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The Cadillac Community is proud of its rich and diverse history. From our earliest residents, the local Native American People, to the rise of the industrial railroad and lumber era, to a booming industrial period and now into the healthy tourism economy that exists today, Cadillac has evolved to stand the test of time.
EXPLORING CADILLAC CULTURE
The Cadillac Area honors and celebrates its past with historic tours, museums, preservation of stunning architecture, and so much more. Your visit to our region will not be complete without exploring Cadillac’s history. Locals and visitors alike can learn about our past through the architecture, sculptures and monuments spread throughout our region that help to tell the stories of our past. We hope you enjoy stepping back through time!
- Historic tour descriptions and maps
- Historic facts, locations, information, and links
- Cadillac historic and cultural resources for every interest
STORIES OF CADILLAC – THE EARLY CHAPTERS
A History Rich in Logging & Manufacturing
HISTORICAL TOURING OPPORTUNITIES IN CADILLAC
Prepare to learn and explore when you select one of the self-guided tours below.
Old Indian Trail Markers
Chart your path from Cadillac to Traverse City along a centuries old trail traversed by the Native Americans that inhabited the region. Access a complete map and description of each marker by downloading the self-guided tour here.
Explore Old Cadillac & Sculptures
Cadillac has an incredible collection of historic sites, sculptures and monuments. Many of these historic buildings stand proudly today and their owners have a passion for their preservation. Access the complete self-guided tour now.
Take the Cadillac KISStory Tour
The Cadillac KISStory Tour highlights the iconic 1975 homecoming when the Rock Back KISS visited Cadillac. This self-guided tour brings you to the top locations with historic markers and expanded information. Access our complete self guided tour here to learn more.
The Foundation of Cadillac - Pre 1900s
1872: Clam Lake Village (Cadillac) is Organized
In 1840, Wexford County was originally named Kautawabet, an Indian word meaning "broken tooth.” Chief Broken Tooth was a Potawatami leader. In 1843, Michigan legislators renamed the county Wexford, after a southern county of Ireland. The earliest known white settler in Wexford County was Benjamin Hall in 1862.
In 1872, with the G.R. & I. Railroad reaching this northern settlement, George A. Mitchell founded and was also elected the first mayor of Cadillac, originally known as Clam Lake. Cadillac was incorporated as a city in 1877, taking its name from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, an early Michigan explorer and founder of Detroit. Four main families helped settle Cadillac. Streets, buildings and landmarks include the Mitchell, Cummer, Diggins and Cobb family names.
1873: The Clam Lake Canal
During 1873, the canal connecting Big and Little Clam Lakes was completed by the lumber mills on land donated by George Mitchell. The canal was roughly 20 feet wide by .3 miles long and allowed logs to be floated from shores of Big Clam Lake to the railroad lines in this thriving lumbering community. Widening and dredging of the canal was done in 1877, 1886, 1894, 1896, 1900, 1965, and in 1996
1878: The Shay Locomotive
Cadillac was one of the few non-river lumbering communities that grew and prospered. The main reason for this was that in 1878, Ephraim Shay perfected his Shay Locomotive, which was particularly effective in its ability to climb steep mountain grades effortlessly and to maneuver sharp turns and imperfections in railroad tracks. Until the invention of the Shay Locomotive, horses were used to transport logs, but this process was slow, costly and often dangerous. The lumbering industry was dominant in the 1880-1900 and included many Swedish immigrants.
1882: The Battle for the County Seat
The original plan for Cadillac included a county courthouse, which set off a multiple decade fight with Sherman for the county seat. That altercation resulted in politics at its worst and several townships being created. Sherman, near Mesick, was the first county seat. Manton briefly held the honor, but in 1882, after a long and bitter political struggle, Cadillac was permanently chosen.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT CADILLAC'S HISTORY...
Cadillac Fast Facts
- Cadillac Area has some of the largest concentrations of morel mushrooms in the United States.
