CASS COUNTY’S VILLAGES & TOWNS
What we present here is not meant to be a comprehensive history of the towns and villages of Cass County Michigan. If you want to learn more about us, it is worth visiting our local museums, especially, the Local History Branch of the Cass District Library. The days and hours they are open can be found at the links shown.
Cass County was organized by an act of the Territorial Legislature on November 4, 1829, and was named for General Lewis Cass, Territorial Governor of Michigan from 1813 to 1831. Cass later served as the United States Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson, thus making a case for including Cass County as one of Michigan’s “cabinet counties.”
Today the county is comprised of:
- One city; Dowagiac
- Four incorporated villages; Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus, and Vandalia. (The county seat is the Village of Cassopolis)
- Eleven unincorporated communities; Adamsville, Calvin Center, Corey, Glenwood, Jones, LaGrange, Penn, Pokagon, Sumnerville (See The Old Tavern Inn. Known as OTI’s by locals. Purported to be the oldest inn and tavern in Michigan), Union, and Wakelee, and
- Fifteen townships including; Calvin, Howard, Jefferson, LaGrange, Marcellus, Mason, Milton, Newberg, Ontwa, Penn, Pokagon, Porter, Silver Creek, Volinia, and Wayne.
Ancestry: Cass County was originally inhabited by the Hopewellian Civilization between 100-400 B.C. Much later three bands of Native Americans including the Potawatomi made Cass County their home. Today, over 1,500 Potawatomi descendants live and work in Cass County. One of the highlights of our festival season is the Kee-Boon-Mein-Kaa Pow Wow where over 100 Native Americans from across the United States come to dance, compete, and share their heritage. The Pow Wow is a wonderful exhibition and local cultural event. More information can be found on the Kee-Boon-Mein-Kaa Pow Wow website.
Abolitionism: Cass County was a “Hotbed of Abolitionism” during the mid-nineteenth century. The story of the Underground Railroad in Cass County is one of cooperation, respect, and mutual trust among Quakers, free blacks, fugitive slaves, and other abolitionists united in their hatred of the institution of slavery. One historian says “the interdependency of these groups created a unique environment that helped minimize racism, promote cooperation between the races and create an African American community unique to the North”. Visit the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County to learn more about our rich black cultural history, and become a “Friend of Bonine House.”
The Village of Cassopolis was platted in 1831 and intended as the county seat, because it was the geographical center of the county, although no settlers yet lived there. The Village of Cassopolis still serves as the County Seat for Cass County and is home to the majority of county offices, the County Courthouse, and the County Fairgrounds. The Village is situated about 35 miles northeast of South Bend. Two state highways intersect in Cassopolis; M-60 and M-62. M-60 takes people east to Three-Rivers, or southwest to Niles. M-60 also provides access to US-31, US-131, and I-69. M-62 connects residents to South Bend and Granger, Indiana to the south as well as Dowagiac to the north. It also provides access to US-12. Stone Lake is located on the southwest side of the village and most of the lake is within the Village of Cassopolis. It is a beautiful asset of the community that is 156 acres in size with a depth of 56 feet at its deepest point. Until 2021 there has been only one public access point with a small ramp and parking for 10 vehicles. At this time Cassopolis is undergoing a transformation along the Stone Lake and Broadway corridor thanks to the “Imagine Cass – Embrace the Vision!” Project. Please visit the Cass County website for additional information. And be sure to visit the Stone Lake beachfront and pier.
Fun Facts for Cassopolis
Even though the community was named after Lewis Cass, who was a prominent U.S. Senator from Michigan prior to the Civil War, a more recent claim to fame comes from Edward Lowe, who invented cat litter. The brand “Kitty Litter” is known throughout the United States. Today Edward Lowe’s legacy lives on through the Edward Lowe Foundation. The foundation focuses on entrepreneurship and is committed to environmental conservation and preservation.
Dowagiac is the only city in Cass County and is situated at the corner of four townships: Wayne Township to the northeast, LaGrange Township to the southeast, Pokagon Township to the southwest, and Silver Creek Township to the northwest. Dowagiac was first platted in 1848. It was incorporated as a village in 1863 and as a city in 1877. The city name comes from the Potawatomi word meaning “fishing water”. The Dowagiac River flows from the stream which rises as the “Dowagiac Drain” in central Decatur Township in southern Van Buren County, Michigan. It is joined first by the “Red Run” and then by the “Lake of the Woods Drain” near the southern edge of Hamilton Township, it becomes the “Dowagiac River” before entering into Wayne Township in Cass County. North of the city of Dowagiac, the river passes through the “Dowagiac Swamp”. Just west of Dowagiac, the river is joined by its principal tributary, the “Dowagiac Creek”.
One of the oldest dial-a-ride services in Michigan, Dowagiac DART began service in June 1975 with a three-bus fleet. The service is provided to the community of Dowagiac with service extended out to Southwest Michigan College. The service is provided by the city administration and is operated from a multi-modal terminal located on an Amtrak line. In its former life, the building was originally a Michigan Central, and later a Penn Central, train station. The building has been preserved and is carefully maintained by the City of Dowagiac. Dowagiac is served by Amtrak trains with daily service to Chicago & Detroit. The historic depot is located at 200 Depot Drive in the downtown area. Baggage cannot be checked at this location; however, up to two suitcases in addition to any “personal items” such as briefcases, purses, laptop bags, and infant equipment are allowed on board as carry-ons. Also at this historical train depot is where the first orphans from the orphan train were dropped off and adopted. Dowagiac is located in close proximity to the area known as Sister Lakes, in nearby Keeler Township. Sister Lakes like other lakes in Cass County provide very popular summer vacation places for many Chicago-area residents who have cabins and homes on the various lakes. Check out both the Dowagiac city website, and the Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce website to learn more about ongoing historical preservation, family festivals, summer concerts, and much more.
