MARY'S CITY of DAVID - The Israelite House of David as reorganized by Mary Purnell

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In The News

Mary's City of David has become National "Historic District"
January 2009

Mary's City of David has received an approval for placement upon the National Register of Historic Places as an "historic district". Mary's City of David National Register Historic District Nomination was presented before the Michigan Historic Preservation Review Board in Lansing, on January 16, by Heather Van Wormer, Ph.D., Anthropology Dept. Grand Valley State University and Bob Christensen, State Historic Preservation Office, Lansing. The Nomination was reviewed and unanimously approved.

Mary's City of David has received an approval for placement upon the National Register of Historic Places as an 'historic district'.

Doctor Van Wormer has been associated with Mary's City of David for over a decade, during which she received her doctorate from MSU, 2004, with her research thesis: Ideology in All Things: Material Culture and Intentional Communities, which predominately reflected her comparative studies at Mary's City of David and the historic Oneida community in New York.

Doctor Van Wormer has also pursued further study on the City of David in her written research papers presented at the annual Communal Studies Association conferences. She serves presently as a board member of that international association of scholars, active community (communal organizations) representatives, historic preservationists and ancestors thereof. Ron Taylor of Mary's City of David is also an active member of this association. Doctor Van Wormer is also presently assisting Taylor at the colony in collection, bibliography and assemblage of its archival collections, which constitute the world's largest collection of original documents, photographs and artifacts on the Christian-Israelite movement that can be traced to the Philadelphian Society in England of 1652.

The Nomination was accepted upon the argument of significance at State level in three criteria:

  1. Property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.
  2. Property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguished entity whose components lack individual distinction.
  3. Property has yielded, or is likely to yield, information important in pre-history or history.

~ Read more of the three criteria here. ~

Mary's City of David has become National 'Historic District' -- Property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.

The "district" of description and analysis found 74 contributing buildings, 2 contributing sites and 1 contributing structure, while also containing 7 non-contributing buildings. Within the 300 acres of the colony properties, 140 acres are associated as contributing and being necessarily contiguous to the district boundary.

The complete catalog of 81 architectural descriptions for the district were written by Amanda Harrell, a senior graduate student at Andrews University, School of Architecture.

The Nomination document is a volume of 155 pages with 4 CDs containing over 100 images, maps and documents.

Primary materials used in historical research were from Mary's City of David Archival Collections, Clare Adkin, Brother Benjamin, 1990; Robert Myers, Millennial Visions, Earthly Pursuits, The Israelite House of David, 1999; R. James Taylor, Mary's City of David, 1996, R. James Taylor, 200 Years, Joanna Southcott, 1792, through the City of David, 1992; and the several research and doctorate papers by Doctor Van Wormer.

Ron Taylor, Secretary of Trustees for Mary's City of David, was invited to attend the Nomination presentation on January 16 and was asked to represent the colony in the review and to address the query as to what importance a listing upon the National Register would become:

As members of the SW Michigan Tourist Council, Berrien County Historical Association, The Historical Society of Michigan, the newly formed (2008) SW Michigan History Museum Consortium, Vintage Base Ball Association of America, and working with the New Territory Arts Association (Arts District in Benton Harbor), Blossomtime Festival, Inc. and the Old West Michigan Pike cultural/historical trail, we feel that in partnering/networking with area tourism concerns we can add the distinction of being recognized nationally with the Register listing in being a unique attraction as a "living history" that remains uncommercialized and authentic to its origins in design and purpose, for which it was commended as one of its criteria of significance. Located within the first 30 miles of Michigan, from the State's busiest welcome center (New Buffalo), and before the inter-state goes east and north, there is much to be said for having a unique attraction as a nationally recognized cultural/historic site for drawing and revitalizing tourism along the original West Michigan Pike (1911) that became THE summertime destination for Chicagoans and Hoosiers following the lakeshore communities from New Buffalo to Mackinaw for most of the 20th Century. Our hopes are that this unique history, preserved on our properties and showcased by the summer-season museum, tours and events, which are original to the designs and integrity of the organization (such as "vintage" base ball, "Welcome Back To 1934" vegetarian meal reservations, special programmes on the history and our one-of-a-kind annual collectibles sale), will awaken new interests drawn to the area by a National recognition upon the Register of Historic Places in America.

