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The early history of Cadillac, Michigan

The first clearings in the forest which predate the rising of the future Village of Clam Lake and City of Cadillac were made for the camps which were used in the construction the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad through the county in 1871 to 1872. In March, 1871 Messrs. Holbrook and May start at a store in a little log building on the eastern shore of little Clam Lake, the first permanent structure of any kind to be erected on the present site of Cadillac. The same gentleman afterward built a two-story store on the corner of Mason and Mitchell streets in which they conducted a thriving business for a number of years.

Col. J. C. Hudnutt was the civil engineer in active charge of the road survey and when he received orders from his superiors to swing around the eastern end of little Clam Lake, instead of passing between the two lakes as was first intended, he rightly concluded that a town would arise at that point area. Being a forehanded man, he acted accordingly. In the words of John H. Wheeler who was personally cognizant of the incident which he relates: “With this idea in view, he decided to buy any or all land bordering on the shore of the lake and for this purpose he started for the government land office, then located at Traverse City, in the fall of 1871, to ascertain what there was in that locality that could be purchased.” The only road to Traverse City that was the state road running through Sherman and as the stage was the only conveyance it took two days to make the trip from the northern end of the road, which was then just this side of big Rapids, to the land office.

“The colonel stopped over night in Sherman and in conversation with some of the businessmen of that village casually remarked that he was on his way to the United States land office ‘to buy a city.’ I. H. Mequeston, one of Sherman's first merchants, boarded at the hotel and overhearing this remark of the Colonels adroitly drew out the facts that the city it was yet an embryo, but that it was to be built on the eastern shore of Little Clam Lake. So while the colonel was enjoying a much needed nice rest, Mr. Mequeston started for Traverse City, where he arrived in the middle of the night. How he found the residents of the register of the land office, or how much he gave him to leave his warm bed and go to land office at that unseemly hour of the night, will probably always remain a mystery, as both have been dead for many years, but certain it is that when Col. Hudnutt reached the land office the next day he discovered that government lots long, three and five of section 4, in Clam Lake Township, or rather what is now Clam Lake Township, had been sold to L. J. Clark and I. H. Mequeston, of Sherman. This was the land upon which the original village of Clam Lake was platted.”

Not long after Mequeston and Clark, of Sherman became proprietors of the land of Little Clam Lake which was to be the village site, George A. Mitchell, an Indiana merchant and an old soldier who was thereafter to become identified with every leading movement in her dance in his travels through this new country noted the advantages of the location from a business and lumbering standpoint. He therefore bought the land in October, 1871, a few months before the railroads reach the locality, platted the Village of Clam Lake. In January, 1872, a post office was established with John S. McClain as postmaster; the stage last being sacked for the grand entry of the Grand Rapids & Indiana railroad. Six months after Mr. Mitchell started the village of Clam Lake his wife paid him a visit, and best describes her journey and what she found at the end of it: “It was in March, 1872, I accepted Mr. Mitchell's invitation to visit Clam Lake (now Cadillac), it being then about six months old. We took the G. R. & I. Railroad at the Kendallville, Indiana, came to Grand Rapids and remained overnight, as Mr. Mitchell had business to attend to. Next morning resumed our journey, and as there was but one coach or the passengers it was soon crowded full of men, but few women, and the further we came the less in number. We passed through a new rough looking country, and after leaving Reed city there were no clearings, just the tracks through a wilderness of tall pines. There were two places where food and lodging could be had, long a log house near where the sash and blind factory now stands, the other also a log structure, but larger, stood just north of McAdies & Co.’s foundry, fronting on Lake Street, and was called the “Mason House.” There were very few divisions on the first floor one sleeping room and the kitchen, the remainder was used for general purposes. Across one hand was a long table with benches for speech, where food was served, always the best the town afforded. Found the upper floor a small room was partitioned off for Mr. Mitchell, the remainder of the floor being occupied by beds.

“There were the usual buildings that start a town, the general store, blacksmith shop and post office, with plenty of energy. My first visit was limited to a few days on account of the accommodations, but as the town grew rapidly, better accommodations could be found, and I can joy spending several weeks with Mr. Metro, particularly in the summer. Finally, in December, 1876, we decided to make Cadillac power home.”

Two years after the village of Clam Lake was platted by Mr. Mitchell, the voters living within the tract excited to be incorporated. This action was taken April 15, 1874, and the circuit judge according to law issued on order declaring the village duly incorporated. The first election, May 11 of that year, resulted in the selection of J. Shackleton for president of the village board, David A. Rice clerk, and L. O. Harris, F. W. Wheeler, Daniel McCoy, George Holbrook, A. N. McCarthy and J. W. Cobbs, trustees. Two months afterwards the Supreme Court declared the general law under which the incorporation was affected to be unconstitutional and these officers were there for thrown out of office; but in the following winter the legislature incorporated the village and they were virtually reinstated.

