The Cascades (also known as Cascade Falls)
Open Memorial Day to Labor Day, Wednesday through Sunday 8-11 p.m.
An illuminated, colorful, man-made waterfall amplified by fireworks stands out on summer nights in Jackson. The Cascades, within the boundaries of the Sparks Foundation County Park, is one of Jackson’s most spectacular attractions.
For more than 85 years, The Cascades has captivated locals and visitors from around the world. Jackson’s most famous landmark, under the management of the Jackson County Parks Department, promises to amaze and delight for generations to come. Family Fun Night is every Wednesday in the summer and you can expect live music and costumed characters, along with the Falls. Live music can also be enjoyed every summer Saturday in the Rotary Bandshell at Sparks Park (also known as Cascades Park).
The Falls were built in the early spring of the 1930s. Its first display to the public was on May 10, 1932. The Cascades Falls are 500 feet in length, a vertical height of 64 feet, and a total width of 60 feet. There are 6 fountains, 16 Falls (11 are illuminated), 1,230 Colored Electric Lights, and a 2,000 gallon per minute water pump that filters, chlorinates, and recycles water in a closed loop system. There are 126 steps along each side of the Falls. This walkways passes 3 main pools of water that are 30 feet by 90 feet.
The original “Save the Cascades” campaign was in 1969-1970. The Falls amphitheater was built and the grounds enclosed to protect the Falls from vandalism. School children collected pennies to help the renovations.
New computerized lighting systems and new sound systems were installed as a result of the “Cascades Rebirth” in 1982-1983. In addition, the “Buy A Seat” campaign bought new stadium seats for the amphitheater in 1985. There are currently 1,491 stadium seats along with benches that will seat 360 people. For special events, additional seating is available to allow for 3,000 persons to watch a show.
During 1992-1993, the most ambitious Cascades renovation project was initiated. Extensive concrete repairs, new walkways, new filtered and a chlorinated well water system were installed. All light sockets were also replaced and rewired.
From 1998-1999, the outdated lighting, fountain controls, and fountain pumps were replaced with state-of-the-art, high-speed controls. A new high-speed computer now operates the system.
The most recent renovation was in 2017, with the completion of the Splash Pad.
Birth & History of a Landmark
More than any other structure in Jackson, Cascades is a 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.
Sparks moved to Jackson from Burrington, England in 1882 at the age of nine. He graduated from Jackson High School and attended Delvin Business College. At 14 he started working in a grocery store, putting in long fourteen hour days with an ambitious determination to advance his business career. At 20 he married Matilda Peters and they had 2 sons.
Sparks joined Phillip and Winthrop Withington which was the formation of the Sparks-Withington Company in 1900. The company made buggy parts, and began with only a dozen employees. Sparks-Withington soon became involved in the manufacturing of parts for the fledgling automobile industry. By 1929, the company employed over 7,000 people, marketing a variety of products, including the "Spartan Radio and Horn."
William Sparks' civic dedication was evident by the fact that he 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 or 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, Incorporation, a non-profit organization was begun in the fall of 1929. The original trustees were William and Matilda Sparks, and their 2 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. North-Moller was to perform nearly all the work on the Cascades, except electrical wiring and installation. The contract required that the job be completed by April 26, 1932, that Jackson labor be used, and that married men be shown preference. Work continued on schedule throughout the winter, and 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 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 reopened.
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 or 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 prerecorded or live music.
In the spring of 1993, the Jackson County Building Authority awarded contracts totaling almost $500,000 for concrete repair and electrical and mechanical renovations to the falls. There no longer is a Foundation that 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.