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History of Marshall

Founded in 1830, Marshall, Michigan was named for sitting U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, the first of many American cities and counties named for the legendary jurist. Shortly after its founding, the thriving town was expected to become the capital of Michigan, but lost to Lansing in 1847.

As a major stop on the stagecoach route and then the switching center for the powerful Michigan Center Railroad, Marshall continued its fast-paced growth through the Civil War era.

The 19th century also saw Marshall make history in abolition, education, and organized labor.

Adam Crosswhite was an escaped slave who arrived in Marshall with his family in 1844. In 1846, slave hunters from Kentucky appeared on his door step, attempting to arrest him and take him and his family back to Kentucky. An alarm was sounded and a more than 100 citizens turned out to intervene. The next morning the run-away slaves slipped out of town, en route to Canada, via the so-called “underground railroad.” The organizers of Marshall’s group of slave protectors was prosecuted, and paid fines of $1,925. It is said this incident was one of three that led to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and a prelude to the Civil War. Adam Crosswhite and some family members are buried in Oakridge Cemetery near his rescuers.

In 1835 two early Marshall residents, Isaac Crary and John Pierce, developed a public school system for Michigan which became a model throughout the country. Pierce became Michigan’s first state superintendent of education, the first such in the country.

The country’s oldest railroad union was founded in Marshall in 1863. In the 1870’s, the city emerged as a hub of the Midwest patent medicine business. Then the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act effectively killed off patent medicine products. Industrial operations also played an important role in Marshall’s early development.

Harold Brooks began the preservation movement in the late 1920’s, only he called it “city beautification.” He bought, restored and then sold at least 20 key structures. He also gave a prize for the best garden in town. The DAR began the historical marker movement by erecting plaques and markers extolling the history of Marshall. Preservation, markers, trees and beautiful gardens are traditions that continue today throughout the area.

Other notable Marshall residents:

  • Harold C. Brooks (1885-1978) took control of Brooks Rupture Appliance from his father in 1912. Responsible for saving more than 12 historic buildings including Marshall’s City Hall and Honolulu House. He gave Brooks Fountain to the city in 1930.
  • Mary Stallings Coleman (1914-2001) became the first female justice of the Michigan Supreme Court in 1973 and the first female Chief Justice in 1979.
  • William Wallace Cook (1868-1933) was a famed dime novelist with such series as Buffalo Bill, Deadeye Dick and Nick Carter.
  • Charles Dickey (1813-1879) was appointed as a U.S. Marshall in 1861 and served as a bodyguard for Lincoln’w inaugurations and at the Gettysburg Address.
  • Robert Livingston Dickey (1861-1944) was a famous illustrator for magazines such as Saturday Evening Post and children’s books such as the first American edition of Black Beauty.
  • Charles T. Gorham (1812-1901) came to Marshall in 1836 with Chauncey Brewer. He helped start Michigan National Bank in 1865 and was the vice president of the first Republican convention in Jackson in 1854.
  • Samuel W. Hill (1816-1889) explored and mapped the Upper Peninsula. Allegedly he swore so badly that others used his name instead of swearing, i.e., “What in the Sam Hill.”
  • George Ketchum (1794-1853) was a co-founder of Marshall and served as its first postmaster.
  • Sidney Ketchum (1797-1862) was a co-founder of Marshall and in 1838 he built the largest hotel between Detroit and Chicago, the Marshall House.
  • Mary Emma (Mazie) Wheeler Miller (1871-1941) was the first president of the Michigan League of Women Voters.
  • Abner Pratt (1801-1863) was a U.S. Consul to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands in 1857 and built the Honolulu House.
  • Winston J. Schuler (1908-1993) he took helped his father manage his hotel in Marshall. After a pin-setters strike he closed the hotel bowling alley and enlarged the restaurant. His attention to its customers made Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub world famous.
  • F. Dudley Vernor (1892-1974) wrote the music for the song The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

Today, Marshall continues to embrace its historic past while remaining committed to economic growth. When you visit, we’re sure you will agree...History is made in Marshall!

Historic Marshall has a treasure trove of self-guided historic walks and trails. The Historic Homes Walk features over 200 structures and the Historic Downtown Walk features 5 of Marshall’s 8 museums. Other trails take you through historic Oakridge Cemetery, nature areas and around a collection of historic buildings at the Calhoun County Fairgrounds on Capital Hill. The popular 1.6 mile River Walk is a part of the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Kalamazoo River is accessible by boar, canoe or kayak.

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