Cadillac: Where We Come From

Mitchell Street


Top 12 things that wouldn't exist if it weren't for Michigan - Shay Locomotive model is at #9...“the most widely used geared steam locomotive.” Named after its inventor, Ephraim Shay — a logger from Haring, Michigan — he patented the design in 1881. Today, only 114 Shays survive. Buzzfeed 10/21/2014


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.

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Manton Area Historical Museum

102 Griswold Street
Manton, MI 49663
Phone: 231-878-2022

Manton Veterans Memorial Museum

310 N. Michigan Avenue
Manton, MI 49663
Phone: 231-824-9504

Marion Area Historical Museum

505 S Mill St.
Marion, MI 49665
Phone: (231) 743-2294

Mesick Area Historical Museum

117 Mesick Ave
Mesick, MI 49668
Phone: 231-885-1224

Museum of Moses @ Vogel Store

9979 S 8 Mile Road
McBain, MI 49657
Phone: 231-825-2219

Friends of the Cadillac-Wexford Public Library

411 S. Lake St.
Cadillac, MI 49601
Phone: 231-510-9047
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The Battle of the County Seat

Mitchell House

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.

Clam Lake Canal

Old times on the 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.

Shay Locomotive

Shay Locomotive on display in the Cadillac City Park

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.

When Cadillac Was Kissed!

Kiss on Football Field

Kiss in front of Old City Hall Fire Station - 201 N. Mitchell Street

In October of 1975, Cadillac High School in Cadillac, Michigan made Rock 'n' Roll history when KISS played at their homecoming. Here is the full story about that visit presented by Jim Neff, the person who made it all happen. All those rumors you've heard about what happened are answered here -- including the fake claims of other people that they had a hand in the event. Included are never-seen photos, original documents, news articles, and commentary.

go to NeffZone for the whole story....

Photo here of Kiss in front of the Old Cadillac City Hall building, now host facility to the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, located at 201 N. Mitchell Street, Cadillac, MI  4960

Students painted up for rallyFor more photos of that legendary day in Cadillac and the beginning of a close relationship with a CAPS Assistant Football Coach & English Teacher, click on the NeffZone above and go to the photo gallery.

Boat Building History

Scarab boats are built in Cadillac

Production of fiberglass boats began just after WWII and owe their technology to processes that came about during the war effort and continued afterward.  The Cadillac community has been known for building quality boats since the 1940s.  A branch plant of Chris-Craft began building boats in Cadillac in 1941.

The Cadillac Boat Company was a firm of boat builders formed in 1953, as a subsidiary of Wagemaker Company of Grand Rapids, who also owned US Molded Shapes.  Raymond Wagemaker was president of all three firms.  John Bushnell served as Manage, Secretary, Sales Manager and Purchasing agent in Cadillac.  The company was renamed Cadillac Marine and Boat Company in 1957.

Cadillac Marine also produced aluminum fishing boats and runabouts.  US Molded Shapes made molded veneer boats for Wagemaker, which finished them and marketed them as Wagemaker Wolverine.  Cadillac also made wooden boats with hulls from US Molded Shapes.  After a fire at the Wagemaker plant in Grand Rapids in 1957, destroyed 1500 hulls in addition to production space and equipment, most of the boat production was moved to Cadillac.  To cover all markets, Cadillac added fiberglass boats to their product line in 1959.

The Four Winns boat brand  had its beginnings as the Saf-T-Mate Boat Company which produced fiberglass recreational boats in Cadillac beginning in 1962.   In 1975, Saf-T-Mate was sold to the Winn Family:  William Winn, Sr. and his three sons - Charlie, William and John...  Hence the company's name change to FourWinns.

The Company has grown and is now known as RBH (Rec Boat Holdings).  RBH manufactures fiberglass boats from 16ft to 48 ft, and now includes four brands:   Four Winns, Glastron, Scarab and Wellcraft.

In 2014 Rec Boat Holdings was purchased by Beneteau Group based out of France.  For more information on Group Beneteau history.

Historical Links

Historic Resources in our area:

Wexford County Historical Society & Museum

Mesick Area Historical Museum

Manton Area Historical Museum

Wexford County Genealogy Organization

Available every Thursday 11-3pm, at the Naval Reserve, located at the intersection of Linden and Chestnut, across the street from CAPS High School and Veterans Memorial Stadium.  See links to cemetery and township info below.

Cadillac Wexford Public Library

Historical Society of Michigan:      Michigan Historic Preservation Network:

National Register of Historic Places:     National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Preservation Directory:

Who is Cadillac named after?

Cadillac was originally named by Native Americans as "Kautawabet" meaning "Broken Tooth", after a Potawatomie Chief that 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 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 also became the "new" county seat.