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The Abner Pratt mansion, now known as the Honolulu House, was built in 1860 by its namesake, Abner Pratt, a former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and U. S. Consul to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) from 1857-1859. Apart from the obvious “tropical” architectural design reminiscent of his posting in Honolulu, along with some Gothic Revival influences at the entry and the veranda trim, Judge Pratt left little to explain the inspiration for this house. Whether it was a loose copy of King Kamehameha IV’s Palace or of Pratt’s residence in Honolulu remains open to conjecture. The house itself is built of Marshall sandstone and faced with vertical boards and battens. The seven-foot high elevated veranda contains nine bays with the center bay serving as the base of the observation tower. Inside, the central hall contains a spiral freestanding staircase leading to the balcony platform. The interior rooms have fifteen-foot ceilings with ten-foot high doors. [1] Unfortunately, Judge Pratt died in 1863, not long after his first wife’s death, and appears to have not left a will. As a result, the house and his personal effects, including furniture, books, paintings, engravings, seashells, and “curiosities” were sold at auction in May 1864. At that time, the house was appraised at approximately $15,000 and sold for approximately $5000 to Charles Cameron, a broker and later mayor of Marshall. [2] The Cameron family lived in the house for approximately twenty years without making any major alterations. The third owner was Martin (Cap) Wagner, a patent broker who built the “Wagner Block” (building) in Marshall and ultimately purchased the manufacturing rights to an invention known as the “Voltaic Belt,” a patent medicine electronic device that promised men a transformation from 98-pound weaklings to “robust, virile” specimens. [3] Wagner bought the Pratt Mansion in 1883 and undertook substantial renovations. [4] News reports of the time mentioned “extensive repairs” and additions including alterations to the veranda and new bay windows, hot and cold-water pipes in every room, the installation of steam heating “apparatus,” new gas fixtures, and extensive painting inside and out. [5] In 1901, George Bullard bought the house where, after Bullard’s death in 1914 his wife, Annette, continued to live until her death in 1950. Bullard owned a foundry and machine shop in Marshall that manufactured school desks. During the Bullard’s ownership the only apparent changes to the house involved the demolition of the two bedroom wings stretching out the back from each end of the house. [6] The final private owner was Harold C. Brooks, a prominent local businessman and Marshall historian, who bought the property in 1951 to preserve it from destruction and development. [7] In 1962, the Marshall Historical Society purchased the house from Brooks and now maintains it as a museum and archive. The Honolulu House was recorded in the Historic American Buildings Survey for Michigan in 1965. It was also listed in National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Honolulu House

Honolulu House

Formal Parlor

Formal Parlor

Birds Eye View of Honolulu House

Birds Eye View of Honolulu House

ABNER PRATT: Building the House

Abner Pratt was born in Springfield, New York in 1801. He married, had two children and practiced law, eventually settling in Rochester, New York where he served as prosecuting attorney for several years. In 1839, he moved his family to Marshall and started a law practice, eventually partnering with Isaac Crary, one of Marshall’s founders. During his time in Marshall, Pratt won elections to the state senate, then to the circuit court, and later to the state supreme court where he eventually served as Chief Justice. [8] On the bench, as both a trial and appellate court judge, Pratt’s forceful personality and sharp tongue became well known. Newspaper accounts recalled him as once overturning a jury verdict, calling himself the “13th juror” who was not satisfied with that jury’s verdict against the defendant. Pratt immediately reversed it. [9] As a state supreme court justice, he once wrote a 27-page dissent in a liquor manufacturing case, something unusual during the mid-19th Century temperance era in which he lived. [10] 

A life-long Democrat, in 1848, Pratt represented a slave owner in the locally renowned Crosswhite case. In 1847, Adam Crosswhite, an escaped Kentucky slave, was living with his family in Marshall when the grandson of his owner (Giltner) came to town and attempted to capture and take Crosswhite and most of his family back to Kentucky. A large crowd of locals gathered, stopped the attempt, and within hours spirited Crosswhite and his family off to Canada. The slave owner, Giltner, later sued some members of the crowd, including Charles Gorham, a banker and a founder of Marshall, in federal court in Detroit. Pratt represented the slave owner against his fellow Marshall citizens at trial. [11] After a hung jury, at a second trial the slave owner won a verdict and judgment against the Marshall defendants, all with the help of their neighbor, Abner Pratt.

In 1857, President James Buchanan appointed Judge Pratt to be the U.S. Consul to Hawaii. [12] Pratt served for two years, leaving in early 1860 for health reasons. [13] (He suffered throughout his life from asthma.) His time in Hawaii, however, was later clouded by a federal investigation into alleged fraudulent activities against Pratt and others regarding how various medical and maintenance expenses of U.S. sailors were collected and accounted for. [14] Returning to Marshall in 1860, with his health declining, Pratt again won election to the state legislature and then as mayor of Marshall. He never actively served as mayor and died on March 27, 1863. [15]

MARTIN WAGNER: Renovating the House

Martin Wagner arrived in Marshall in 1863 as an 18-year-old from Wheeler, New York. He worked as a clerk and then began studying law. In 1868 he got involved in the Presidential election on behalf of the Democratic candidate and gave several well-received stump speeches, described later in his obituary as “brilliant popular speeches” [16].

