Marshall is the perfect summation of a midwestern small-town county seat with a main street that is still the commercial center of town, a public square, older churches still used by their original congregations and located on parallel streets to either side of the main street, and well-preserved old residential areas.
The town was founded in 1831, one year after Sidney Ketchum, a land speculator from Peru, New York, had staked out his claim at the fork of Rice Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Its convenient location in the south-central region of the territory and on the river and the Territorial Road aided settlement, as did an available water supply to power the mills. The town was named in honor of John Marshall, then chief justice of the United States. Between 1835 and 1847, the citizens of Marshall hoped that it would be designated as the state capital, but Lansing was selected instead. In the 1850s and 1860s the Michigan Central rail depot and machine shops ensured Marshall's growth. In 1859 Marshall became a city, but the removal of the railroad repair shops in 1874 caused an economic decline. Marshall experienced renewed vitality from the 1880s to about the World War I.
Marshall owes its unique character as a showplace of Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate architecture largely to the preservation efforts of Harold C. Brooks (1885–1978). Brooks began to purchase and restore many of Marshall's finest buildings—his own house ( CA19), Honolulu House ( CA12), and at least twelve of Marshall's key buildings. Brooks drew on the talents of Kalamazoo architect Howard F. Young (1889–1934) and noted Danish American landscape architect Jens Jensen. With Young's assistance in the late 1920s, Brooks pioneered in the field of adaptive reuse by converting an old stone livery into a town hall, fire station, and police station ( CA11). Marshall is a National Historic Landmark and a major heritage tourism destination.
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