Richard Polton, author of The Life and Times of Fred Wesley Wentworth: The Architect who Shaped Paterson, New Jersey and its People, gave a free tour of downtown Paterson on Saturday highlighting Wentworth’s many contributions. Polton, a Paterson native, was an excellent tour guide and one could tell he has a deep knowledge of both Wentworth and of the area and was excited that so many turned out for the walk. In fact he mentioned that both of his parents and himself were born in Wentworth designed hospitals. There were also educated and marries in Wentworth buildings. We would say this makes him an expert.
The tour was organized by the City of Paterson Historic Preservation Commission who recently offered the industrial landscape tour that we wrote about in May. The walking tour focused on the central core of Paterson around Main Street and Broadway.
Fred Wentworth was born in Dover, New Hampshire and came from a prominent NH family. He moved to Paterson around the time of the Paterson fire in 1902 and soon became a central part of the rebuilding effort. The fire in 1902 made Paterson one of a handful of cities that are a “picture of an era” because of a catastrophe that makes it necessary for a large city to completely rebuild itself. The San Francisco earthquake and the Chicago fire are two other examples of cities that had to rebuild all at once.
Commercial buildings on Main Street, YMCAs, fraternal organizations, banks and even the county courthouse are all examples of Wentworth’s work.
Interestingly, Polton said that most statues of Justice are blindfolded but Wentworth’s county courthouse dome has a statue of Lady Liberty with her eyes wide open. He wasn’t sure what exactly that said about Paterson politics but it did get quite a laugh from the 40+ people on the tour.
Lots of people on the tour remembered going to the Fabian Theater on Church Street and were surprised to hear that Wentworth designed this building, too. Mr. Fabian had his offices on the outside of the building with the theater on the inside. And surprisingly Polton shared that this one was of 4 buildings that actually had a swimming pool within.
About half the group said they were born and raised in Paterson when asked. It was a lively group and it was just as interesting listening to them reminisce about their childhoods as it was listening to the actual tour.
One thing we noticed on the Industrial Landscape tour, and again this weekend, is that the people of Paterson get pretty excited when they see tour groups walking through. They’re proud of their town and they are genuinely thrilled when we tell them that we’re touring it. This lovely lady even wanted her picture taken as we walked down Main Street. Paterson has a lot of history and a lot to be proud of and we’re excited about the possibilities here just like its residents are!
One such resident we met on this tour was Mike De Jesus. He runs the I Grew Up in Paterson, NJ Facebook page, a great resource for researching the history and people of Paterson. We have included a few of his pictures in out gallery.
We walked a bit with Polton back to the parking garage and reminisced with him about some of the bygone department stores from Paterson’s heyday. We also chatted about how the malls today, though bulging with chain stores, lack the character that these older stores, and many of the newer ones along out tour, still have.
Check out all our pictures from the tour here:
And, stayed tuned for more Paterson tours because if they have one, we’ll cover it! We love seeing all the Paterson love!
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