- The city of Cadillac maintains 115 acres of public parks.
- Christmas trees cut from our Huron-Manistee National Forest have been sent to both our state capital and our nation's capital to be displayed as official Capital Christmas Trees.
- Wexford County, just south of Cadillac, boasts the highest peak in the Lower Peninsula.
- Cadillac is surrounded with 94 lakes and over 1000 miles of streams.
- The Wexford County Historical Museum was originally built as a Carnegie Library.
- Cadillac is an anchor point of the White Pine Trail State Park, which is a 92 mile linear State park stretching 92 miles.
- Cadillac earned the designation of "Pure Michigan Trail Town" in 2022.
- Cadillac has hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
- Caberfae Peaks Ski area is the oldest ski resort in Michigan and 4th oldest in the United States.
- Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell together offer over 3700 acres of prime fishing habitat.
Historic Information & Links
Historical Society of Michigan: www.hsmichigan.org
Michigan Historic Preservation Network: www.mhpn.org
National Register of Historic Places: www.nps.gov/nr
National Trust for Historic Preservation: www.preservationnation.org
Preservation Directory: www.preservationdirectory.com
Cadillac has a long and interesting history. Cadillac is the largest City in Wexford County originally named by Native Americans as “Kautawabet” meaning “Broken Tooth”, after a Potawatamie chief who signed the Great Peace Treaty of 1825. Cadillac was first organized in 1872 by George Mitchell (a lumber baron) and was named Clam Lake Village. The county seat, however, was in the village of Sherman, although Manton briefly held the honor. In 1882 there was a political dispute to change the location of the county seat. A group of politicians thought to change the name of Clam Lake Village to Cadillac, after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, an early Michigan explorer and founder of Detroit. Changing the name tricked the legislators and Cadillac became the “new” county seat.
Lumber was the prime industry in the late 1800’s. The population grew to about 10,000. There were four main families that helped to settle Cadillac. They were Mitchell, Cummer, Diggens and Cobb. These names are prevalent throughout Cadillac; streets, buildings and other landmarks are named after them.
Cadillac was one of the few non-river lumbering communities that grew and prospered. The main reason for this was due to the invention of the Shay Locomotive, invented and constructed in Cadillac by Ephraim Shay. The Shay was instrumental in the success of the logging industry because of its ability to climb steep mountains grades effortlessly and to maneuver sharp turns and imperfections in the track. Until the invention of the Shay Locomotive horses were used to transport the logs. This was a slow, costly and often dangerous process. Cadillac is fortunate to have a restored Shay Locomotive displayed at the City Park.
Another historic landmark in Cadillac and the success of the logging industry in Cadillac is the Clam Lake Canal. In 1873 a canal was constructed connecting Big and Little Clam Lakes (Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac). Connecting the two lakes enabled logging from the west side of Lake Mitchell possible by floating the logs through the canal into Lake Cadillac and on to town reaching the railroad. One of the most interesting facts about the Canal is in winter the canal freezes first but once the lakes freeze over the canal opens up and do not freeze again until the next winter.
Legend of Dogman
The Michigan Dogman is a creature that is said to roam Cadillac, Michigan area and The Little Manistee river banks. Described as a half-man, half dog (or wolf) by various accounts, it is an animal undocumented by science, yet has been seen and photographed by scores of individuals. It has been categorized by cryptozoologists as a "Hairy Hominid" or "Upright Canid.” Creatures in this sub-species include a variety of hybrid creatures such as Bigfoot, Yeti, Skunk Ape, etc. Each exhibits human characteristics such as walking upright at least part of the time, but each also bears unmistakable animal traits, such as a body that is covered by fur.
The Dogman legend has been around in various forms for thousands of years, and appears in Native American lore among disparate tribes who lived or traveled through the upper midwest. The Ottawa/Chippewa tribes in particular speak of a race of hybrid humans known as 'shapeshifters,' who could transform themselves into any number of animal forms at will.