In planning Governor Granholm's 2003 "Hidden Treasures of Michigan" tour, the Governor insisted on a stop at Benton Harbor. Travel Michigan chose Mary's City of David as the destination for her stop. This was another recognition on the State level and was one of several during our Centennial year (1903-2003) summer long events calendar.

Three Criteria of Significance:

Criteria A:

As a religious intentional community, Mary's City of David is a rare example. The founding of intentional communities is patterned—at times of great social change (i.e., the industrial revolution, the 1960s, etc.) and rises at a remarkable rate. The members of these groups are attempting to fix what they find wrong in the wider world, be it gender relations, economic stratification, or something else, and these cultural critiques are embedded into the design and ideology of the community.

As such, these intentional communities become remarkable indicators of how people grapple with widespread and rapid social change. As one might guess, attempting to change social, economic, and other aspects of society is not an easy task, and the overwhelming majority of intentional communities are quite short-lived. This is often especially true of communities whose emphasis includes millennialism. Mary's City of David is known not only for its amazing economic and social success, but also for its longevity. Its organization and ideology represents not only the history of the Christian-Israelite faith, but also the wider social contexts of their 'formative' moments: the turn of the 20th century when the original colony was founded and the 1930s when the colony split and reorganized.

The history of tourism in the United States can in many ways be investigated at Mary's City of David. From the very beginning, the House of David and City of David have been intimately involved in the tourism industry in southwestern Michigan. When they first arrived in Benton Harbor, their settlement was adjacent to the Eastman Springs. The Eastman Springs was a successful Victorian-era spa, complete with hotels and gardens, whose 'healing waters' were shipped as far as Chicago and Milwaukee. The colony members paid close attention to the Eastman Springs businesses, and the opening of the House of David's Eden Springs (one of the first large amusement parks in the region) put the Eastmans out of business, and by 1915 the property was abandoned.

Throughout their entire history the colony has been famous for its barnstorming base ball and basketball teams. In the 1930s, the City of David started another successful endeavor --- a summer resort business connected to several vegetarian restaurants. This resort business catered to almost an exclusively Orthodox Jewish clientele from Illinois and Indiana (the colony even built a synagogue for them in 1938 which was in operation until 1976), who spent their summers at the colony well into the 1960s.

Today only the later resort housing at the City of David remains intact; the Eden Springs Amusement Park is abandoned and overgrown, and none of the buildings from the earlier 19th century Eastman Springs spa survive, although several of the springs and their surrounding features can be identified. For the past several summers, the colony has hosted a 'resorter' reunion and many people who came to the resort as children attend. In 1997 the City of David opened a museum and since then they have become involved in efforts to expand the tourism of historic sites in southwestern Michigan. In addition, the City of David is once again playing base ball --- the House of David Echoes are major participants I the "vintage" base ball Association across the Midwest.

Criteria C:

Mary's City of David contains a notable collection of vernacular architecture. The colony's vernacular architecture, especially that built during the colony's early years in the 1930s and 1940s, reflects the colony's communal organization, the need for both economy and haste in housing the colony members and its operations, and the architectural talents of some of the members of the community. Many of the key buildings were built in the colony's earliest days during the height of the Depression, and are interesting both for being planned to house multi-purpose functions and their construction using salvaged and reused materials, as well as materials such as rockface concrete block produced by the colony.

Since many of the colonists arrived from all over the globe, they brought their architectural and carpentry traditions with them, and these influences can easily be seen in the colony's buildings. Features of some buildings, designed by colony architect, Kristov Christhart (born in Prussia), are believed to reflect, in simple, small-scale, wooden form, the architecture of the old country. The log, frame and concrete block cottages reflect an awareness on the part of the colony of standard resort cottage architecture of the time, while the form and arrangement of the synagogue, a building form with which the colony members would probably not have been familiar, must reflect a cooperative effort on the part of the colony members to build a building that would meet the requirements of their Orthodox Jewish vacationers.

