See biography by A. C. Laut (1931).
Cadillac is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan and is the county seat of Wexford County. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 10,000. The city is situated at the junction of US 131, M-55 and M-115. Approximately five miles north-northwest of Cadillac lies the geographic center of Michigan.
Cadillac became the county seat after the so-called "Battle of Manton," in which a show of force was involved in enforcing a controversial decision to move the county seat from Manton, Michigan.
In 1871, Cadillac's first sawmill began operations. Originally called the Pioneer Mill, it was built by John R. Yale. That same year, George A. Mitchell, a prominent Cadillac banker and railroad entrepreneur, and Adam Gallinger, a local carpenter, formed the Clam Lake Canal Improvement and Construction Company. Two years later, the Clam Lake Canal was constructed between Big and Little Clam lakes, present-day Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac. Sawmill owners used the canal to transport timber from Big Clam Lake to the mills and railroad sites—the G.R. & I. Railroad had reached the area in 1872—on Little Clam Lake, in Cadillac.
Cadillac was originally named Clam Lake and was incorporated as a village in 1874. George Mitchell was elected the first mayor. The village was incorporated as a city in 1877 and renamed Cadillac, after Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, a Frenchman who made the first permanent settlement at Detroit in 1701.
When the sheriff returned to Cadillac, a force consisting of several hundred armed men was assembled; this group reportedly included a brass band. The Sheriff's force, some of whom may have been intoxicated, traveled back to Manton to seize the remaining records. Although Manton residents confronted the Cadillac men and barricaded the courthouse, the posse successfully seized the documents and returned to Cadillac.
In 1899, the Cadillac Club formed, the forerunner of the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce. Gradually, various manufacturing firms found success in Cadillac. By the early 1900’s, lumber was depleted and the timber industry was in decline. Industrial development soon dominated the local economy, and it continues to do so today. Cadillac's range of industries include the manufacture of pleasure boats, automotive parts, water well components, vacuum cleaners and rubber products.
In 1936, the U.S. Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps created the Caberfae Ski Area, which led to promotion of the area as a tourist center. Caberfae remains in operation today, as the oldest ski resort in the midwest. Tourism has since become an important sector of Cadillac's economy. In the summer, tourists travel to the city for boating, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and camping. During the fall, hunting and color tours are popular. The winter is possibly the busiest season; the area can be found packed with downhill skiers, cross-country skiers, ice-fishers, snow-shoers and–most of all-snowmobilers. The North American Snowmobile Festival (NASF) is held on frozen Lake Cadillac every winter.
Thirsty's, a gas station on M-55 west of Cadillac, was the home of Samantha or "Sam The Bear" from the 1970s through the late 1990s, when Sam died of old age. Sam was the only brown bear in captivity in the US at the time to hibernate naturally. Sam lived in a large cage in front of the gas station and was fed ice cream cones by tourists every summer.
In October 1975 the rock group Kiss visited Cadillac and performed at the Cadillac High School gymnasium. They played the concert to honor the Cadillac High School football team. In previous years, the team had compiled a record of sixteen consecutive victories, but the 1974 squad opened the season with two losses. The assistant coach, Jim Neff, an English teacher and rock'n'roll fan, thought to inspire the team by playing Kiss music in the locker room. He also connected the team's game plan, K-I-S-S or "Keep It Simple Stupid", with the band. The team went on to win seven straight games and their conference co-championship. After learning of their association with the team's success, the band decided to visit the school and play for the homecoming game.
The Lake Cadillac is entirely within the city limits, and some claim it is the largest lake entirely in any city in the United States. The larger, Lake Mitchell is nearby on the west side of the city, with 1,760 feet of shoreline within the city's municipal boundary. The lakes were connected by a stream which was replaced in 1873 by the Clam Lake Canal. The canal was featured on Ripley's Believe It or Not in the 1970s due to the phenomenon that in winter the canal freezes before the lakes and then after the lakes freeze, the canal thaws and remains unfrozen for the rest of the winter.
Cadillac sits on the eastern edge of the Manistee National Forest and the surrounding area is heavily wooded with mixed hardwood and conifer forests. A main agricultural industry in the area is Christmas tree farming. In fact, Cadillac was chosen in 1988 to donate the Christmas tree to sit on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.
The area surrounding Cadillac is primarily rural, and is considered to be part of Northern Michigan. The small size of nearby communities make the city a major commercial and industrial hub of the region.
On the western portion of Lake Cadillac, where M-55 intersects M-115, is what is locally referred to as Cadillac West. This is a small commercial district, bordering Mitchell State Park and the two lakes, which caters mostly to tourists. It contains a number of motels and restaurants.
Along the northern and southern stretches of the lake are the residential areas of the city. They are generally of low to moderate density, characterized primarily by single family structures.
There were 4,118 households out of which 32.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.9% were married couples living together, 14.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.4% were non-families. 31.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.96.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.2% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 27.9% from 25 to 44, 19.6% from 45 to 64, and 16.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $29,899, and the median income for a family was $36,825. Males had a median income of $29,773 versus $21,283 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,801. About 10.9% of families and 13.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.4% of those under age 18 and 13.3% of those age 65 or over.
The elected City Council is the legislative authority of the City, composed of five members, one of whom is Mayor. All members have equal authority. The Council is responsible for making policy, passing ordinances, voting appropriations, and having overall supervisory authority in the city government. The terms of office are four years for Council Members and two years for the Mayor. The salaries of each council member are set by an independent advisory committee, which meets every two years.
The chief administrative officer of the City of Cadillac is the City Manager. The City Manager is responsible for the administration of all City departments, as well as the enforcement of all laws, provisions of the City charter and acts adopted by City Council.
Current Council members are Shari Spoelman, Thomas Dyer, Arthur Stevens, James Dean and William "Praying for Snow" Barnett (Mayor). Ronald Blanchard, the previous mayor of Cadillac, held the position for 18 years, until he retired from office in 2008. The present City Manager is Peter Stalker.
Apart from its manufacturing base, Cadillac is frequently considered by those who know it to be a tourist town. The center of the city is generally perceived to have a "small-town-feel. In the summer, the downtown fills with tourists, many of whom are from southern Michigan. The city center is in fact only one block from Lake Cadillac and, by docking at the public docks, is as nearly accessible by boat as it is by car. The city’s immediate proximity to two lakes, as well as Manistee National Forest, Pere Marquette State Forest, Mitchell State Park and a number of major highways ensures that tourism occupies a significant sector of the local economy.
During the winter months Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell freeze over and the city becomes covered with snow. Cadillac is connected to a number of trail systems heavily used by winter recreation enthusiasts, and the city itself integrates unusually well into the corridors of travel created by snowmobilers.
Cadillac is also known as Chestnut Town, USA. The local area is home to a relatively large number of American chestnut trees, planted by pioneers from New York and Pennsylvania who settled in western Michigan. A blight in the early twentieth century wiped out nearly every American Chestnut tree, but those in western Michigan developed a mysterious resistance and survived. The Cadillac Chestnut Harvest Festival is held every year, on the second Saturday of October.
| ||US-131 bypasses the city to the east. The freeway continues southerly toward Big Rapids and Grand Rapids and northerly toward Manton before transitioning to a two-lane highway for the remainder of the distance to Petoskey.|
| ||BUS US-131 a loop route through downtown, running largely along the former route of US-131 through the city.|
| ||M-55 is a major two-lane east-west route across the state, connecting with Manistee on the west and Houghton Lake and Tawas City on the east.|
| ||M-115, another major two-lane route, runs diagonally from Clare to the southeast to Frankfort to the northwest.|