When the Michigan legislature named Lansing its new state capital in 1847, no community was more surprised and disappointed than Marshall, which lost by one vote. Michigan’s original state constitution called for the state capital to relocate from Detroit to this community in the south central part of the state, an important stagecoach and then railroad stop. Marshall was so sure of its destiny, it even built a governor’s mansion and set aside an area known as Capitol Hill in anticipation.
Today, Marshall (population 7,500) is instead home to one of America’s largest historic districts. More than 850 buildings provide a picture book of mid-l9th-century architecture, block after tree-lined block of 1840s and 1850s Greek and Gothic Revival homes. Marshall’s preservation ethic began in the 1920s, when savvy mayor Harold Brooks first recognized the town’s architectural treasure trove and led a crusade to maintain it. One of the highlights—open to the public—is the Honolulu House, built in 1860 by Judge Abner Pratt upon his return from a stint as consul to the Sandwich (now Hawaiian) Islands in the 1850s. He made every attempt to re-create his Polynesian paradise in his new home, with its pagoda-shaped tower, wide veranda, and decorative pineapple trim in teak and ebony. Pratt died of pneumonia shortly after its completion—an illness some attributed to his habit of wearing tropical clothing during M ichigan winters.
One of the town’s two historic hostelries, the National House Inn is Michigan’s oldest continuously operating inn. Built in 1835 as a stagecoach stop, this B&B still exudes warmth with polished plank floors and a massive beam-and-brick open-hearth fireplace. The Rose Hill Inn welcomes guests to its 1860 Italianate mansion, once the summer home of Chicagoan William Boyce, founder of the Boy Scouts. Pick up a walking tour map and wander along shady streets like Mansion, Prospect, Kalamazoo, and Hanover, lined with lovingly preserved homes. An eagerly awaited annual historic home tour the weekend after Labor Day affords you a rare glimpse inside, too.
Owned and operated by the Schuler family for three generations, Schuler’s is a much-loved Michigan institution that’s been serving classics like Bar-Scheeze (a spicy cheese spread), Swiss onion soup, and nut-crusted walleye since 1909. Tradition, not trendiness, after all, has always been the trump card in Marshall.