After the election, Wagner gave up the study of law and went into business as a patent broker, processing governmental paperwork for inventors. Described as having an “impulsive, generous, social nature” Wagner enjoyed great success in this endeavor. [17] Most of his business involved patenting medical devices and medicines, a booming business in mid-19th Century Marshall. This business success allowed him to build the still-standing Wagner Block, now at 145 West Michigan Avenue in Marshall. Wagner’s investment in the “Voltaic Belt” (see Introduction) further increased his fortune, allowing him and his family (the former Mary Wing of Marshall and their two children, Maude and Carl) to travel the world. [18] His business success also gave him the income to purchase the Honolulu House in 1883, to which, as noted above, he made extensive renovations. About the same time, Wagner bought a horse farm south of Marshall and a racetrack north of town. He invested heavily in racehorses, one of which—Black Cloud—was very successful, both as a racehorse and stud. [19] Wagner’s popularity extended to politics and he was four times elected mayor of Marshall. [20]

Unfortunately, Wagner’s business prospects faded, as did the profitability of the Voltaic Belt and by the late 1880s, he had to sell his horse farm and racetrack, and mortgaged the Honolulu House. While still working out his business problems, Martin Wagner died of a heart attack on August 31, 1891, at age 46. [21]


           In the early 1900s, the Bullard’s purchased the Honolulu House where they lived until their deaths. Annette Bullard, born in nearby Fredonia Township on August 12, 1852, was the daughter of B.F. and Elizabeth Fredenburg and grew up on the shores of Lyon Lake south of Marshall. Annette’s husband, George Bullard, owned the Bullard School Seat Company of Marshall, a manufacturer of school desks.

           Annette Bullard was a long-time member of the Presbyterian Church and its Ladies Aid Society. [22] George Bullard’s obituary described him as “one of the most successful businessmen in this city” and “the most amusing of men. Sound in judgement rather austere in manner with those unacquainted with his real character, conservative in disposition, but charitable to an extent which the world will never know.” [23] George Bullard passed away on February 14, 1914, and Annette died on July 13, 1950, just short of her 98th birthday. [24]

           According to the Marshall Historical Society, sometime around 1920, Annette Bullard decided to demolish the original two bedroom wings that stretched to the west from each end of the house. The reasons for their removal are still debated. (See Bird's Eye View links).

HAROLD BROOKS: Preserving the House

           After Annette Bullard’s death, in 1951 the house was sold, according to her will: “to the highest bidder.” Harold Brooks purchased the home with no intention of living there. Rather, he bought it in order to “see the house preserved because of its unique architecture.” [25]. In the 1960s, the Marshall Historical Society raised the funds to purchase the home from Mr. Brooks in order to properly preserve it and turned it into a museum for the public to enjoy. 

[1] Mabel Cooper Skjelver, Nineteenth Century Homes of Marshall, Michigan, Marshall, Michigan: Marshall Historical Society, 1993, 136.

[2] Estate File of Abner Pratt, Calhoun County Probate Record, Calendar 4, File 1256, 6; Skjelver, Nineteenth Century Homes of Marshall, 136.

[3] Pickney Dispatch, March 6, 1884, 7; South Haven Messenger, January 9, 1885, 4; Richard Carver, A History of Marshall, (Virginia Beach, Va.: The Donning Company, 1993), 133, 443-444. 

[4] Marshall Daily Chronicle, March 30, 1883, 4.

[5] Marshall Daily Chronicle, May 19, 1883, 4 and July 26, 1883, 4; Marshall Statesman, June 22, 1883, 4.

[6] Ruger, A. and Chicago Lithographing Co. Birds eye view of the city of Marshall, Calhoun Co., Michigan. (Chicago, Chicago Lithographing Co., 1868) Map.

[7] Skjelver, Nineteenth Century Homes of Marshall,139.

[8] Democratic Expounder, April 2, 1863, 2;

[9] Marshall Statesman, November 29, 1895, 5.

[10] People v. Gallagher, 4 Mich. 243 (1856).

[11] Michigan Liberty Press, July 28, 1848 (Reporting from the Daily Bulletin).

[12] Democratic Expounder, April 2, 1863, 2; Weekly Columbian, May 2, 1857, 4 (Toulmne, CA.).

[13] The Pacific Commercial Advisor, January 26, 1860, 2; Chicago Press & Tribune, April 23, 1860, 3.

[14] Identified by Jeff Greene, Marshall, Michigan.

[15] Democratic Expounder, April 2, 1863, 2.

[16] Marshall Statesman, September 4, 1891, 5.

[17] Marshall Statesman, September 4, 1891, 5.

[18] Marshall Statesman, September 4, 1891, 5.

[19] Marshall Statesman, May 11, 1883, 4; Marshall Daily Chronicle, October 8, 1886, 3.

[20] Marshall Statesman, September 4, 1891, 5.

[21] Marshall Statesman, September 4, 1891; Carver, A History of Marshall, 445-446.

[22] “Mrs. Bullard, 97 Dies Today In Hospital,” The Marshall Evening Chronicle, July 13, 1950, 3.

[23] “Geo. A. Bullard Died This Morning,” The Marshall News-Statesman, February 14, 1914, 3.

[24] “Mrs. Bullard, 97 Dies Today In Hospital,” The Marshall Evening Chronicle, July 13, 1950, 1.

[25] “Brooks Purchases Honolulu House,” Marshall Evening Chronicle, February 6, 1951, 1.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Alena R. Buczynski

Alena R. Buczynski

Library of Congress