The township of Little Falls, named for the beautiful Passaic River waterfall that spills downstream from a dam in front of the former Beattie Carpet Mill, traces its heritage to 1711. The nearly three-square-mile town is bordered by the communities of Montclair, Wayne, Totowa, Woodland Park, North Caldwell, Fairfield and Clifton.
Unlike many communities in Northern New Jersey, Little Falls has managed to retain a small town feel. Its convenient location, situated on the Garden State Parkway; US Routes 80 and 46 as well as New Jersey Routes 3 and 23; along with numerous public transit options make the township an ideal place of residence for commuters. The many residents who commute elsewhere to work are among the best served in the metropolitan area, with frequent rail and bus service operated by New Jersey Transit. For many residents local shopping, schools and a variety of other services are within walking distance.
The township is divided into three separate areas: Great Notch, which comprises the easternmost part; Singac which is the western section of town; and the downtown area which locals call “The Center of Town.” Main Street runs directly through the town center and is lined with lovely “mom & pop” stores and a wide variety of restaurants.
The old Morris Canal, once an important artery of trade and transportation between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers, wound its way through the town, and vestiges of it still serve as a reminder of Little Falls’ long history.
During most of the years of its existence, the Beattie Carpet Mill was the town's major employer. The mill was closed more than thirty years ago, and the former factory's buildings have since been converted into a large condominium complex called The Mill at Little Falls. Many of the units overlook Little Falls on the Passaic River.
The quarrying of brownstone was another important local industry, and Little Falls’ brownstone has been utilized in many significant structures including New York City's famous Trinity Church. Commercial activity is now comprised mainly of light industrial and office-based companies; there is some heavy industry.
Along with its rich industrial history, Little Falls has a rich and diverse cultural history. The township was the birthplace and childhood home of legendary comedian Jackie Gleason. Gleason began his comedic career during the 1930s in Little Falls telling jokes at the famous Colonial Hotel and Nightclub in the Singac section. Other notable Little Falls natives and residents include illusionist David Blaine, CBS The Early Show's anchorman Chris Wragge as well as authors Lois Utz and Frank DeCaro.
The township is also the home of Yogi Berra Stadium, home of the Canadian-American Baseball League team called the New Jersey Jackals. The stadium, as well as the Yogi Berra museum, are located on the campus of Montclair State University. In fact, the majority of Montclair State University's campus is located in Little Falls.
Montclair State University is a highly regarded liberal arts college which is overseen by the state of New Jersey. In the 1970's, one of the university's more well-known alumni, Bruce Willis, bartended in Little Falls.
Though it is a small town—and it certainly retains the feel of a small town—Little Falls has been an important campaign stop for presidential hopefuls. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton brought their campaigns to the Passaic River township.
The population of Little Falls is 10,524 people, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and the median household income is $69,342. The population has gone down during the past ten years, dropping nearly 5% since 2000. The average Little Falls resident is 42.7 years old, and unemployment rates are below average for the state of New Jersey and nationally.
Little Falls boasts a highly-respected public school system with three public schools, and the regional high school, Passaic Valley Regional High School, is located there as well. Little Falls also is home to several private and parochial schools. The township also hosts numerous service, fraternal and community organizations including the Masons, the Knights of Columbus and Kiwanis.
The township offers several beautiful parks for residential activities including jogging, tennis, softball, soccer and football. There are also many playgrounds for children, and if the kids get bored climbing atop a traditional jungle gym, the kids can climb upon a retired army tank, which sits proudly in Memorial Park.
Dining options abound in Little Falls and many of the township restaurants are famous throughout New Jersey and the tri-state area. Sun Ray Pizza located on Main Street is famous for its Sicilian pizza. Rare, a steakhouse also located on Main Street and voted Best New Jersey Restaurant in 2008, serves fine aged steaks as well as offering guests a full raw bar. Maggie's Town Tavern, located on Van Ness Avenue, has been serving locals their signature burgers for decades.
Like everywhere else, Little Falls real estate has not gone unscathed through the recent economic crisis, however, because of the town’s location, the number of amenities the community offers, the quality school system, and a relatively low (by New Jersey standards) property tax rate, the Little Falls real estate market is robust. Condos and townhomes in Little Falls range in prices from the low $100,000’s for a one-bedroom, one bath condo to more than $600,000 for a three-bedroom, two bath luxury condo.
The Mill at Little Falls, mentioned earlier, is situated on over twelve acres. The jogging path along the river adjoins a private pedestrian bridge leading to a four-acre natural woodland preserve. The Mill's pedestrian plaza has dramatic views overlooking the river, waterfalls and river gorge. In addition to the park-like setting and jogging path, The Mill at Little Falls also offers extensive facilities including a swimming pool, tennis courts, fitness center, parking and security. Units start in the mid-$200,000s and increase to upwards of the mid-$300,000 range. These pricier units often feature balconies, which overlook the waterfalls and natural woodland preserve.
Many of the condominium units for sale in Little Falls are garden apartments. These converted units are popular less expensive options for young, first-time buyers, or provide a financially sound investment for a retired couple looking to downsize from a larger one-family home.
Most people speed right by Little Falls as they travel New Jersey's busy highways never realizing what a delightful little gem they've just passed. The township offers something for everyone. Residents of Little Falls have know this for years, and they couldn't be happier.
Liam P. Cusack is associate editor of The New Jersey Cooperator.