The Cascades Pageant

During the last week of June--and extending into the first week in July 1938, North Adams was the scene of a spectacular event, the likes of which has not been seen before or since. 

The Transcript, reporting on a pageant held on Noel Field 63 years ago, described the event as a “brilliant and colorful spectacle of gorgeous costumes, setting and lighting effects.” There was a cast of 750 people including more than 200 in the band and chorus. 

Why would so many people devote so much time, energy and money to a project planned to take place over three consecutive hot summer evenings? Why would they do such a thing? The Transcript reported after the first evening’s performance that “all proceeds will go to a public fund for the permanent preservation of the “Cascade.” 

To understand the purpose of the production, one must first know what the term “Cascade” means in the history of North Adams.  It is an isolated wooded area of generous size in a line from the end of Marion Avenue as far as Notch Road to the south. It is an area of scenic beauty enhanced by a 60-foot waterfall. This cataract is the overflow from the reservoir on Notch Road--a part of the city’s water system. 

During the middle decades of the last century, the “Cascade”--more generally mentioned in the plural of the word, “Cascades”--was a popular picnic and recreation area for the city’s citizens, particularly for those in the West End. The Boy Scouts used the place extensively for woodcraft lore and merit badge training sessions.  The waterfall provided a means to cool off on sweltering summer days. The shallow pool created by the tumbling water was known as “The Ice Box”.  Picnicking took place under the hemlock trees that formed a canopy over the area.  

In the mid-1900's the Cascades were owned by Harry O. Wells who lived at 70 State Road.  The waterfall itself was the property of his nephew, Robert O. Wells of 91 Marion Avenue, owner of the Cascade Paper Company.  Reaching the Cascades meant a walking distance of a couple of hundred yards from the end of Marion Avenue.  People who drove their cars to the end of the street, parked them on grass fronting the homes there.  The homeowners complained. Upon investigation, it was determined that the car owners were within their rights because the grass was on city-owned land. 

The Cascade site today is much the same as it was 100-years ago; one of the few places left from the days when the Mohawk Indians passed by it.  Efforts were made from time to time to change it.  All failed.  The city created a rustic park there in the 1970's but it wasn’t appreciated.  During that decade when there was an oil shortage and people bought stoves, vandals destroyed the facilities there for firewood.  

The real estate in and around the Cascades has been the subject of wheeling and dealing by city administrations and potential developers for as long as memory serves. In 1978, there was government money and a resolution was presented to the City Council by then Mayor James F. Cleary asking for a favorable resolution indicating it favored purchasing the Cascades as a recreation area--an idea proposed by others 33 years previously. 

Circumstances were different in 1968 than they were during the Great Depression years when the City Council failed to sanction a similar proposal.  In 1976 there was state and federal money available for recreation and environmental projects. Now, George A. Weslocki of Pittsfield was available, as executive director of the Berkshire Resources Council, to obtain federal funds for the closing costs plus 75% of the purchase price.  The city’s outlay was to be $6,000. And so, the city under different administrations undertook the acquisition of the various properties in and adjacent to the Cascades by eminent domain to be used as a wilderness area only. 

How much money did the pageant referred to at the beginning of this story produce towards the purchase of the Cascades?  The answer is--none at all.  In fact, it cost its sponsors $300. The first evening was a spectacular success in perfect weather. The second evening brought a torrential downpour washing out the program. On the third evening, the program began and again it was rained upon.  The pageant was never completed.  The money lost was paid back to the sponsors by donations from the community. 

The North Adams Historical Society has complete records of the financial aspects of the land-takings and the amounts of money spent as reported by the Transcript down through the years, for those interested beyond the scope of this essay. 

Adapted from a story for the North Adams Historical Society.