Paterson was founded in 1792 by Alexander Hamilton and the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures. The city is the first planned industrial center in the United States, and the factories and mills were powered by the Great Falls of the Passaic River. Hamilton first laid eyes on the falls while he was with George Washington and the Continental Army. The city became an industrial powerhouse. Firearms and locomotives were made in the city. Much of the industry has fled, but some manufacturing businesses, such as custom furniture builders, call the city home. During its boom years, the city became known for silk mills, which gave it its the nickname: Silk City.
After a devastating fire in 1902, the city rebuilt the downtown with massive Beaux-Arts-style buildings, many of which remain to this day. Downtown abounds with buildings designed by Fred Wesley Wentworth, some in collaboration with his draftsman and later partner Frederick J. Vreeland, who worked in the city from the turn of the century to the 1930s.