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Cass County, located in southwestern Michigan, is the second county east of Lake Michigan, and bordered by Indiana on the south. Cass County is approximately 2 hours east of Chicago, 30 minutes north of South Bend, Indiana, and 1 hour south of Kalamazoo, Michigan. It is comprised of 15 townships, one city (Dowagiac), and four incorporated villages (Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus, and Vandalia). The population according to the 1990 census was 49,477. It lies in an area known as the Detroit-Chicago "corridor." It is served by several highways, including M-60 and US-12, which follows the old Sauk Indian Trail, and two railroads, Grand Trunk Western (Canadian National America) and Amtrak passenger service.
Cass County has more than 250 lakes and ponds, with 9 county parks open to the public with facilities from picnicking to cross country skiing. Cass County is the leading pork producing county in Michigan, raising approximately 160,000 pigs annually. It also rates 95th among the counties in the nation. Silver Creek Township in the northwestern corner of the county, forms a part of the nation's largest strawberry growing centers.
Cass County, with 13 prairies, has more than any other county in the state. In the days before settlement by the white men, Cass County was home to many native Americans. Three bands of the Potawatomi occupied the county when the first settlers came. Weesaw's band of 150 members had their winter camp in Newton's Woods; Shavehead's band of about 75 had their main camp about three miles east of Shavehead Lake in Porter Township; and Pokagon with 250, had a summer camp and cornfield on the Pokagon prairie in the township that bears his name.
Cass County had the first permanent settled community in south western Michigan. On November 5, 1829, by an act of the Territorial legislature, Cass County was organized and divided into four townships, Pokagon, LaGrange, Penn and Ontwa. Dowagiac, which was the smallest city in the United States when Incorporated in 1877 - takes its name from the Potawatomi word "Ndowagayuk" meaning "foraging ground." It was in Dowagiac that P.D. Beckwith invented the first underdraft stove, the world famous Round Oak Stove.
Between the villages of Cassopolis and Vandalia is an 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, the two lines merging here and going on into Canada. Cass County was the scene of the Kentucky slave raid of 1847.
Russ Forest (Newton's Woods) in Volinia township, now owned by Michigan State University, is one of the few permanently preserved virgin forests in Michigan. The second largest whitewood (tulip) tree in the county is located here.
(Information obtained from Cass County Directory, 1998 issue, compiled and arranged by Ann L. Simmons, Clerk/Register)