ASME-Landmark:Great Falls Raceway and Power System


The raceway and power system, constructed from 1792 to 1864, was the first major water power system in the United States. The project, conceived by Alexander Hamilton in 1791 through his Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (SUM) and designed by Peter Colt and Pierre Charles L'Enfant, engineer-planner of the Capitol, was designed to harness the Passaic River at Great Falls and create America's first planned industrial city.

The early raceway system operated from 1794 to 1799 and drew water from the Passaic through a wooden dam above the Falls. The water than entered into a reservoir and passed through the raceway to a flume and waterwheel to provide power for operating a mill. After leaving the mill, the water flowed back into the Passaic River through a drainage channel. The raceway was expanded from 1800-1827 and realigned in the late 1820s, and in 1838, a new channel and dam were built.

The development of Patterson sparked countless engineering and industrial innovations, including the Colt revolver, the Rogers and other steam locomotives, the Holland submarine, the Curtiss-Wright aircraft engine, and textile and silk manufacturing, among others. In 1976, the entire Great Falls/SUM Historic District was designated as the nation's first National Historic District, and it became a National Historical Park in 2011. A 10,950-kilowatt hydroelectric generating station continues to operate at the base of Great Falls today. See ASME website for more information