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Museum hosts Alexander Hamilton exhibit

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PATERSON - It was only a matter of time until the Alexander Hamilton historical exhibit would visit Paterson.

When the exhibition opened Thursday at the Paterson Museum, the man who first understood the potential of the Great Falls returned to the city he conceived.

A condensed version of last year's "Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America" at the New-York Historical Society, the exhibit features a series of panels dedicated to the life of one of the country's Founding Fathers and the first secretary of the treasury.

"Everyone that was involved in the original project understood his relevance to the city of Paterson," said Paterson Museum Director Giacomo DeStefano. "The only question was when [it would come here]."

The exhibit, free and open to the public until Jan. 15, also has several artifacts that the museum owns. School groups from Paterson and neighboring towns are planning to visit, even though it's on display during the holidays.

For those interested in the city's founding, the Paterson Museum owns the original book of minutes for the board of directors of the Society for Establishing Usefull [sic] Manufactures. That society, created by Hamilton, founded Paterson.

According to the minutes, DeStefano said, Hamilton was present at the city's birth at a meeting in Abraham Godwin's Tavern near the Totowa Falls (now the Great Falls) in AcquackanonkTownship (now Paterson, Passaic and Clifton).

The museum also has a letter written by Hamilton and several engravings from the 1800s.

The traveling exhibition covers Hamilton's entire life - from when he was a young immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis to his fatal wounding in a duel with Aaron Burr in Weehawken.

The exhibit was provided to the museum free from the New York City-based Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The institute created the traveling display based on the exhibit last year at the New-York Historical Society and began a nationwide tour in October. The exhibition that visits Paterson is one of four that will crisscross the nation for at least four years, said Eric Sharfstein, communications manager for the institute.

The fact that the exhibit will visit Paterson so early can be attributed to the perseverance of city resident Ron Gross. After attending a re-creation of the 1804 Hamilton-Burr duel in 2004 in Weehawken, Gross founded the Friends of Alexander Hamilton and Descendents Committee. Since then, he has steered the committee to spearhead projects that celebrate Hamilton's contributions to Paterson.

"It's been a wonderful experience," Gross said of his drumming up support for the exhibition. "It's been, to me, the culmination of a lifetime of work."

Saturday, the Friends and Descendants Committee will host a reception to celebrate the exhibition's opening. Speakers invited include Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson; city historian Vincent Waraskie and Dr. Izben Williams, the ambassador of St. Kitts and Nevis to the United States. Also expected to attend, Gross said, is Douglas Hamilton, 5th great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton.

The reception, also free and open to the public, will begin at 2 p.m. You can view the exhibit at the museum on 2 Market St. Tuesdays through Sundays.

(SIDEBAR, page L03)

A legacy

Alexander Hamilton's place in Paterson history is represented in the Paterson Museum's exhibition and in the city itself:

In the exhibition:

*-A book of minutes from the board of directors of the Society for Establishing Usefull [sic] Manufactures (1791). The book, which belongs to the Paterson Museum, documents some of the first meetings of Paterson's founding corporation.

*-Letter Hamilton wrote and signed while he was working with the society. The letter belongs to the museum.

In the city:

*-A statue of Hamilton stands in Paterson's Great Falls Park overlooking the Great Falls.

*-The Friends of Alexander Hamilton and Descendants Committee. The Paterson-based organization was formed in 2004 to preserve Hamilton's legacy in Paterson.

*-Paterson has a Hamilton Avenue and Hamilton Street.

*-Alexander Hamilton public housing development near Route 80.

*-At least a dozen houses of the city's founding directors are left, often unrecognizable because of changes and renovations through the years.

*-The Hamilton Club, formerly a private businessmen's club, is run by Passaic County Community College.

*-The Alexander Hamilton National Memorial, founded in 2002, conducts research into Hamilton and Paterson.

(C) 2005 The Record, Bergen County, NJ. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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