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Jackson Cascades: A Slice of American Civic Expression

Updated on June 25, 2019
Early postcard image of the Cascades from the 1930's
Early postcard image of the Cascades from the 1930's | Source
Haines Shoe House off the Lincoln Highway, Pennsylvania
Haines Shoe House off the Lincoln Highway, Pennsylvania | Source
Saltair Pavilion, Salt Lake City from a vintage postcard
Saltair Pavilion, Salt Lake City from a vintage postcard | Source
The Cascades in daytime
The Cascades in daytime | Source
The Cascades at dusk with pink lights
The Cascades at dusk with pink lights | Source
The Cascades bathed in blue light in full darkness
The Cascades bathed in blue light in full darkness | Source
August Civil War Muster at the park near the Cascades
August Civil War Muster at the park near the Cascades | Source
Ladies on display in authentic period costumes at August muster
Ladies on display in authentic period costumes at August muster | Source

An Illuminated Spectacle

The Jackson Cascades (or Falls) in Jackson County, Michigan rank as an absolutely unique reflection of a community's sense of civic pride. Situated in a county park, they convey a thrilling display of light, color and falling water to create a mood for the host city. Like the famous "Shoe House" on the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania or the Saltair Pavilion near Salt Lake City, they become part of a larger experience, yet are somehow indigenous to American culture. As such, they incorporate that individuality that bespeaks an attention generating focus that cries out "this is Jackson"!

The Story of the Cascades


The Cascades began in the year 1932, deep in the Great Depression. What would come to be known as the Sparks Foundation County Park was chosen as the site. An elaborate spectacle was planned to advertise the Jackson area as a region of promise, despite the grim realities of that year. Eventually, a total of six fountains, three reflecting pools and sixteen falls made up the composition. The lights are accompanied by music, as the Falls are illuminated at night. A special water pump filters, chlorinates and recycles the water in a most impressive engineering display. The overall effect on any summer night is one of a strobe lightshow. Recently, the old incandescent bulbs of earlier times were replaced by LED lighting technology. The Cascades are open in the summer months from Memorial Day to Labor Day during evening hours. On Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, the lighted displays are choreographed with terrific fireworks on those holiday evenings. There is even an annual Civil War muster held in the surrounding park. This reenactment shows a patriotic celebration of this area's contribution to the Union's efforts to win that conflict and should not be missed for authentic period flavor and American public history.

The Cascades Today


The Cascades in 2018 are undergoing a period of reconstruction that will move in several phases. For some years, they fell victim to a spate of local vandalism and neglect. Some serious damage was inflicted, but now there is better security and pride in this great local attraction and resource. It is indeed ironic yet appropriate that this spectacle, opened in the depressed year of 1932, should undergo a rebirth in 2018 as the country moves out of a protracted economic downturn, which has hit the Jackson community especially hard. It is hoped that the Cascades will continue to serve as a beacon of hope and renewal for the mid-Michigan region.

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