In the winter of 1877 after were made to get a city charter under the name of “city of Cadillac” and then act was introduced in the state legislature for that purpose. So skillfully was this work done that Wexford County had a city within its boundaries be pour half a dozen of the citizens, outside of those living in the Village of Clam Lake, knew it. The first city of election was held on the first Monday of April, 1877, at which the following officers were elected: George A. Mitchell; Marshall, Horton Crandall: clerk, Lorenzo Ballou: treasurer, D. F. Comstock; collector, Horton Crandall; street commissioner, Charles Cole; school inspector’s, Levi O. Harris, three years, Jacob Cummer, two years, Charles M. Ayer, one year. Justices of the peace, H. N. Green, four years, D. F. Sawyer, three years, J. B. Rosevelt, two years, Robert Christensen, one year; Alderman at large, M. J. Bond, two years, D. W. Peck, one year.

The act of minutes of full and Corporation provided for dividing the city into three wards (now four) and giving each ward a supervisor, who, of course, was a member of the county board of supervisors, those giving to the town of Clam Lake a representation of four on the board, one from the town and three from the city that was within the limits of the town, except a little strip that was taken from the township of Haring. There were only about six or seven hundred people in the new city, the school census for the previous year showing but 350 children of school age in the entire township of Clam Lake, including the village. But the city of Cadillac had her eyes set on the county seat and argued that she would have a better chance to secure it as a city than as a village. As we have seen she recognized this and this and within five years, after several hard campaigns against Sherman and Manton.

Cadillac has twice been re-incorporated as a city -- in 1885 and 1895 -- and is divided into four wards. She is now a well-built, progressive municipality of about 9000 people and, as seen by the census figures already published, has nearly doubled her population within the past 20 years. She has long ago outgrown the status of a crude lumber city, but, as the events of her progress have proven, it was her good fortune to have around her both forests of soft and hard work; for as the Pine gave out her manufacturers learned the use and value of the hardwoods. Gradually her industries in this line increased in bulk and riots he and the territory from which the raw material was drawn greatly expanded. But Cadillac learned her first lesson in manufacture of hardwoods when the supply was at her stores. These products now include not only lumber, but more than eight articles such cooperage, furniture, wooden ware, veneer, flooring, last blocks, handles and carriage stock. Then outgrowth of her hardwood industries also appears in the form of plants devoted to the manufacture of wood alcohol, acetate of lime and other chemicals. Charcoal and pig iron are in the list, as well as potash and cement blocks. Not committing the plants found in every growing modern community which manufacture plot work, which saw and plain lumber, make boilers and turn out other necessities of present day activities. As the city has a large outside trade and is the center of a very productive agricultural district, the fact is readily explained that freight credited to Cadillac constitutes about one fourth of the total reached each of those grand Rapids and Indiana Road north of Grand Rapids. The Ann Arbor Road also adds her facilities of convenient shipment and transportation. For business of the city is financially handled through to good thanks, of which the Cadillac State Bank with a capital of $100,000 is the oldest and largest.

The Cadillac State Bank was the outgrowth of the private institution started by D. A. Blodgett & Company in 1883. The first one was established by D. F. Comstock in 1876. In 1895 Mr. Blodgett withdrew from business in Cadillac and it was then that a Cadillac State Bank was organized.

As a corporation Cadillac possesses most excellent systems of water supply, electric lighting, fire protection and public education. Her first system of water Works was inaugurated by H. N. Green in 1878. The “main's” laid at that time were of wood bound with iron, the largest having only 6 inch bore for water. In 1893 a franchise was granted to W. W. Cummer to furnish a water supply for 30 years. The wooden mains were then replaced with iron pipes, the largest of which are 12 inches in diameter, and the entire system reconstructed along modern lines.

View from Maple Hill Cemetery, Cadillac, Michigan

About the time that Mr. Cummer secured the water franchise he established an electric light plant, using the same building that contained the pumping outfit for his dynamo's. In 1902 a gas company was organized and mains laid in the principal streets of the city. Gasp is furnished for heating as well as lighting. So that the citizens can pay their money and take their choice either of gas or electricity.

The schools of Cadillac had their origin in the little class which met in a log building owned by Mosser & White in the spring of 1872. A fractional district had been organized from parts of Clam Lake and Haring Township, and in June of that year a small building had been erected on the Square donated by Mr. Mitchell for school purposes. The census taken in September, 1872, gave the number of children of school age at 125. A larger building was erected in 1876 and in 1890 at the present central school was completed, replacing the one built in 1881 which had been destroyed by fire. Besides the central there are now four good school buildings for the accommodation of the wards.

Cadillac Michigans first school house

The Methodist and Presbyterian to Cadillac erected church buildings in 1873; the Swedish Evangelical Church was established in 1874; the free Methodist organized in 1875; eight Baptist society was formed in 1876; St. Ann’s Catholic Church was founded in 1881; the congregation all and Swedish mission churches opened in 1882; the Swedish Baptist in 1883 and the German Evangelical Lutheran in 1884. Later forces for religion and morality which have entered the local field are represented by the seventh day Adventists, Christian scientists and Salvation Army.

Canal at Lake Mitchell Cadillac Michigan

Canal at Lake Mitchell Cadillac Michigan

High School Cadillac Michigan 1942

High School Cadillac Michigan 1942

picturesque channel between Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell, at Cadillac, Michigan

Picturesque channel between Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell, at Cadillac, Michigan