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The City of Dowagiac, Michigan straddles Silver Creek, Wayne, LaGrange, and Pokagon townships in the northwestern segment of Cass County, in the southwestern Lower Peninsula.

The chief routes to or through the city are M-51 and M-62, which run concurrently in Dowagiac's downtown district. Others include Dailey Road, Dutch Settlement Street, Marcellus Highway, Middle Crossing Road, Nubour Road, Rudy Road, and Wilbur Hill Road. Dowagiac Creek runs through the lower part of the city, and Pine Lake is just north of the city limits.

The Dowagiac River begins from a stream known as the Dowagiac Drain in southern Van Buren County, and is joined by the Red Run, and then the Lake of the Woods Drain near southern Hamilton Township, and becomes a river before entering into Wayne Township in Cass County. It flows in a southwesterly direction north of Dowagiac, where it passes through the Dowagiac Swamp, and is joined by Dowagiac Creek just west of the city.

Incorporated cities and villages within twenty miles of Dowagiac include Cassopolis, Eau Claire, Vandalia, Edwardsburg, Berrien Springs, Niles, Decatur, Marcellus, and Buchanan.

Dowagiac is the headquarters of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and is contained within the reservation, which includes land in ten counties in the region. They are the descendants of the residents of the Potawatomi villages that were situated along the St. Joseph, Paw Paw, and Kalamazoo rivers in southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana, although it is believed that the Potawatomi originally resided along the Atlantic coast.

Before its settlement by European-Americans, the land was mostly forested, while the northern part of what is now the city was swampland. The land is largely flat, but with some steep slopes in the southeastern part of the city.

Like many Midwestern cities, Dowagiac began as a railroad town. In 1847, Nicholas Chesbrough, a right-of-way buyer for the Michigan Central Railroad, and Jacob Benson, of Niles, bought eighty acres of land and platted the town, recording the plat on February 16, 1848. The town was named for the river north of town, which was originally spelled Dowagiake. However, when the railroad came through in late 1848, they gave it the current spelling.

Reportedly, the original word, in the Potawatomi language, was Ndowagayuk, which referred to a foraging ground, this being a place where the Potawatomi could fill his needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Michigan Central Railroad built a small, wooden station at Dowagiac in late 1848 or early 1849, replacing it with a larger wood station in the 1870s. The current historic brick station was constructed in 1903 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Currently still in use, serving Amtrak's Blue Water and Wolverine trains, it was also a stop for the International Limited from 1982 to 2004. Today, Amtrak shares the station with the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce and Whistlestop Gifts, a retail boutique.

When the first European-American settlers came to the region, before it became a town, it was occupied by the Potawatomi. Most of the tribes moved west beginning in 1838, except for the Pokagon Band.

In 1830, William Renesten constructed a carding mill on Dowagiac Creek. He added a grist mill later, damming the creek and creating the millpond. Early settlers initially harvested the forest. When that was gone, they grew wheat, although the land was later planted in fruit trees, blueberries, peppermint, and vegetables. Maple syrup was also commonly produced.

Platted for the railroad in 1848, Dowagiac was incorporated as a village in 1858, and became a city in 1877. Over the years, its industries have included the manufacture of the roller grain drill, which planted and covered grain seeds in one operation. In 1868, P.D. Beckwith, the first mayor of Dowagiac, established a business producing the Round Oak Stoves, which were in use by all of Michigan Central's depots. For fifty years, the Round Oak Stove Company was the city's largest employer, and became the largest stove company in the United States by the 1880s. Other early industries have included the Judd Lumber Company, founded in 1859, and the Caruso Candy and Soda Shoppe, an authentic soda fountain that has been family-owned and operated in Dowagiac since 1922.

Except for a brief rise in 1990, the population of Dowagiac has trended downward for past six decades. Its peak population was 7,208 in 1960, and is currently under 6,000.

The city's public school students are served by the Dowagiac Union School District. Situated in the northeastern part of the city, Calvary Bible Academy is a private K-12 school. Dowagiac is also home to Southwestern Michigan College, a two-year school that offers on-campus housing.

The focus of this guide is on the City of Dowagiac, Michigan.


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