Still connected to our forestry roots, the community of Cadillac embraces the forest and woodlands for recreation, education and resources for our local industries.
Cadillac rests on the edge the Huron-Manistee National Forest where rivers run, wildlife abounds and nature unfolds in front of you. Recreation in the nature areas of Cadillac is very important to the tourism industry. Because of its importance, the people Cadillac work hard to preserve and improve the natural beauty and health of our community. The Cadillac Greenway, following the Clam River, offers a safe and beautiful path for recreation while improving the water quality and fish habitation.
The Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center offers many programs on sportsman safety, wildlife education, and nature appreciation. The Center also includes full size exhibits and a wall size fish aquarium featuring fish native to Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell. Behind the Center is the Heritage Nature Trail leading through to the Heritage Marsh. Here tourist and classrooms have the opportunity to study plants and wildlife native to the area. The Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center is part of William Mitchell State Park .
Cadillac is still a leader in industry. The main industrial products from Cadillac are Rec Boat Holdings (owner of Four Winns, Glastron, Scarab) manufacturer of fiberglass boats. Cadillac Castings, Inc. is a manufacturer of ductile iron castings for the automotive and truck market. Avon Automotive (formerly Cadillac Rubber & Plastics) manufacturer of rubber and plastics for automotive and business machine parts. There are many other industries in the Cadillac area making a very successful industrial base.
Cadillac has kept a charming atmosphere in the Downtown Lakeside Shopping District with a variety of locally owned shops ranging from antiques to art, clothing to books, unique eateries to handmade chocolates.
One block west of downtown is Lake Cadillac. The Cadillac Commons district connects our downtown to the lakeshore, sections of the Commons include: The Market, The Plaza (with outdoor fireplace and splashpad), The City Park, The White Pine Trail Head and the Cadillac Rotary Performing Arts Pavilion. The Keith McKellop Walkway is a popular way to enjoy our lakeshore views as well as the City Dock and a 7 ½ mile bike path circling Lake Cadillac. The Lakes still play an important part in Cadillac, although today it is largely recreational. Boaters, skiers, and fishermen enjoy the lakes year around.
Cadillac Arts Council
The Cadillac Arts Council is an organization created by the City of Cadillac to help determine the cultural needs of the greater Cadillac area and to develop and implement programs to meet those needs. The city government created it in 1968 and continues to support the Council annually. The Council provides programs for the community, encompassing all disciplines of art as well as to encourage and aid individual member groups in their efforts to secure suitable art facilities. All energies are used to develop the cultural resources of the area. The Council consists of representatives of community arts agencies and members-at-large who are interested individuals from the greater Cadillac area. It is always open to participation in the arts and promotion of the arts.
Cadillac Area Symphony Orchestra Board
The Cadillac Symphony Orchestra is a highly talented group of local and out of state musicians numbering up to 70 artists. Their purpose is to provide beautiful and challenging music for the community. The Cadillac Symphony Board of Directors is a non-profit entity whose main purpose is to support the conductor and the orchestra. The Board membership consists of between 15-18 volunteers, who also strive to provide music education and experiences for local school students and to contribute to the Cadillac String Association whenever possible. A member of Cadillac Arts Council, the orchestra's income is derived from generous donations and ticket sales. For further information, please contact Liz MacCord – (231) 824-3026. Or visit cadillacsymphony.org/contact-us/
Footliters Community Theater
Established in 1964, the Footliters Community Theatre, is a member of the Community Theater Association of Michigan. All ages are welcome and everyone is encouraged to volunteer to be the actors, singers, dancers, directors, set designers, light and sound technicians and other support people that are needed to produce the plays. Go to www.cadillacfootliters.com to learn more.
Wexford County Friends of the Library
Dedicated to providing artistic and traditional support of the written works of art in the community by providing special events, programming and fundraising activities to ensure the continued promotion of the literary word.
