The Passaic Hotel


Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, February 1953


Passaic Hotel – Period 1795

A fine coach hung on straps and very comfortable to ride in….with room inside for nine passengers and two more passengers can be accommodated on top.  A rack for trunks and packages if fixed behind,  so ran the advertisement for a stage-wagon.

This particular conveyance could be seen early Monday and Thursday mornings, with horses attached, in front of the Godwin House, otherwise known as the Passaic Hotel, awaiting passengers for Powles Hook (Jersey City).

The route taken was down Kings Highway to Acquackanonk Landing (Passaic) and then across Schuyler’s Swamp to Powles Hook.  As the stage pulled away from the Passaic Hotel, it headed southwesterly (along with the only road now known as Mulberry Street), to York Road (now Broadway).  York Road followed the line of the present Broadway to what is now East Eighteenth Street, formerly called Dickey’s Lane.  It continued on as far as Willis Street (now Park Avenue) until Buttermilk Lane (Vreeland Avenue) was reached.  Thence it continued to Market Street and into Weasel Road (River Road) to the Landing.  Of course, the York Road or the Kings Highway was merely a dirt road connecting Totowa with the Landing with no thought of names for portions of it during the era of the stage-wagon.  This was the year 1774.

The old hotel, starting point for the stage, was newly built, owned and operated by Captain Abraham Godwin.  Built just prior to the Revolution and enlarged,  repaired, renovated, and altered may times during its long history this Publik House well deserves historical consideration.

Located near the south bank of the Passaic River in the little Dutch hamlet called Totowa, this famous and ancient hostelry was intimately connected with the hamlet, village, and town life of the area now known as Paterson.  That part of the structure still standing in 1915 was condemned and completely demolished very shortly afterward.

An advertisement appearing in the New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Sept. 5, 1774, states that Abraham Godwin has lately built a very commodious house for tavern-keeping about 200 yards from his late dwelling house, at the foot of the bridge and on the King’s Highway.  He adds a statement that a very convenient room for dancing, and a fiddler, will always be ready for the services of the ladies and gentlemen who may require it.  Also, a guide to attending any strangers, who shall show them all the natural curiosities at the falls.  This is signed Abraham Godwin Commonly called Gordon.

Mr. John Colt relates that the Godwin House was a long stone building, parallelogram in form, with a kitchen on the east and the bridge at the west.  This statement was made in 1794-5.

In 1820, General Abraham Godwin, son of Captain Abraham, added a long dining room to the rear of the original hotel.  During that time when the hotel was under the management of General Godwin, the Passaic Hotel had a statewide reputation as being the best hostelry in the state.  After the General’s death in 1835, the prestige started to decline.

An excellent map of the Totowa Bridge section of Paterson in the period prior to 1827 and a very interesting account of the Godwins and their neighbors is contained in the first number of Vol. III of the Bulletin.

This map points out the location of Passaic Hotel and also shows the triangle, wherein the 1830’s the Village Green was located.  This center of the village was in that triangle known today as being bounded by Bank Street, the river and Parke Street, or Main Street.  However, Parke Street stopped at Broadway until 1822.  The frog pond was filled with much of the sand which Mr. John Colt had removed from the hill before he built his Mansion House north of Market Street.

A contemporary of the olden days writes, “not including the falls, it (the village green) was the prettiest spot in town, well shaded with trees, with a common in the center where the country circuses pitched their tents in the old days.  On the Parke Street side, it ran down to the river.  On the Bank Street side, it ran to a roadway leading to the barnyard of the Godwin House, the barnyard taking up a part of the north side of the park.  At one time, this park was called the Passaic Gardens.”

During the long existence of this public house, there were many different owners in addition to members of the Godwin family.  So far as the writer has been able to determine, the name, Passaic Hotel was carried up to about 1892.  The building lost its classification as a hotel about 1893 when it appears in the directories as a boarding house, lodging house, and rooming house.  Then in 1910, it reappears as the Continental Hotel, Adolph Smith being the proprietor.

As was related earlier, the structure has undergone many changes.  The property up to 1888, consisted of lots numbered 59 to 71 River Street.  In 1888 the Knickerbocker Building was erected on that portion of the hotel property consisting of lots 63 to 71 River Street and the photograph shows this brick building on the right of the hotel as well as the old bridge approach on its left.

Many, many important community affairs took place in this historic hostelry.  In 1792, the location of the town of Paterson was decided here by the founders of the S.U.M. who also held many subsequent meetings here.

DeWitt Clinton was lavishly banqueted here in 1823.

The Passaic County Courts were established from here in 1837.

The leading citizens of the town took rooms here and entertained many of their distinguished guests in the banquet room over many years.

Old Passaic Hotel is no more, but may it remain in memory for the old-timers and as a most interesting historic site for the youngsters.