Furthermore, since the property has been in the hands of the colonists for its history and has religious meaning as well, the maintenance and preservation of these buildings is undertaken with extreme care. Finally, as an intentional community, the architecture and landscape of Mary's City of David was meant to operationalize a specific ideology, in physical form, The design and symbolism present at the colony directly reflects the colonists' religious and social beliefs. It is a physical demonstration of their ideology, both reflecting and reinforcing community ideals.

Criteria D:

Several areas within Mary's City of David have the potential to yield important information about pre-historic and historic peoples and endeavors. For potential pre-historic resources, the artifacts collected throughout the spa-era of Eastman Springs hint at further discoveries. The springs were no doubt an important water source in the area, particularly during the winter when other water sources freeze over. Because the site was abandoned by 1915 and has not been developed since, the integrity of subterranean  resources is possible. This circumstance has also benefited historical archaeological there, particularly pertaining to the history of spas and other kinds of Victorian resorts. No archaeological study has been conducted.

In addition to these, the immense and varied collections of material culture at the City of David are a valuable resource. Because of a collective 'Depression mentality' objects and tools are saved at the City of David. From the intact printing presses and equipment to the 1954 Ford farm stake (grain) truck with less than 5000 original miles registered, the City of David is a unique resource 20th century material history.


1903 - 2003 Centennial

"Behold, the end of a Century cometh."
Mary Purnell, Book of Heaven, 1939

Israelite House of David, 1903
as reorganized by Mary Purnell, 1930

Today's Mary's City of David

The actual centennial by date is 1902-2002, being that the Israelite House of David, Church of the New Eve, Body of Christ, was founded at Fostoria, Ohio, in that year, coinciding with the publication of a 780 page hand written manuscript, which became known as the "covenant message" to the House of David, entitled, "The Star of Bethlehem, The Living Roll of Life". Co-authored by Mary and Benjamin Purnell, this manuscript written over a seven-year period, became the standard text to which peoples from the world over came to enjoin themselves, accepting its contents as being divinely inspired.

In 1902, the Purnells would complete their 7 years sojourn as itinerant preachers, traveling throughout mid-America, during which time they had attracted many interested parties, and had distributed throughout America a pamphlet that was addressed to the former six churches, showing forth their credentials as the successor to six inspired messengers in England, completing the number Seven of the prophetic lineage.

The following in America of James Jezreel (the sixth Messenger) was large, and Mary and Benjamin had previously been members of a Detroit communal organization (1891-1895), which commissioned them as road preachers. The New and Latter House of Israel, based at Gillingham, England, was the headquarters, and the Detroit assembly was a branch organization.

The Purnells were successful in gathering an impressive interest all across America, most of whom were associated with the New and Latter House of Israel, and conversant with the Jezreel manuscript, "Extracts From the Flying Roll", 1871. The publication of the "Star" in mid summer 1902 gave the "gathering date" to be 1903. Many thought to come to Fostoria, but were cautioned to await directions, as the actual site for this newborn Seventh Church was not yet determined. In the early winter months of 1903, while at Fostoria, Mary Purnell received communication of the Spirit that Benton Harbor, Michigan would become the site. It is not clear whether the Purnells, in their seven years travels, ever visited Benton Harbor, but there were a circle of believers there, amongst whom were the Albert and Louis Baushke families, who were also former members of the English, New and Latter House of Israel. Letters between the Purnells in Fostoria and Albert Baushke, dated February, 1903, show the elation of the Baushke patriarch, which had previously prophesied to his family that he would entertain the Seventh Messenger in his new Colfax Avenue home. Albert sent a complete profile of Benton Harbor; Benjamin Purnell sent Silas Mooney ahead to find suitable agricultural properties in Berrien County, and the Baushke family sent $500.00 for the party of seven at Fostoria to travel to Michigan. They arrived on Saint Patrick's Day, 1903.

