Many entrepreneurs had ideas for formerly named Cascade Falls
Thousand of years ago, men entered Provo Canyon on foot, establishing primitive paths. Many years later, others followed, constructing wagon trails, railroads and highways. An imposing waterfall cloaking the craggy cliffs of the canyon's south face greeted and awed them all.
The Native Americans who first viewed the falls may have revered the venerable cascade and given it a sacred name now lost to the written language. United States government explorer John C. Fremont, who rode through the canyon on horseback in the mid 1840s, became the first known Euro-American to mention the falls in writing. He called them the "Beautiful Cascades."
The name "Cascade Falls" seems to have stuck, and it was in common use for about four decades. In the early 1880s, however, Utah Valley inhabitants began referring to the natural wonder as "Bridal Veil Falls," the name by which it is known today. The mountain from which the falls originate has retained the appellation, "Cascade Mountain."
Most current residents of Utah Valley assume that Bridal Veil Falls has delighted sightseers unceasingly since the arrival of the Mormon pioneers. This supposition is incorrect. Remarkably, for more than a decade between 1906 and 1917, a self-made robber baron selfishly stole the aesthetic beauty of the falls from the people and turned their water to his own monetary advantage.
That despoiler of natural grace and charm was none other than Lucien L. Nunn, an otherwise upstanding, hardworking native of Ohio who studied law at Harvard and in Germany. In 1880 at the age of 27, Nunn traveled west to Leadville, Colorado. The next year, he moved to Telluride and began practicing law, walking to out-of-town court cases because he could not afford to hire a rig.
While working as an attorney for a mining company, Nunn became interested in the long distance transmission of power to be used in mining. Experts considered transmission of direct current to be too dangerous because of its high voltage, and they thought it was too impractical because of the tremendous expense involved.
In a 10-by-12-foot, wooden-slab shack, Nunn began experimenting with alternating current. In 1890, he found a way to successfully transmit electricity from the Ames power plant in Colorado to the Gold King Mine, located a little more than two miles away.
Mining men in Utah heard of Nunn's success and convinced him to construct a power line from a source of electricity in Provo Canyon to the mines at Mercur, located west of Utah Lake. Working under the auspices of the Telluride Power Company, Nunn accepted the challenging job. His brother, Paul N. Nunn, served as the construction engineer during the building of the Nunn Power Plant, located on the Provo River just below Bridal Veil Falls.
The Nunns built a 16-foot-high dam across the Provo River just above Upper Falls. From the small lake backed up behind the dam, they diverted water to run their power plant, transporting the liquid down the canyon via a wooden flume. The Nunns constructed a high voltage power line to Mercur, and after their power plant was completed, the brothers charged the line to the mines west of Utah Lake with power. The Nunns succeeded in constructing the first 40,000 volt line in America. It was the longest power line in the world at that time.
Because of an increasing demand for electricity, L.L. and P.N. Nunn built a larger power plant at the mouth of Provo Canyon and named it Olmsted. At this location, the men established the Telluride Institute, a school whose purpose was to offer aspiring young electricians an education and give them practical training in the field of electricity.
Again, Paul N. Nunn acted as the construction engineer, and workmen finished the plant in 1903. By 1906, the institute was training about 30 students.
To prepare for the generation of hydroelectricity in his power plants, L.L. Nunn appropriated the water of Bridal Veil Falls, Lost Creek and Upper Falls. Provo city realized that this water was more desirable for culinary use than the Provo River water they were currently using. The city made an unsuccessful effort in 1902 to trade Nunn their river water in exchange for his spring water.
According to a report in the Provo Daily Enquirer, city officials proposed to generate electricity with water from Bridal Veil Falls and use this electricity to pump 15 cubic feet of water per second from the river into the power company's flume. In exchange, the city wanted an equal amount of the power company's water from the falls.
Concerning this arrangement, the Enquirer speculated, "The question of the right of the city to divert the water now appropriated from the power company ... may become a matter of controversy between the city and the power company." The proposal did create a dispute and the Telluride Power Company retained the right to use the water from the falls.
L.L. Nunn not only kept the water, but he also borrowed an idea from Provo city. He soon put that notion to work for his own benefit.
Disquieting hearsay concerning Nunn's intentions began circulating through Provo in April 1906. The city's Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce) heard from Madam Rumor that Nunn planned to build a small power plant in Provo Canyon, divert the water that cascaded down Bridal Veil Falls, and use it to run the new plant. With the power generated, Nunn intended to pump the water seeping under the power company's Provo River dam into his flume running down the canyon to Olmsted where it would be used to help generate more power.
This action would increase Nunn's power production, but it would also leave Bridal Veil Falls high and dry. Pumping seepage water from the Provo River would reduce the flow of the stream to a trickle for miles. The length of the river impacted by this lack of water extended from the dam near Upper Falls to where the water was turned back into the river at the Olmsted plant, near the mouth of the canyon.
Provo's Commercial Club appointed its president, George H. Brimhall, along with Jesse Knight and James Clove as a committee to talk with Nunn and find a way to save Bridal Veil Falls. The Enquirer commended the club for looking after the preservation of the falls and expressed its optimistic opinion that the cascade would remain a scenic beauty in the canyon.
An editorial printed on April 27, 1906, stated the paper's view: "We believe ... the story that Mr. Nunn intends to destroy them [the falls] is without foundation. ... We believe he will let them remain where they are and as they are."
