Cadillac (population 10,000) was founded by lumber baron George A. Mitchell in 1872. Nearby Big Clam Lake and Little Clam Lake, and the canal that was built to link them, provided a route to transport logs from the forests to mills. Cadillac was originally called Clam Lake until being renamed for an early French explorer, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, during the City’s successful bid to become the county seat of Wexford County.
As stands of timber were depleted, tourism evolved as an important component of the economy. The lakes (now named Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell) are now used principally for recreation, and Cadillac is a gateway community for the Huron-Manistree National Forest with its myriad recreational opportunities. Downtown, Cadillac’s historic core has evolved into an eclectic blend of specialty shops, eateries, and services.
The City and the Wexford County Historical Society have rehabilitated the Carnegie Library (1906), which serves as the historical society’s museum. One of the most elaborate of Michigan’s Carnegie libraries, the building was threatened with demolition in the 1970s before the City agreed to lease it for $1 a year to the historical society. There will continue to be repairs, including windows, heating, and handicapped access, but the museum is securely housed in a delightful building, beautifully restored, and with a well done exhibits.
Each fall, Cadillac hosts its annual Chestnut Harvest Festival to celebrate this once ubiquitous tree and its role in early American life. The American Chestnut Council is headquartered in Cadillac, one of the Michigan communities where chestnut trees survived the blight that decimated the species in the early 20th century.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2006.