BIRTH AND HISTORY OF A LANDMARK
More than any other structure in Jackson, the Cascades is the monument of beauty and distinction that has been a source of enjoyment and fond memories to the millions of people who have visited it for over half a century.
The Cascades is the result of a man’s dream to do something for the people of Jackson and to build an attraction that would provide visitors with a positive impression of the city. That man was William Sparks.
William Sparks was elected to three terms as Jackson’s mayor, served as president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts, and was actively involved in numerous civic/service groups. He also organized the Zouaves, a famous drill team known for their cadence (300 steps per minute) marching with regulation Enfield rifles. It was as commander of this group that he earned the nickname, “Captain.” The Jackson Zouaves performed throughout the world, and it was during a visit to Barcelona, Spain, that he formed the idea for the Cascades from a fountain he saw there.
Directly west of the Sparks home, which was located at the current intersection of West and Kibby, were acres of swampy bog land. Mr. Sparks’ original plan was to acquire the property and convert it into a skating pond. His dream began to grow and soon his plans called for the development of over four hundred acres complete with a championship golf course, lagoons, canal, toboggan slides, landscaped grounds, picnic areas, a clubhouse which is now the Manor House, and the Cascades!
The William and Matilda Sparks Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization was begun in the fall of 1929. The original trustees were William and Matilda Sparks, and their two sons Harry and Clifford. The purpose of the Foundation was to develop the land into a recreation spot and meditation center.
After extensive tests by engineers with a ten foot experimental scale model, specifications were outlined and a contract was awarded to the North-Moller Construction Company on October 17, 1931. The falls opened to a crowd of 25,000 people on May 9, 1932, Captain Spark’s 59th birthday.
Guy C. Core describes the Cascades premiere on the day: “As gloom of dusk thickened, water splashed down concrete falls into reflecting pools. Powerful lights flashed on and the colorful, fast changing spectacle drew gasps of admiration from the assembled throng.”
In the years that followed, word of the Cascades spectacle spread throughout the country and around the world. Visitors from all points of the globe came to Jackson to view the falls.
Shortly after William Sparks’ death in 1943, the entire 465 acre foundation park and the Cascades was given to Jackson County.
With time the Cascades fell into a state of disrepair, and by 1969 the entire landmark was threatened with permanent closure. Vandals had destroyed many of the concrete posts, the fountain, and boulevard lights. The massive reinforced concrete structure was scarred with graffiti, and began crumbling. In order to reverse the destruction of this landmark a “Save the Cascades” program was created with the goal of restoring the Cascades to its original grandeur. The community response was overwhelming, and within a year the Cascades was re-opened.
The physical structure has been maintained and improved each year under the direction of the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Commission. Even so, it became apparent in 1980 that after a half century of dedicated service, the electrical/plumbing system of the falls needed replacement. With a mix of private and public contributions the entire core of the falls was updated. The old electromechanical control system was replaced with a computer system. With this new computer, sound response programs were developed so that the Cascades lights and fountains change patterns in direct response to pre-recorded or live music.
The foundation no longer supports the Cascades. All admission fees and donations go directly to maintain and operate the falls. If you would like to help in supporting this historic landmark, please be generous at the donation box located in the Cascades Museum. Thank you.
So, Jackson’s most famous landmark stands proud and ready to serve the next generation of visitors, with the same enjoyment and fond memories that have touched all the visitors over the last sixty years.
For more information visit www.jacksonmich.com
Printed in Volume 1 Issue 8