It's a city with a rich history of lumber and locomotives. Cadillac, Michigan sits just five miles south of the geographic center of the state of Michigan. Cadillac was a town that was visited by European traders for many years, but not settled until the 1800s because the land was covered with tall white pines, wetlands and steep hills. There was no way to move these large trees out of Wexford County because at the time, there was no rail service and there was no river travel.
But, in 1871, George Mitchell, a prominent banker, constructed the Clam Lake Canal and saw mill owners began to transport lumber. That was the beginning of harvest. Shortly, after that, the Shay Locomotive arrived. It could only go 10-12 miles per hour but it could go up steep hills and around sharp curves and this was exactly what they needed at the time.
Lumbermen from Sweden settled in the area and cleared out all the white pine and then moved onto hardwoods. By the early 1900s, Cadillac had the largest flooring plant in the world. "When Mr. Obama invites you to his place for dinner in Washington D.C., remind him that his feet are resting on flooring that was made by the Cobson Mitchell plant in Cadillac," says Cliff Sjogren, the past president of the Wexford County Historical Society.
Over the years, the lumber industry dominated business, but other manufacturing plants opened as the city began to take shape. Parks were a major part of the construction of the area and today, Cadillac is still home to federal forests.
"The newspaper banner was 'City of Quality Made Possible by Men of Vision,' and I really, really think there were some intelligent, forward-thinking people that helped created this town," Sjogren says. Designed with four entrances, most of the fast food restaurants and big box stores sit on one end of town, leaving downtown Cadillac free of heavy traffic and open to local business. "I see with enough intelligence among the civic leadership, that we're going to do well, I'm very confident about the future of this place," Sjogren says.