Fun Facts for Dowagiac
- Fishing lures, drive-in theaters, and stove companies all have put Dowagiac on the map nationally. James Heddon was the inventor of the artificial fishing lure. Heddon founded the company in 1894. The original lures were frogs carved from broomsticks.
- Dowagiac is also famous for its Round Oak Stoves, which were created by Philo D. Beckwith. The Round Oak Stove Company was founded in 1871. Today, the stoves are greatly sought after by collectors. Visit the Dowagiac Area History Museum for a great historical display of the role the stove company played in Dowagiac’s history.
- A family-owned, family-oriented business producing more than 1,500 bathtubs and showers daily, 5 to 6 days a week!
- Dowagiac is also the former home of Tony Award-winning actress Judith Ivy, Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Webb Miller, and Kenneth Porter, who was a World War I ace credited with five enemy kills. The city is also home to the late Chris Taylor whose wrestling career is legendary.
- The city of “Dowagiac” is also mentioned in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film, “North by Northwest” at 1:04:15 into the film as a destination read by the overhead announcer in the train station.
The first settler was Ezra Beardsley for whom the village was originally named as Beardsley’s Prairie. Thomas H. Edwards came in 1828 to found the first business, founding and naming the village Edwards. He also became the first postmaster in December 1828. The post office was closed and then re-opened in August 1841. The spelling was changed to Edwardsburg in December 1845. The village was platted in 1831 and incorporated as a village in 1911. Edwardsburg is situated at the crossroads of M-62, and US 12. The Canadian National railroad tracks run through the village. The village is serviced by the Niles Amtrak Station, and the South Bend Regional Airport, both of which are in the greater Michiana area. The Indiana Toll Road runs East-West three miles south of the village. Check out the Edwardsburg Chamber of Commerce website to learn more about our business community.
Marcellus is a village in Cass County, located in Marcellus Township to the northeast on US-40. The first settler in the Marcellus area was John Bair, who came in October 1832. He was followed almost a year later by Daniel Driskel, in 1833. In 1835, 11 other families settled in Marcellus, and by 1836, 28 families had settled there. At the time of the organization of the township the citizens wanted to call it Cambria; however, since there was already a township by that name in Michigan, their Representative at that time, Judge Littlejohn of Allegan, proposed they name it after Roman Emperor Flavius Marcellus. As a result, on June 16, 1843, the township was officially named Marcellus. Elections were held on the same night and Daniel G. Rouse was elected Township Supervisor, Guerdor R. Beebee was elected Treasurer, and Ephraim Huyatt was elected Clerk. In the winter of 1870–71 the Peninsular Railroad came through Marcellus, infusing life into the small township. The depot was originally on the east side of town; however, because the business district was far from the depot, the depot was moved in 1898. After this move, business began rapidly expanding and an addition was added to the station to meet the increased traffic demands. By 1911, ten passenger trains stopped at the depot every day. Marcellus became an official village in 1879, with over 500 residents. Three years later it had grown to include 2 churches, 3 dry goods stores, 3 groceries, 3 millinery shops, 2 drug stores, 2 meat markets, 2 hotels, 2 inns, shops, a bank, 2 stave factories, 2 harness shops, a hardware store, a furniture store, a restaurant, a printing business, a tailor shop, a cooper shop, a steam sawmill, a sash and blind manufacturer, 4 doctors, 2 lawyers, 2 justices of the peace, and a newspaper. During its height, Marcellus was also home to two theaters, a bowling alley, and a pool hall. Each year Marcellus still hosts the National Bluegill Frolic, a parade, fishing tournament, and beauty pageant that attracts thousands of tourists. Today, VFW Post #4054 in Marcellus has one of the area’s finest military museums. There are also several festivals for residents and tourists. Check out the Marcellus website for details.
The Village of Vandalia occupies approximately one square mile of Penn Township in eastern central Cass County. The Village of Vandalia is approximately 11 miles north of the Indiana/Michigan State line. Michigan State Highway 60 runs east-west through downtown Vandalia. Vandalia has a rich history. In 1848-49, Stephen Bogue and Charles P. Ball built a gristmill on the settlement now known as Vandalia and in 1851 they laid out the area for development. Theron J. Wilcox became the colony’s first postmaster on July 8, 1850 and Ada Kinsbury is credited with being the area’s first merchant. The Michigan Central Railroad came through in 1871 and a station was built. The Village of Vandalia was formally incorporated in 1875. Near the village on the corner in the park on M-60 and Water Street is a historical marker calling attention to the nearby junction of two main line “underground railroads.” The “Illinois” line from St. Louis, and the “Quaker” line from the Ohio River, manned by Cass County Quakers, merged here and moved on going into Canada. Cass County was the scene of the Kentucky Slave Raid of 1847. Today that raid is depicted in a mural (shown above) on the side of the building at 158 S. Broadway St., Cassopolis, Michigan. – Directions