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The History of Little Falls

How does such a small town have such a vast and interesting history?

With a documented history of over 300 years, the story of Little Falls is the story of America.

Farming, quarrying, manufacturing, transportation, art and entertainment are all a part of this fascinating Township.

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Little Falls in Passaic County New Jersey traces it history back to its founding in 1711 when seven Dutch farmers banded together to begin farming in this fertile area of Northern New Jersey, which was then referred to as the Village of Little Falls. One of the old farm houses, the Speer Homestead, built in 1680 proudly stands in Little Falls today as one of the oldest homes in New Jersey and a reminder of the towns agrarian roots. Not much farming remains in Little Falls, however, a famous Dutch tulip farm remained in Town until the early 1950s. Aside from farming, the quarrying of brownstone was one of the earliest industries in Little Falls. Little Falls brownstone was regarded as the finest and was utilized in many local and regional buildings, including New York City’s famous Trinity Church. Another lesser known fact is that the New Jersey stone inside the Washington Monument is made of Little Falls brownstone.

 

Little Falls is probably most famous for being home of The Beattie Carpet Mill, the first carpet Mill in the United States using the “Little” Falls of the Passaic River to power the Mill. Founded by Robert Beattie, a once penniless Irish immigrant, who later became the wealthiest man in Passaic County. Beattie Carpet operated from the mid 1800s up to 1979. Today, most of the Beattie buildings are still standing and have been converted into luxury lofts and condominiums overlooking the Passaic River and the water falls of the Beattie Dam, which is often mistaken for the original Little Falls.

 

The old Morris Canal started in 1824, once an important artery of trade and transportation between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers, wound its way through the Town and vestiges of it still serve as reminder of the long history of Little Falls. A famous aqueduct carried the Morris Canal over the Passaic River. The two giant cornerstones of the aqueduct now adorn the Township’s Memorial Park, land that was originally part of the Morris Canal.

 

Little Falls has seen some famous residents and visitors come and go over the years. Little Falls is the birthplace of Frank Sigler, who was given a Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman in 1945. Little Falls is also the place that kick started the career of a little known comedian by the name of Jackie Gleason. Gleason began his comedic career during the 1930s in Little Falls telling jokes at Frank Donato’s Colonial Inn. Motion picture director, D.W. Griffith selected Little Falls as a favorite spot for filming due to the beauty of the Falls and the majestic landscape. Many silent pictures were filmed in Little Falls, including several staring the country’s first celebrity, Mary Pickford.

 

Yes, Little Falls had some Big names and Big accomplishments and unique attributes, but for most residents, the story of Little Falls is the story of its people. Everyday life in this historic town with a charming Main Street, Two Rivers, Three Grammar Schools, Four Fire Houses, many parks, a Carnegie Library, a WPA post office, many historic homes and buildings and home of one of the first regional High Schools in the State, Passaic Valley. Little Falls is also home to one of the last standing road houses in the entire area, The Great Notch Inn.

 

While Little Falls is now home to a major office complex, a State Highway, the second largest State University, a minor league baseball team and the Yogi Berra Museum, Little Falls has still managed to retain that small town feel.

COPYRIGHT. Little Falls Historical Society. 2015

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