Captain Ward had taken out a patent on the power looms, but he did not estimate the value of the invention as highly as did Thomas Rogers and the patent changed hands.
In 1831 the Godwin, Rogers & Company had two hundred workers in their employ. Rogers took $36,266.05 for his interest in 1831 and built a factory for himself. In 1832, Rogers proceeded to erect the Jefferson Works, or Mill, having purchased a site on the back raceway, adjoining the Ivanhoe Mill. The Jefferson Works was erected for the manufacture of cotton, wool and flax machinery and the spinning of cotton yarn; the original design was to occupy only the lower stories in the making of machinery devoting the upper to the cotton manufacture. The orders that came in for machinery induced him to change his mind and he decided to devote the whole building to machinery. In the following year, he formed a partnership with Morris Ketchum and Jasper Grosvenor, of New York . The company that was formed was Rogers, Ketchum, and Grosvenor.
In 1836, the Paterson Hudson River Railroad purchased an engine, the “McNeill” in England and had it sent to Paterson to be put together. The engine arrived in parts and the mechanic who was to put it together seemed in no hurry. Rogers then took the opportunity to make drawings and patterns of every part. On October 6, 1837, the first locomotive engine named the “ Sandusky ” built in Paterson was ready for a trial.
Mr. Rogers and a few friends used it for an excursion to New Brunswick by way of Jersey City . Timothy Smith acted as engineer. The two driving wheels of the engine were four and a half feet in diameter and were located forward of the furnace; there were four thirty-inch wheels on the truck. The cylinders were eleven inches in diameter with a sixteen-inch stroke and altogether the locomotive looked like one of the engines which years afterwards were used on the New York elevated railroads. The time actually required for the construction of the “ Sandusky ” was sixteen months, during which tools had to be made, and countless experiments tried.
The gauge (width) of road was 4 feet 10 inches, the same as that of the New Jersey Railroad Transportation Co., for which road the engine was intended. The “ Sandusky ” was sold for $6,750 to the Mad River & Lake Erie railroad, taken and shipped to its destination by schooner and canal boat. The “ Sandusky ”, though not the first, was among the first engines built in this country, and was probably a signal improvement on all other locomotives.
After the success of the “ Sandusky ” was assured, the firm of Rogers , Ketchum & Grosvenor continued to build locomotives. The next one was built for the N.J. Railroad and Transportation Company, and was named the “Arreseoh No.2”. This was larger than the “ Sandusky ” and was equally a success. The shop where the first locomotives were built was 40 x 100 feet, two stories in height. From 30 to 40 men were employed. After five or six engines had been built the works were greatly extended, until they were 40 x 200 feet, three stories high and made of brick. Later, still further additions were made, and the demand for engines came in all over the United States .
The third engine built at the Rogers Works differed from the first two; its cylinders being 10 x 18 inches stroke and the gauge 4 feet 8 ½ inches. Both the driving and truck wheels of this engine had hollow, oval spokes and hollow rims with wrought iron tires. It was named the “ Clinton ” and was built for the Lockport & Niagara Falls road; it was delivered in April 1838. It was sold in 1843 to the Toledo and Adrian Railway Company for $6,500.
In 1838 seven engines in all were completed after which the production gradually increased until the year 1854 when 103 engines were built. The works were enlarged and improved from time to time until there were a substantial number of structures that were now used for the express purpose of locomotive building and its dependencies.
The firm of Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor maintained a prosperous existence until the death of Thomas Rogers in 1856. The surviving partners, headed up by Jacob S. Rogers, who became president, (b. Oct. 12, 1823, d. July 2, 1901), reorganized under a charter and the name was changed to the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works.
By the late 1850′s, early 1860′s, the Rogers Works had the appearance of a small village, extending on both sides of Spruce Street far Southward from Market; also across to Pine Street (no longer exists) to the Eastward and back to “the Cedars” West of Spruce. During the Civil War, the Rogers Works turned out from ten to twelve engines each month, and the three locomotive works then in operation an average of at least one per day.
In 1864, the Rogers Company received an order from the United States Government for nineteen locomotives, which were valued at $20,000 each, which they completed and delivered in three months, a feat of rapid workmanship.
