Saving the Cascades Falls, by tearing down part of the Jackson landmark

Dec 14, 2014

The nearly $10 million renovation of the Cascades Falls in Jackson begins Monday.

The colorful fountains were built during the height of the Great Depression. The Falls was the brainchild of William Sparks, who made a fortune from car horns and radios. The Falls is modeled on a fountain in Barcelona, Spain. 

The 150-foot-long, 60-foot-wide, 64-foot-tall Cascades Falls opened in 1932.  

Crews will tear down a large wall built at the foot of the Cascades Falls as part of a multi-year plan to restore the Jackson landmark.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

After “Cap” Sparks' death in the early 1940s, the fountains and the surrounding parkland was given to Jackson County.

In the decades since, the Falls have passed through periods of decline and renovation. 

In the 1970s, a large concrete wall was erected at the base of the fountain to discourage vandals. The wall also blocked the public’s view of the colorful fountain. 

The wall as built to discourage vandals. It also ruined the public's view of the Cascades Falls.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

This week, the wall and much of the viewing area built in the late 1960s and early 1970s is being demolished.

“We want to see this gem shining again,” says Sparry Sparks, the grandson of William Sparks. 

Scott Robbins is the Jackson County Parks director. e admits vibrations from the demolition work may pose a threat to the 82-year-old fountains.

“It’s the first thing that (the Falls) has experienced in the past 30 plus years,” says Robbins. “We need to be able to manage the removal (of hundreds of tons of concrete and asphalt), but maintain the integrity of the Cascades themselves.”

Artist's conception of the Cascades Falls once the multi-year renovation is complete.
Credit Courtesy photo

The demolition work is only part of Phase One of a six-phase project. Other phases will focus on repairing the falls themselves and upgrading fountain equipment.   The project is being paid for with money from foundations, individuals, businesses and other local sources. 

Robbins says each phase will take place during the winter months. That may mean the work will not be complete until Cascades Falls is ready to mark its 90th birthday.