Cadillac Yesterday

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.

Cadillac Today

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, laminated boats.  Cadillac Castings, Inc.(formerly Hays Lemmerz) 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 booming Downtown Lakeside Shipping District with a huge variety of stores ranging from antiques to art, clothing to books, European Restaurants to handmade chocolates. Browsing around Cadillac’s Lakeside District on the inlayed brick sidewalk with old fashion street lights is a delightful experience.

One block west of the Lakeside Shopping District is Lake Cadillac. Lake Cadillac boasts the Keith McKellop Walkway, the Cadillac Rotary Performing Arts Pavilion, 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 Fast Facts

  • Cadillac Area has the largest concentration of morel mushrooms in the USA.
  • The city of Cadillac maintains 115 acres of public parks.
  • The Capital Christmas Tree, sent to Washington D.C. in 1998, was cut from the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
  • 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 the ending point to the White Pine Trail State Park, which is a 92 mile linear State park stretching 92 miles.
  • Cadillac is the host of the North American Snow Festival.
  • Cadillac has hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
  • Caberfae Peaks Ski area is the oldest ski resort in the mid-west and offering the newest day lodge.
  • Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell together offer over 3700 acres of prime fishing habitat.