In 1868-69, the Rogers Company included two blacksmith shops, one 200 feet long by 31 feet wide, the other one 102 by 40 feet; a boiler shop, 33 x 200 feet; an erecting shop of the same size, and numerous auxiliary buildings. They were employing over 850 men and turned out an average of ten locomotives per month, besides a variety of machinery for cotton and woolen manufacture. By the end of 1869 the company had discontinued the building of machinery and devoted the entire works to the production of locomotives.
The only great disaster to have occurred at the Rogers Works was a fire that happened on February 13, 1879, in the millwright shop, with its contents of patterns, tools, machinery, etc., which were destroyed. Jacob did not have any insurance and there was a loss of $100,000. While in Paris , Jacob was informed of the fire; his reply was to send him a photograph of the ruins and put the building up again just as they were. This cost several hundred thousand dollars but Jacob had confidence in the future of American locomotive industry. The burned portion of the works was rebuilt and large additions made. Jacob then returned to Paterson .
During 1881, the new fireproof building made of brick, standing three stories high, which included room for offices, draughting and storage of valuable documents and drawings. This was built on Spruce Street next to the Ivanhoe Paper Mill. At the end of 1881 the Works had 1,800 people employed, a payroll of $675,000 and produced 240 locomotives.
On the morning of August 28, 1900, a time when the Rogers Works were at least as prosperous as any similar locomotive factory at this time, Jacob entered his office in Paterson and inquired how long it would take to fill the orders on hand. He was told that all orders could be filled by the first of December, but that there were numerous inquiries for more engines. “Take no more orders,” was his reply; “these works will close on December 1.” To his friends he explained that he had tired of building engines, and that industrial establishments would sell better when times were good and when they had a full complement of hands than when opposite conditions prevailed. Meetings of people interested in the welfare of Paterson were held and Jacob was besought to change his mind, but he did not and the Rogers Works were closed on December 1, 1900, in the midst of a season of prosperity. Speculators from Wall Street purchased the Works and ran them for a short time, when they sold them to the American Locomotive Company, the corporation which already owned all the locomotive works in the country with the exception of the Baldwin Works in Philadelphia and the Rogers Works in Paterson .
On the morning of July 2, 1901 Jacob Rogers was found dead in his room in the Union League Club in New York . If there was anything about which Jacob knew nothing about, it was art. He enjoyed the rudest woodcut more than the finest production of the engraver’s skill. The pictures which hung in his rooms in Paterson looked as if they had come as premiums from the tea store on the corner. Yet he left almost his entire fortune to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met was willed the sum of five million dollars. The directors of the Art Museum did not know him. As far as it was known he had been to the Museum only once in his life and then to make inquiries to its management.
So why did Jacob leave almost his entire fortune to an institution that he barely knew? Perhaps it was because the cities of Paterson and Pompton seemed to impede Jacob in his personal as well as business life and he felt that there were no institutions local or municipal that were worthy of such generosity.
It is fortunate perhaps, that no other industry in Paterson has so much romance attached to it as the Rogers Locomotive Works.
John Philip Holland was an Irish mathematician who came to America in 1873. During the 1870s, he developed basic designs for submarine boats. The Holland I, a test vessel, was operated in the Passaic River above the Great Falls . The Holland II, a true submersible boat, was built in New York Harbor . That ship, thirty-one feet long, and weighing 19 tons, contained all elements that form a modern submersible boat.
In 1881, the Holland II was launched. It had a torpedo tube that could discharge a six foot long, Whitehead, torpedo. It was operated by a crew of three men and, on one occasion, submerged to a depth of 65 feet for 2 ½ hours. She was propelled, on the surface, by a Brayton gasoline engine. Underwater, the engine was shut-down.
John Holland designed and built six, small submersible boats between 1866 and 1898. The last unit was purchased by the Navy in 1900 and was renamed the USS Holland. The Fenian Ram (1881), displayed at the Paterson Museum , is the first “true” submarine built anywhere. Seldom does the “first” model of any invention survive for any appreciable time. The Fenian Ram is an exception to that rule. It has been moored in the Paterson Museum since 1926.