FOX 17 Visits Historic Marshall, The Forgotten Capital

Posted at 4:30 PM, May 23, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-23 19:55:36-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (May 23, 2014) — The city of Marshall is rich in history, told everyday through stories and its architecture.

Susan Vanzandt with the Honolulu House Museum said the city was first founded by Sydney Ketchum in 1830. Ketchum, alonside his brother George decided to name the new settlement after US Chief Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.

“Marshall was not a town that just started on its own. It was handpicked. People who could come and build dry good stores, grist mills, hotels and everything a town would need when they became the state capitol,” said Vanzandt.

With hopes of becoming the Michigan state capitol, a politician named James Gordon Wright broke ground on a Governor’s mansion, which still stands today.

Bill Mabin with Marshall’s historical society said that the city lost it’s bid to Lansing in 1847.

“After Lansing became the state capitol, the leadership of the state was still based in southeast Michigan, so to get to Lansing they had to take the train to Marshall, rent a horse and ride through the wilderness to get to Lansing,” said Mabin.

Without any written documentation, Marshall historians feel there is enough evidence that the city was used to help harbor slaves through the Underground Railroad.

Inside the National Inn, if you look closely through their phone booth, you will see a trap door. Both Vanzandt and Mabin said that it’s believed the door was used to secretly spy outside until the coast was clear to transfer escaping slaves to their next location.

Historians say in 1843,  Adam and Sara Crosswhite escaped from their plantation after their owner announced plans to sell their oldest child. Marshall became the family’s refuge, but in 1847 slave cathers hired by their owner in Kentucky arrived into town.

“They were recognized. An alarm went off in the community and several hundred residents both black and white responded and blocked the Kentucky representatives from taking the Crosswhite family away, and actually had the Kentucky people arrested,” said Mabin.

The city of Marshall eventually paid-off the plantation owner to keep the Crosswhite family in town.

By the 1850’s, Marshall’s patent medicine industry was booming. Vanzandt said that if you had a sink and a counter, then you had the supplies to be your own medicine manufacturer to remedy headaches and pains. However, this medicine wasn’t like anything you’d buy over the counter today.

“Pills and powders had cocaine in them. Liquids were about 90 percent alcohol. They probably didn’t help you, maybe you didn’t care after you took them. It was that sort of thing,” said Vanzandt.

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 would quickly put many patent medicine makers out of business.

To this day, Marshall is home to over 850 historic buildings and houses. Vanzandt said that in 1961 the city took over what is known as the Honolulu House. The home was built by Judge Abner Pratt, who was also the fifth council to the Hawian Islands. Vanzandt said that in the past 50 years, over a million dollars has been spent on renovations.

“A lot of other people looked around and said my home could look like that too, and people started fixing their homes up and painting them and beautiful, so that’s kind of how Marshall started and why we look the way we do today,” said Vanzandt.