1903 Centennial 2003

The early months at Benton Harbor were a mix of unbound enthusiasm and a heaviness over the tragic death of Hettie Purnell, age 16, just weeks before the scheduled departure for southwestern Michigan. Mary Purnell's health was quite precarious for the first several years owing to the rigorous 7 years on the road and the subsequent loss of her only daughter.

The "gathering" grew quickly from all across America, those that had received the Star of Bethlehem, and accepted its teaching as the "covenant message" and inspired message of the Seventh messenger. 1903 saw a second edition printed at the all-new and up-to-date printing plant (the Ark) on Cribb Street. The first issue of the monthly "Shiloh Messenger of Wisdom" was published December 14, carrying on page eight an article heading, CITY of DAVID, which titled organization did not come into existence until exactly 30 years later, December 14, 1933. Published by Mary and Benjamin with notices that all money orders, bank drafts were to be made to the name of Mary Purnell, as it is today, Mary Purnell, Trustee, 2003.

The subsequent history can be obtained through the web site, materials online within the gift shop pages, by mail service, or by visiting the community in Benton Harbor.

The reorganization of the Israelite House of David in 1930, by Mary Purnell was based on the power struggle within the colony over properties, assets, wealth, future and direction, after the death of Benjamin Purnell in 1927. Mary Purnell had warned the membership in meetings as early as 1909, which the amusement park and success had already taken precedence over a strict and faithful practice called upon by the messengers. Mary's voice was a return to the basics of the orthodox beginnings, and her following was of that persuasion, holding with original doctrines from the Star of Bethlehem. Thus Mary's reorganization plan was for a whole new community following the original and austere practices of celibacy, and communal living, while she moved forward teaching from her new auditorium, and publishing her inspirational tracts. As Mary's auditorium was being built, the House of David park auditorium ( where Mary and Benjamin had originally preached)was being taken down, and soon a beer garden was in place, 1933, which more aptly suited the grandiose business designs of Mr. H.T. Dewhirst.

As the Star of Bethlehem had foretold, the woman would be knocked down through greed and jealousies ...  ...  ... ..and when finished, the woman would be found at the right hand. Mary moved her plans away from the wealth and successful Eden Springs Park, eastward 2 blocks ... .or to the right hand.

The Star of Bethlehem (third edition, pg. 187) also foretold that the "gathering" would be into the "City of David", 30 years before it came into being.

A widely circulated flyer from 1944, headlined, "The Ingathering and Restoration of Israel at the City of David", long before restoration was necessary. Nearly 60 years later, Mary's City of David, is in its 12th year of restorations to our historic properties; restoring its former area and regional presence with our museum and tours; restoring our religious/cultural interests through our museum and website exposures, and is become recognizably the heir of faith, being now America's third oldest Christian community, a continuum following the inspiration of its founders over 100 years.

Mary's reorganization was simply to reaffirm the original tenets and practice of faith from 1902-03 foundation, and accordingly a fourth edition of " The Star of Bethlehem" was necessarily printed in 1959 to meet new membership applicants desiring to read the "covenant message".

A church is not a building. It is an association of people in fellowship.

An organization is not a piece of property, it is the successful and continued practice of the fellows in partnership and cooperation to fulfill the goals and standards of the original charter of that delegation.

Thus we observe a Centennial of faithful practice.

"Men will think it strange to see women coming forward in these last days, taking the places of men in many walks of life, irresistible, efficient and worthy." Mary Purnell Letters

"He (Benjamin) told us all things that would happen during his absence, and we now behold them being fulfilled right before our very eyes." Book of Heaven, pg. 147

"Then remember, Oh, Israel that the day of visitation has come, and I will leave thee for a few days, and then I will return with ten thousands of my saints, for the end of a Century cometh." Book of Heaven, 1939

1903 January 2003

1st, 1908 ... Israelite House of David organizationally became a "voluntary Association".

1st, 1933 ...  A News Palladium article quoting Judge Dewhirst, states that ¼ of a million people visited Eden Springs Park in 1932. The House of David had helped or sheltered 65 families or individuals along with providing 2 musical shows daily in the park, free to the unemployed.

