MARSHALL, Mich. (WOOD) — If a different option was chosen, the town of Marshall would be the capital of Michigan and the Governor’s Mansion would be the home of the governor.
“It was built in 1839 by the man who became Michigan’s third governor, James Wright Gordon,” Patty Parker, main guide at the Governor’s Mansion, said.
Gordon’s family lived in the house at 612 S. Marshall Ave. north of Monroe Avenue for years before it was owned by new owners. In the 1960s, it was given to the Mary Marshall Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“While we have nothing from James Wright Gordon, we do like to tell his story,” Parker said.
The museum is located on what residents call “Capital Hill.” Parker explained that the nickname was given because Marshall was on the shortlist to be chosen as Michigan’s capital city.
“We were quite confident that we were going to be the capital. So the city set aside the grounds directly across from our museum as Capital Hill. That’s why James Wright Gordon chose this particular spot to build his home,” she said.
The home-turned-museum is a hands-on experience for all ages.
“We think it’s important for people to come in and have a seat. We want to invite them in to hear the story,” Parker said.
During a tour of the Governor’s Mansion, guests start by sitting in the front parlor, where they learn about the history of the house, the Michigan government, Marshall’s first 100 years and Gordon — the first Michigan governor to pardon a convicted slave.
Marshall was home to one of the largest slavery-related stories in American history: the story of Adam Crosswhite. According to the Michigan History Center, Crosswhite and his family escaped slavery in Kentucky and settled in Marshall. Fearing that slave capturers would come to take him and his family back, he asked his neighbors to help in case of danger.
One morning in 1847, their help was needed when four men from Kentucky came knocking. A group of 100 Marshall residents, both white and Black, gathered to distract the strangers while Crosswhite and his family escaped on a train to Detroit and then Canada.
The town was ultimately taken to court and ordered to pay a fine to the people who owned the slaves, the history center’s website said. The townspeople said that the price was worth getting Crosswhite and his family to safety.
Among the many exhibits, artifacts and architectural features, Parker said the one thing that many remember is the 3-foot-tall door to the maid’s quarters.
“As you go into the maid’s quarters, it’s full size and there’s even a full-size staircase down to the kitchen, but as you can imagine, people always want to go through the door,” Parker said.
Especially students. Throughout the school year, Marshall-area students come in to learn about times gone by. During the tour, the students get to go through the small door and touch and play with toys from the 1800s. Parker said it helps history come alive for the children.
“I’m a firm believer that history can be fun and exciting. So I love having people come who always thought history was boring because it’s not,” Parker laughed. “I like to challenge them with that and, hopefully, by the time they leave, they realize that history is not boring.”
The museum is open year-round by appointment. During the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, it is open Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the museum’s Facebook page.
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series exploring small community museums around West Michigan. More articles will be published on woodtv.com in the coming weeks.