Cadillac: Where We Come From
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.
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.
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.
In March 1989, the Michigan Historical Commission, because of its significance to Cadillac’s development, declared the canal a state historic landmark. A historic marker, placed at the east end of the canal in June 1990, details the canal's history. Big and Little Clam Lakes eventually became known as Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac. An interesting fact about the canal is that in the winter the canal freezes first, but once the lakes freeze, the canal opens for the rest of the winter.
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.
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
Wexford Country Historical Society & Museaum: www.wexfordcountyhistory.org
Mesick Area Historical Museum: www.mesickmuseum.com
Manton Area Historical Museum: www.mantonmichigan.org/community_history.html
Wexford County Genealogy Organization: www.wexfordgenealogy.org
Cadillac Wexford Public Library: www.cadillaclibrary.org