After a month, however, the editor of the Enquirer had completely changed his opinion. He now believed that what had earlier seemed to be unthinkable was actually true. The journalist wrote that it appeared "settled without any doubt" that Mr. Nunn intended to take the water out of the stream before it reached the falls and use it to generate power.
Nunn's actions incensed the general public, and the Enquirer expressed the people's disappointment and fears. Aside from their sense of aesthetic loss, the people and their leaders worried that with the canyon's greatest scenic and advertising feature gone, the tourist trade would suffer. With interest in sports fishing on the rise, the people were apprehensive that draining "the river for such a considerable distance would ... be very injurious to the fish industry."
The Enquirer stated that to take the falls "would, without any doubt, be of some financial benefit to the Power company, but it would be of greater financial injury to the people ... and this seems a case where the interests of the many should be given preference to the interests of the few." The newspaper suggested that this case should be presented to the Department of Interior or whichever branch of the government it belonged to "in the strongest possible light."
Since the falls were located on an unoccupied section of government land that was temporarily withdrawn from settlement while the decision was being made whether to include it in a forest reserve or not, the Interior Department seemed to have jurisdiction. The Commercial Club circulated a petition asking the Department of Interior for preservation of the falls. The Salt Lake Tribune reported the petition was "very generally signed."
Some exceedingly influential people got involved in the fight to save the falls. All of the Salt Lake City newspapers unanimously demanded the preservation of the scenic wonder. In June, the Provo City Council met as a committee of the whole, referred the matter of saving the falls to Mayor Joseph H. Frisby and Council President Alfred L. Booth, and authorized them to make an effort to have the falls placed in a forest reserve.
Frisby and Booth sent the petition asking to have the falls protected to Utah Senator Reed Smoot, who filed it with the Secretary of Interior. Smoot's reply to the people of Provo was not a very optimistic one. He declared that, in his opinion, the only thing the government could do was make all the public lands lying in the Wasatch Mountains between Spanish Fork Canyon and Salt Lake City into a forest reserve. This would include the land where the falls flowed.
Smoot could foresee one major problem, and he soon became acquainted with another stumbling block. The Senator pointed out that L.L. Nunn secured his water rights from the state, and forming a national reserve would not likely change these rights.
Objections to making a reserve of a large portion of the Wasatch Mountains came from a somewhat unexpected source -- the people of Utah County. As soon as Smoot made public the option of creating a forest reserve, he began receiving letters from citizens living in Alpine, American Fork, Pleasant Grove and Springville who objected to the plan.
The people in these cities did not want the land they used to come under the control of the Forestry Bureau. This would make the land subject to government regulations and curtail their indiscriminate grazing and other destructive practices.
The Enquirer expressed its opinion that in the long run government control would improve grazing and help protect precious timber also. The newspaper predicted that the time would come when those who now objected to the plan and their descendants would be anxious to have a reserve.
This expression of opinion by the Enquirer did little to change the minds of the people who objected to the reserve. This situation forced Provo authorities to drop their plan for an expansive reserve and begin lobbying for the creation of a small reserve of just two sections of land that included Bridal Veil Falls and some nearby land. Mayor Frisby and Council President Booth presented this plan to Senator Smoot, who again promised his aid.
Newspapers continued their support for saving the falls. The Enquirer maintained that the falls were "worth far more to the State as a scenic attraction, estimating their value in dollars, than they are worth to anyone for power purposes."
In Salt Lake City, the Deseret News lamented, "If the waters that feed the falls can be appropriated under the laws of the State, of course their source of supply will be cut off and the 'thing of beauty' will no longer be a 'joy forever' or at all."
In June 1906, as Nunn moved ahead with the work of diverting the water from the falls and building a small power plant, the Provo City Council read a letter from Reed Smoot during its regular meeting. Regarding the formation of a large reserve in the Wasatch Mountains, minutes of that meeting reveal that Smoot said nothing about the creation of a small reserve, but he told the council the large number of protests virtually insured "that this part of our county should be returned to the public domain, for the reason that there were a great many private holdings within the land in question."
Smoot gave very little encouragement for the preservation of the falls. He reiterated his opinion that whether a reserve was established or not, Mr. Nunn had already acquired water rights to the falls from the state, and the courts would protect these rights.
The matter of creating a reserve and protecting the falls was apparently passed from government department to government department like a hot potato. Smoot's letter said he had referred the matter to the Department of Interior, who passed it on to the Department of Agriculture, who handed it to the Division of Forestry. Smoot scheduled a meeting with the head forester to talk over the possibility of saving the falls.
The Enquirer suggested that the city should investigate Nunn's water rights in order to make certain that he had done everything legally. The newspaper chastised Provo city and her citizens for not securing the rights to water from the falls earlier, which would have prevented the problem. The newspaper urged fish interests to unite and make sure the river was not completely drained and its fish killed.
On June 20, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Secretary Hitchcock had written Senator Smoot a letter informing the senator that the federal government had nothing whatsoever to do with the preservation of Bridal Veil Falls. Hitchcock suggested that Smoot should work with the state authorities.
Late in June, the Provo City Council received another letter from Senator Smoot. This missive said there was no chance for the creation of a small reserve containing the single section in which the falls were located.
The council responded by voting in favor of creating a large reserve even if many Utah County people objected to it. Councilor Miller moved that action should be deferred for one month, and the motion carried.
The city council referred the matter of saving the falls to the Judiciary Committee. That committee's members investigated Nunn's water rights and found them legal. They wracked their brains trying to come up with legal steps they could take to save the falls, but all of their efforts came out dry. The possibility of saving Bridal Veil Falls looked slim, indeed.