Paterson, NJ, seeks to build on national recognition of Great Falls, Negro League park (2024)

PATERSON, N.J. - Mention America's historic landmarks and most people will envision battlefields, statues or beautiful scenery, not a crumbling, graffiti-covered shell of a ball field surrounded by abandoned cars, broken glass and piles of garbage.

PATERSON, N.J. - Mention America's historic landmarks and most people will envision battlefields, statues or beautiful scenery, not a crumbling, graffiti-covered shell of a ball field surrounded by abandoned cars, broken glass and piles of garbage.

The years of neglect can't erase what Hinchliffe Stadium once was, a hub of activity that in its heyday was filled to capacity for Negro League baseball games featuring future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin and teams like the New York Black Yankees, the New York Cubans and the Newark Eagles.

The once-grand Art Deco stadium earned designation last month as a national landmark — less than two years after the nearby Great Falls, a powerful 77-foot waterfall that helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, became a national park.

The twin successes have stirred pride in this struggling working-class city beset by decades of crime and financial difficulties. Now, those who fought to gain recognition for the two sites face new challenges in trying to turn them into major attractions and an economic boost for Paterson, whose textile mills in the late 19th and early 20th centuries earned it the name Silk City.

The National Park Service is working to acquire land around the waterfall from the city and other owners and to develop a plan to make the park more visitor friendly, said Darren Boch, the park superintendent.

An audio tour will be available this month. It is narrated by NBC "Nightly News" anchor and New Jersey native Brian Williams, with contributions from Paterson native and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz. It addresses the confusion visitors may feel visiting a park built around a waterfall in the heart of a densely packed city of nearly 150,000, less than 15 miles from Manhattan.

"For a lot of Americans, the idea of a national park evokes the likes of Yellowstone or Yosemite, and like them, this national park features a spectacular natural wonder," Williams narrates.

He speaks further about how Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first treasury secretary, envisioned harnessing the power of the falls to create the nation's first planned industrial city in Paterson, helping to transform America from an agrarian society into an industrial powerhouse capable of breaking free from British control.

Generations of immigrant workers were employed in factories powered by energy from the Great Falls, where water from the Passaic River rushes over at a rate of 2 billion gallons per day, making it the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, by volume, next to Niagara Falls.

"That's what sets apart the visitor experience here," Boch said. "You have the two experiences: a natural wonder in an urban landscape that goes to the heart of the industrial American experience."

Those who worked for years to save the ballpark, which was also famous for midget car racing and fielded generations of local school teams, hope to one day have it included in the footprint of the national park. It's just as important a part of American history, they say, though it represents a different era. It's one of only a handful of Negro Leagues stadiums still around, according to the group Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, which fought for years to save the structure.

The list of baseball greats who played there — to integrated audiences in 20th century, segregated America — include 11 players in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Among them are Doby, who went to high school in Paterson before becoming the first African-American player to integrate the American League, and Irvin.

Irvin recounted recently how thrilled he had been in 1938 to set foot in Hinchliffe Stadium for the first time as a 17-year-old tryout for the Newark Eagles and to hear someone call out to his idol, Buck Leonard, "Hey, Buck, who is that youngster?"

"I want people to know that it was one of the famous parks where the Negro Leagues played, some of the biggest stars played there," Irvin, now 94, told The Associated Press from his home in Houston. "Maybe baseball can again become very prominent at the park."

Paterson city officials hope so, too.

Hinchliffe is owned by the school system, which shut it down in 1997 because it could no longer afford to keep it up.

Renovation cost estimates reach as high as $20 million to bring the park back to life. The City Council voted to recognize it as local landmark a few weeks ago and have allocated $1.5 million for its immediate stabilization, Mayor Jeffery Jones said.

The next challenge, the mayor and others have said, will be trying to raise the rest of the funds from private donors, grants and the state to restore the stadium to its former glory.

The efforts in Paterson to win national status for the falls and the ballpark were aided by a growing push to recognize the nation's quieter heroes: the immigrant labourer or the Negro Leagues player who may not have had Jackie Robinson's name recognition but fought alongside him to change the status quo, said Giacomo DeStefano, director of the Paterson Museum.

The move to get the waterfall designated a national park also dovetailed with the recognition by the National Park Service that it needed to attract more minorities to parks to sustain the system in an increasingly diverse America, said Leonard Zaxe, president of the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson, which lobbied Congress for federal recognition of both sites.

With nearly 60 per cent of Paterson's population of Latino descent and more than 30 per cent African-American, the city fit in perfectly with the Park Service's vision of a "'national park for the 21st century," Zax said.

Zaxe calls the waterfall "the most spectacular, natural, beautiful place in America that virtually no one has ever heard of."

"Go now, before the crowds come," he said.


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Paterson, NJ, seeks to build on national recognition of Great Falls, Negro League park (2024)


How much did it cost to renovate Hinchliffe Stadium? ›

Saved from demolition, Hinchliffe Stadium in New Jersey underwent a $100 million renovation. It will now serve as a minor league ballpark and a Negro leagues museum.

Who owns Hinchliffe Stadium? ›

Hinchliffe Stadium is a city property owned by the Paterson School Board and is a National Historic Landmark site, with each layer posing challenges.

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Take a look inside. The Chiefs and 49ers will face off at Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. The domed stadium opened in 2020 and cost $2 billion to build. It can hold 65,000 people for typical games and 72,000 for the Super Bowl.

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Major League Baseball's Athletics provided a first look at its proposed $1.5-billion Las Vegas ballpark, naming Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) as master planning design lead and HNTB as sports/hospitality designer and architect of record.

Who plays at Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, NJ? ›

New Jersey Jackals

The Jackals are a member of the East Division of the Frontier League, an independent baseball league that is a Partner League of Major League Baseball.

Where are the NJ jackals moving to? ›

PATERSON, N.J. – The ballpark at the national park now has a team. The New Jersey Jackals, a member of the independent Frontier League, an MLB Partner League, announced on Wednesday that beginning in 2023, they'll play at historic Hinchliffe Stadium.

What teams were at Hinchliffe Stadium? ›

Hinchliffe Stadium
ArchitectOlmsted Brothers
Paterson Giants (IFL) 1932–1933 Paterson Night Hawks (I) 1932–1933 Silk City Bears (I) 1932 New York Black Yankees (NNL II) 1933–1937, 1939–1945 New York Cubans (NNL II) 1936 Paterson Panthers (AA) 1936–1941, 1946–1950 New Jersey Jackals (FL) 2023–present
28 more rows

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The stadium reconstruction was funded completely by donor support (no bonds or debt). The project was fully completed in 2012 at a total cost of $164 million.

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He described the $700 million Beaver Stadium renovation as by far the largest capital expenditure in Penn State athletics history and one of the largest in the history of college sports.

How much did it cost to renovate Sanford stadium? ›

The Sanford project will cost approximately $68.5 million and will last through August 2024. The project is set to be completed before the first home game of the season, a non-conference matchup versus Tennessee Tech on Sept. 7.

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