Historical Society Museum
127 Beech Street
PO Box 124
Cadillac, MI 49601
What do you do with a lovely old Carnegie library building once the library has moved on to new digs? Create a historical museum, of course. In my last blog post, I spoke of just such a building in Cadillac, Michigan. After a visit to the Cadillac Wexford Public Library, I went in search of the original Carnegie library building across town. I found the stately building easily, thanks to perfect directions from Tracy at the CWPL. Situated on the corner of a tree-lined, brick-paved street, the grand structure dominates this Cadillac vicinity. I quickly found a parking space nearby, eager to get some pictures of the impressive classical revival building and then be on my way. Or so I thought.
I noticed some lights on in the building and briefly had hope that it might be open, but a quick check of the sign on the door confirmed what Tracy had suggested. The museum was indeed closed. Fortunately, however, a bright blue sky provided a perfect backdrop for some photos of the old building. I quickly took several shots and was just about ready to head back to my car, grateful for the lovely fall day I had enjoyed, when suddenly my day got even better. A gentleman exited the building, greeted me on the sidewalk, and asked if I would like to go inside. Of course I jumped at the chance.
Richard Kraemer, a member of the Wexford County Historical Society had been working in the museum and was nearly ready to head home when he noticed me taking pictures outside. He not only gave me the opportunity to see the interior of the beautiful building, but also provided a guided tour complete with a historical overview of Cadillac and the library.
Very early in my blogging career, just my second post to be exact, I covered Cadillac's Horizon Books. When I mentioned this to Richard, he happily introduced me to the best selling book at Horizon, Timber Town Tales, written by Cadillac native, Cliff Sjogren. Including stories and images of the local area from 1871 to 1946, the book is also sold at the museum where all profits are donated to the Historical Society. Buy a book and support the museum at the same time! Of course, I bought a copy, signed by the author no less.
Built in 1906 on donated land at a cost of $30,000, half from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation and half from donations, the original Cadillac Public Library was considered one of the most expensive and elaborate of the Carnegie libraries built in Michigan. Just over half a century later, the library was outgrowing the original structure, and work began on the new building. The old library did not immediately become a museum, however. From 1969 to 1977, the beautiful old building was home to none other than the local police department. Much of the architectural beauty of the library was torn up, replaced, and covered over providing a more functional, stoic atmosphere befitting its law enforcement occupants.
When the police department moved to a new location, demolition was the possible fate of the old Carnegie building, then in a deteriorated state. Fortunately, the Historical Society stepped in, saved the classic structure from demolition, and began the difficult and expensive process of renovation and restoration. Work is ongoing, but the library building has been repaired and returned to most of its former glory. Still, one interesting element of the police department has been preserved. The words "Interrogation Room" remain on one administrative office door.
The Wexford County Historical Society Museum is home to a striking number and variety of displays: period clothing, Main Street stores, a one-room school, and lumbering equipment to name just a few. I took particular interest in the old Michigan Bell Telephone switchboard as my mom worked at one such switchboard in the 1940's.
From its beautiful domed atrium and the various period displays to the old store and post office on Main Street, there is much to see and enjoy in this collection of Cadillac history. I am so grateful to Richard for taking the time to let me visit. His historical knowledge is impressive, and his love of this grand building is infectious.
When the next summer season brings longer open hours for the museum, I will return, as I have only scratched the surface of things to view in this delightful place.
Note: The Wexford County Historical Society has a Facebook presence
from which I captured this beautiful photo of the library dome by Sisters Studio.