1st, 1934 ... Mary Purnell's new Israelite House of David was in its fourth year of wonders in building an entire new community from the ground up. A new electrical power plant was being built, housing a 45-horse power Fairbanks Morris twin cylinder diesel (vertical) generator that would power the entire colony through 1942. A new sewage treatment plant was being constructed that could manage 30,000 gallons a day, or a population of 2500. The new "City of David" under Sister Mary's guidance had reached 300, over 80 new members had come to the "reorganization" in less than 4 years.

6th, 1930 ... Mary Purnell files a counter suit in the Circuit Court, a motion to dissolve the "temporary injunction" that Judge Charles E. White had granted Judge Dewhirst and his "official board" of the House of David a few weeks earlier. Dewhirst's filing had put before the court a decision by his board to remove Mary Purnell from any authority position within the House of David. Mary's record setting brief is 264 typewritten pages, and is asking Judge White to put all monies and assets of the House of David into a Trust until all members could be properly awarded their share of monies they contributed upon arrival and an allotment towards each member for services according to years within the colony. She is suing the House of David (official board) for $2,883,143.00 in damages that should go towards her 217 that are in her support. It is a final move on Mary Purnell's part to bring dissolution to the House of David, that Judge Dewhirst has now effectively gotten control of.

7th, 1946 ... Francis Thorpe, Secretary of Mary's City of David publishes "The Mantle of Shiloh", in which he shows prophecies fulfilled and how Mary is blessed with carrying on the spiritual work of the Israelite faith and movement.

9th, 1930 ... Mary's House of David basket ball team beat the national champion ladies team, the Taylor Trunks, 18 to 16 in a match filmed and is now in archival recordings.

10th, 1930 ... The Taylor Trunks turn around to defeat the House of David cagers, 16 to 10. All of the team players for Mary's team are colony members.

19th, 1929 ... Mary Purnell is locked out of the House of David park auditorium. She continues her planned sermon for that day by holding her meeting in the open lots to the east of the House of David.

19th, 1945 ... Mary's City of David purchases the remaining 54 acres of the original Eastman Springs properties from the Pugh family of Chicago , and is the last large property purchase of either colony to date.

19th, 1921 ... the House of David purchases contiguous properties on west Main Street and Colfax Avenue in downtown Benton Harbor from Humphrey S. Gray and A.S. Lindenfeld respectively. The colony plans to construct a large 7-story hotel complex.

27th, 1924 ... Coy Samuel Purnell dies in Benton Harbor at age 42, the only son of Mary and Benjamin. Perhaps the depths of the Purnell's darkest hour, as the State's defamation campaign against Benjamin's character was national news, his health had taken a decided downward spiral with tuberculosis and advanced diabetes, and the Federal courtrooms had granted a handsomely lucrative decision in favor of the John Hansel family. Sadly, Mary and Benjamin were now survivors to both of their children.

31st, 1938 ...  King David Hospital and clinic opens on the City of David properties along Crystal Avenue. It is the only "truly Kosher hospital" in America, which is also open to the general public. It boasts the leading surgical theatre, obstetrics unit and X-ray lab in America, along with its 30-bed capacity. It is a unique collaboration of Jewish funding, Jewish medical professionals from Cook County Hospital, Chicago, and Mary's City of David, property, builders and clerical staff. The opening draws most of the Who's Who in the twin cities area.

In January of 1913 the House of David first advertised concentrate of mineral salt water, Medithereal Mineral Salts, drawn from waters 1600 ft. well. The dried compound was advertised as good for skin diseases, catarrh, and laxative.

Also in January of 1913 the House of David began advertising the manufacturing of their former invention, and "newly improved" automatic pinsetter for bowling alleys. Later the House of David would sell the patent to the Brunswick Company, and in 1978, donate several of the original bowling alley pinsetters to the newly created American Bowling Museum in St. Louis. The House of David is recognized as an early contributor to the technical advance and promotion that led to what the sporting recreation is become today.

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