Paterson—The Early Years
Paterson had a variety of things going for it in the 1880s. First and foremost, the city was a prosperous industrial center. When Wentworth arrived, the mill areas around the Great Falls were humming with a huge variety of successful industrial ventures. Contemporary photographs show the vitality of mill upon mill clustered in the area of the Great Falls.
Wentworth arrived in Paterson in 1888 when the city was reaching the apex of its reputation as the ‘Silk City – the Lyons of America’. This was a city where remarkable fortunes were being made and there were opportunities to succeed.
Paterson was led by a political and business community with values that Wentworth found appealing. The city’s leadership were men intent on success and creating an environment where industry and commerce would readily succeed. The business and political elite in Paterson were an accomplished group and must have quite accessible to someone like Wentworth.
Silk mills and heavy manufacturing dominated the local economy and “English born” dominated the business leadership. Owners of textile mills were largely immigrants themselves, often coming from the trades or lower middle class backgrounds, from established industrial cities in Europe. Like so many immigrants, there were connections to cities in the homeland that brought even more seekers of opportunity.
The English born had their roots in Macclesfield in Cheshire, an industrial city that had been linked to the silk industry since the Middle Ages. Many of the mill owners, although quite wealthy, lived in Paterson, had a feel for local people and were not far removed from the rest of the city.
Paterson in the late Nineteenth Century was a place of opportunity and the culture and social networks actually supported a rather significant level of mobility. Unlike other American industrial cities like Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts for example, the growing business elite came from the skilled workers within the city, not from outside investors who were already in the upper class. There was a pool of talented and trained men in Paterson, who emerged from the ranks of skilled machinists and mechanics, who were ready to seize upon economic opportunities.
Much of Wentworth’s early work was residential designs for the city’s most accomplished citizens. The following are several of Wentworth’s early residential clients include:
- Bird W. Spencer, Peoples Bank, Passaic, National Rifle Association
- Kimball C. Atwood, Insurance, Horse Racing and Agriculture (grapefruits)
- Thomas H. Milson, East Jersey Pipe Works
- LeGrand Parrish, Locomotive Manufacturer
- James Hinchliffe, Brewer, political leader
- J.J. Bailey, Insurance
- M.H. Ellenbogen, Silk manufacturer
- John W. Griggs, attorney, Governor of NJ, US Attorney General
- James Eastwood, attorney
- Garret A. Hobart, attorney, Vice President of the United States