The Wexford County Historical Society Museum (WCHS) is a nonprofit organization committed to the preservation and presentation of the history and culture of Wexford County.
WCHS promotes public awareness of county history, sponsors artistic and cultural activities and manages the former Carnegie Library as a public museum, library and meeting place.
The 5,000 sq. ft. WCHS Museum is the leading source of displays relating to the history of Wexford County. It contains artifacts, photographs, maps, paintings, documents and exhibits of daily life in northern Michigan that reflect the community's history since its inception in the 1870's.
HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM
The WCHS Museum and former Cadillac Public Library is one of the most historically and architecturally significant structures in Cadillac. It was built in 1905-1906 with matching funds from the Carnegie Foundation to ensure that small, rural towns such as Cadillac would have access to a tool for education. The structure is one of 1,600 Carnegie libraries built between 1886 and 1917 in the United States. Architecturally, it is an outstanding example of classical revival style, and has been recognized as one of the most expensive and elaborate of the fifty-three Carnegie libraries built in Michigan.
HISTORY OF THE SOCIETY
In 1956, the Wexford County Historical Society was organized under the direction of Irene Kearney. The purpose of the society was “to bring together those people interested in history, especially in the history of Wexford County.” It’s major function was to “discover, collect, and display any material which may help establish or illustrate the history of the area: to promote public awareness of the value of the local museum as an educational institution at the county level; to solicit and receive grants, contributions and other property and to strive to improve the quality of the Wexford County Historical Museum.”
In 1973, a set of bylaws and a constitution were established, and one year later in 1974, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit status was granted. An accumulation of artifacts from Wexford county residents accelerated through the mid 1970's, and were stored in the old Cadillac Potato Warehouse.
In 1969, the City of Cadillac completed the new public library building and the library moved to its new facility. The former Carnegie Library became the temporary home of the Cadillac Police Dept. for the next eight years.
When the Police Dept. relocated in 1977, the Carnegie Library was considered for demolition to make room for a new parking lot. Through the successful efforts of WCHS members led by Peter Buehler, over 1700 Cadillac and Wexford county signatures were submitted to the Cadillac City Commission, asking to save the building and lease it to the WCHS. The Commission agreed to provide WCHS with a long term, renewable lease to operate and maintain the building as a county historical museum.
Upon taking possession of the building, the WCHS members found it in a deteriorated state. Through volunteer efforts and local donations, WCHS repaired the building and opened it as a county museum in the summer of 1978. The renovations continue, but the building is in sound condition and shows off its resplendent grander.
In June 1983, the former Carnegie Library was designated a State Historical Site by the Michigan Historical Commission.
In May 2007, it was designated a National Register of Historic Places site.
ABOUT THE BUILDING
The interior of the dome was restored in 2012.
- The architectural design is classical revival or neoclassical. The distinguishing features include a full-height porch with roof supported by classical columns, and a central door with symmetrically-balanced windows.
- The original front entrance limestone staircase was removed in the 1960s due to deterioration. The opening was filled in with a similar-style brick and a fixed glass window was installed in place of the original double doors.
- Above the original front doors, a small rectangular opening in the brick façade reveals the barely visible remains of a sign that read, “Free to All.” This sign appeared on most Carnegie libraries throughout the country and promoted the fact that this public library was free and open to all citizens.
- The central façade details, which include the pediment, Ionic columns, dentil molding, and window trim, are constructed of painted steel. Decorative Indian head roof ornaments are located on the three corners of the central pediment.
- The yellow brick exterior is Roman pressed brick from McEwing & Thomas of St. Louis, Missouri.
- The structural masonry walls are composed of Chicago common brick.
- The original copper dome has been restored and still retains its oculus of glass tile apertures. The east and west sides of the roof are covered with asphalt shingles, and the posterior roof is composed of a membrane covering.
- The wood windows have stone sills and steel hood moldings. WCHS is currently fundraising toward restoration of the four large arched windows and the twenty double hung windows in the north wing.
- The interior finished walls are primarily finished with a sand-based plaster applied to the masonry.
- The central rotunda retains the original circular-patterned tile and glass floor, and is surmounted by the dome with an oculus.
- The floors are of wood construction and consist of beech, two-inch wide, three-quarter-inch thick with a tongue and groove design.
- Several of the original radiators are still in place although inoperable.
- The dark-stained window and door moldings, baseboard, staircase railings and paneled oak doors are original to construction.
- Two sets of original double doors and two sets of pocket doors are located in the basement and include the original hardware.
- Historic school-house style pendant light fixtures are located throughout the building.
- The ornamental fireplaces were primarily used as sources of fresh air ventilation rather than heat.
- March 1903 - Carnegie Foundation agrees to donate $15,000 towards the library building. As part of the agreement, the City of Cadillac had to match the building fund, provide the building site, and pledge to support the library at a maintenance cost of $1,500 per year..
- June 1904 - Jacob and Wellington Cummer and their wives donate the site for the new library.
- July 1904 - The City of Cadillac accepts the Carnegie Foundation offer and passes a resolution pledging the annual maintenance support.
- August 1904 - Carnegie Library Building Committee is established.
- Fall 1904 - The Building Committee selects Scheurmann & Merriam Architects of Saginaw to design the building, and Freuchtel Construction Company of Saginaw to be the building contractor.
- May 11, 1905 - Ground is broken by excavator J.B. Gardner
- September 7, 1906 - Cadillac Public Library has its grand opening and over 1,000 people attend the event. Total cost of the project is $30,000.
- 1950s - The two-story concrete garage is added on the west side to house the bookmobile.
- 1969 - The Cadillac Public Library outgrows its original structure and moves to a new building on Lake Street.
- 1969 to 1977 - The Cadillac Police Department occupies the former Cadillac Public Library building. When they move out, the vacant building is considered for demolition.
- September 1977 - The City of Cadillac accepts the Wexford County Historical Society's proposal to designate the building a historical site and provide them with a lease to operate the building as a county museum.
- Summer 1978 - The Wexford County Historical Society Museum opens to the public.
- June 3, 1983 - The former Cadillac Public Library is designated a State Historical Site by the Michigan Historical Commission.
- May 2007 - The former Cadillac Public Library is listed on The National Register of Historic Places.
- September 2009 - Restoration work on the copper dome is completed. In October 2010, the contractors, Buist Sheet Metal, received a construction excellence award from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Michigan, which considered the work an example of "true old fashioned craftsmanship."