Lake Mitchell Facts & History

Historical Notes about the Lake Mitchell Area

Chippewa and Ottawa Indians came from the Mackinac area to hunt and garden in the area. Indian artifacts were found near the canal, Country Club golf course and the Junior High at the mouth of Clam River. The first white man believed to have seen Lake Mitchell was Alexander Henry, a survivor of massacre of Fort Michilimackinac. Henry was adopted by his tribe and went on hunting trip to Wexford County area in about 1763.


An Indian trail going from Lake Mitchell to Traverse Bay has been marked with white stone markers. Marker 1# is found on shore of the lake at Hiawatha Park on east side of Lake Mitchell. Marker 2# is at the corner of 13th Street (North Lake Mitchell Dr.) and 33 ½ Rd. Marker 3# is on right side of Boon Rd a quarter mile west of 33 ½ Rd.. From then on you are on your own. This trail is not maintained and, as we discovered, hard to follow.


Wexford County was purchased from the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in 1836 and was originally called Kautawabet, a Pottowatomi word which may mean "broken tooth".

The Cadillac area became one of the first inland areas to become a lumbering center. Because of prevailing west winds which would push logs to the east end of Lake Cadillac, the city of Cadillac was established on the east shore of Lake Cadillac in 1871 by George Mitchell, who is the namesake of our lake.


Originally Cadillac, Lake Cadillac, and Lake Mitchell were called Clam Lake, Little Clam Lake and Big Clam Lake respectively. The names were changed in 1903. The name Cadillac comes from Antoine DelaMothe Cadillac, a French explorer who founded the city of Detroit.


The heyday of the lumber industry was the 1880s-1890s. By 1920 much of the vast stands of white pine had been clear cut and the land was treeless. A few huge white pines grow in the Mitchell swamp woods and several can be seen off 33 ½ Rd near Boon Road.


The canal was dug in 1873 so logs harvested on the shores of Lake Mitchell could be floated to the mills on Lake Cadillac. With the canal in place Lake Mitchell dropped one foot and the low parts of the city of Cadillac were flooded.

Black Creek, which leaves Mitchell about a half mile north of the canal and empties into Lake Cadillac in Kenwood Park, is the natural connector between the lakes. Adventure seekers will find it navigable in the spring although there are eight portages (including one across M-115) and liftovers between Mitchell and Cadillac.


Wexford County's population based on US census: 1940 - 17,936, 1950 - 18,628, 1960 - 18,475, 1970 - 19,717, 1980 - 25,102, 1990 - 26,367, 2000 - 30,484. Projected in 2030 - 48,000.


I would like to compile a history of the Lake Mitchell area including photos, stories, and other data on the settling and development along the shoreline. If you wish to contribute or can help find sources of information, please email Here’s a chance to share information about what was happening here forty, fifty, sixty, or hundred years ago.


Quick Facts about Lake Mitchell & Lake Cadillac

Size of lakes: Lake Mitchell - 2,496 acres ; Lake Cadillac - 1,150 acres
Maximum depth: Lake Mitchell - 22 feet; Lake Cadillac - 30 feet
Lake Mitchell mean depth - 8.5 feet
Lake Mitchell flushing rate 1.06 years -complete exchange of water.
Water clarity: Lake Mitchell - 5-8 feet
10.4 miles to circle Lake Mitchell on a bike or in a car
7.1 miles to circle Lake Cadillac on bike (7.2 in car)
Acres of milfoil identified in 2005: Lake Mitchell -118 acres; Lake Cadillac -200+ acres
Length of canal: .3 mile
Average date lakes freeze 1974-2005 - last week of November.
Average date lakes become ice free 1974-2005 - second week of April
The lakes at 1289 feet above sea level are among the highest in the Lower Peninsula.
Lake Mitchell is in the Muskegon River watershed. Years ago Pete Smith paddled from Lake Mitchell down the Clam River, into the Muskegon River and on to Lake Michigan


The first white man to see Lake Mitchell

Of course there's no way to confirm who the first Caucasian was to view Lake Mitchell, but I've found two references that point to Alexander Henry. The first came from a historical account of the settling of Midwest written by Alan Eckert. In the Wilderness Empire, Ecket talks about Alexander Henry, an Englishman who came to the Upper Great Lakes in 1760 looking to get rich from the fur trade. For several years he lived at Fort Michilimackinac on the Straits of Mackinac with a contingent of English traders. Henry befriended a Chippewa chief, Wawatom  and in the summer of 1762 when the English were massacred by hostile natives, Wawatom saved Henry and adopted him. A hard winter and scarce food forced Henry and his Chippewa tribe to move to Ludington. 


Heading inland on a hunting trip in December of 1763, Henry became separated from his tribe. Alone, he wandered about and came upon the north shore of a lake so large he could scarcely discern the opposite shore. Eckert and Karl Bohnak, author of So Cold A Sky, both believe that Henry was looking at Lake Mitchell. Henry, traveling alone, managed to hike back through the snow to reunite with his tribe in Ludington. Henry became a wealthy fur trader and lived until 1824.