Cadillac Philharmonic Club
The Cadillac Philharmonic Club is a music club devoted to make music an integral part of the Cadillac Area; to encourage and advance creative musical art and; to promote American artists; to uphold high musical standards; make music awards and performance opportunities for local artists and students and; through organization and education to make America the Music Center of the World.
Contact: Judy Nichols, at 231-775-8446 or email@example.com
Gopherwood Folk Society
The Gopherwood Folk Society promotes traditional music and other traditional arts (dances, folk art) in the greater Cadillac area by sponsoring concerts, house concerts, dances and workshops, and by supporting area folk musicians and artists. Please contact Paul Brown, 775-2813 for more information or visit their website.
Cadillac Garden Club
Cadillac Garden Club, Federated in 1992, is a member of Michigan Garden Clubs, Inc, Central Region, Inc, National Garden Clubs, Inc and the Cadillac Arts Council.
It is an active club whose goals include working in areas of horticulture, nature conservation, art and landscape design, and education. Many members are Master Gardeners and Flower Show Judges. Cadillac Garden Club is responsible for the Sound Garden, a beautiful public park for people of all ages. The Gardens are located at 330 Chestnut Street, Cadillac, MI. They also sponsor the very popular Annual Holiday Home Tour the first Saturday in December. The Club welcomes visitors and new members.
Meetings are held April through December on the 2nd Monday of the month. Location is at Up North Arts, 601 Chestnut Street, Cadillac, MI. For more information call 231-510-9047.
Up North Arts Inc.
Purpose: To provide a place where the arts can be practiced, displayed, and enjoyed by residents of and visitors to Northwest Michigan
Mission: To sponsor, promote, and encourage the creative efforts and appreciation of visual, performing, and literary arts in the greater Cadillac community
Background: The Cadillac area offers a good range of multidisciplinary community arts programming including opportunities for visual artists, public art, choral and instrumental music, community theatre, local history, dance, literature and arts education. There is an unmet need for a community arts facility to provide a common, consistent home for meetings, rehearsal, performance, exhibitions, and gatherings as a combined creative sector. As a result, time and resources are challenged as participants must use multiple locations which impacts access to the arts for community audiences and supporters, as well as negatively impacting the financial and volunteer resources of the organizations and limiting growth in awareness, audience and revenue.
If interested in becoming a member call (231) 468-3040.
Cadillac Community Chorus
The chorus, consisting of both male and female voices, was originated by Ms. Karen Miller in 2002 beginning with less than a dozen voices. We are an incorporated non profit organization with the mission to provide the opportunity to learn, sing, perform, and appreciate classics of American music and to provide and opportunity for the community to hear and enjoy such music through concerts. Under the able direction of Dave Buckley, Barbie Edwards, and Betsy Leavell, the mixed voice chorus prides itself on singing a variety of styles appealing to all ages. We are always open for new members.
Visit our Facebook page for updated information.
We meet on Monday nights at 7:00 pm from May through early October. We have an annual fall concert at the community auditorium.
Interlochen Arts Academy
Located only a pleasant 35 minutes from Cadillac, this world treasure is in our backyard. The summer Arts Festivals 8 weeks of exciting and inspiring events. Over 450 programs by students, faculty, and internationally known artists, concerts, recitals, and rehearsals. Theatre productions including Broadway musicals, opera, and Shakespean plays, Ballet and modern dance concerts along with art exhibits. For information call 231-276-9221 or visit their website at www.interlochen.org
Cadillac String Association
Be Part of a Musical Community
The CSA supports students and teachers with a network of music culture that has expanded to include classical and folk (fiddle) music styles. Our students benefit from the camaraderie of a musical culture made up of other students, teachers, parents and other area music organizations.
As a non-profit organization, we have been able to obtain grant funding for tuition assistance to lower-income students and hold annual fund-raising activities in an attempt to keep rates at an affordable level for all families. For more information contact Sam Simons at 231-388-2668 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to check out the website!