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Four New State Historic Markers in Downtown Marshall

The Marshall area now has 45 Michigan State Historic Markers with the recent addition of four new markers to the city’s business district.

The markers highlight Marshall’s identity as Patent Medicine Town along with two of the prominent businessmen in that field; the Wolverine Rangers, a group of local men who left here for the California gold rush, and the Eagle Opera House, once the city’s main entertainment venue.

Two of the new historical markers are on the Stuart Building, 121-123 W. Michigan Ave., and relate to Marshall’s fame in the patent medicine business. One marker is titled Patent Medicine Town and states that Marshall had more than 50 companies producing medicines or medical equipment. Before the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, some companies made exaggerated claims for their products.

Many of these companies were short-lived, but two continued for decades. The second marker is titled Two Medical Business Leaders and recognizes Frank A. Stuart and Harold C. Brooks. Stuart’s business began in the 1890s and operated in that building until 1956. Its most popular product was Stuart’s Dyspepsia Tablets for indigestion.

The Brooks Rupture Appliance Co. was founded in 1880 by Charles E. Brooks after he created an appliance to soothe his hernia. His son Harold greatly expanded the company that operated until 2003 at 312 E. Michigan Ave. Harold Brooks used sales and advertising methods learned during his employment at a local patent medicine business. Both Brooks and Stuart were generous community benefactors.

Mark Stuart, owner of the Stuart Building and a great-nephew of Frank A. Stuart, commented, “These historical plaques represent a significant recognition of the very major contribution to the growth of Marshall made by the Stuart and Brooks families. These men were pioneers in the health industry.”

At the corner of Michigan Avenue and Grand Street is the marker honoring the Wolverine Rangers. In the spring of 1849, 65 men mostly from Marshall or Calhoun County traveled first to Independence, MO. After getting supplies, they left in mid-May for California. Unfortunately, they took an unproven trail that added extra distance to their journey. They had to abandon their wagons as winter approached in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They struggled on foot for several weeks in rain and snow before reaching the gold fields. Only a few had success in gold mining, and many returned to Michigan.

The story of the Wolverine Rangers was documented by James Pratt. The 30-year-old had resigned his position as editor of the Marshall Statesman to help organize the expedition. On the trail west, he wrote letters back to the newspaper to keep Marshall residents informed to the group’s adventures.

The marker noting the significance of the Eagle Opera House is on the Eagle Street side of the Eagle Block at 155 W. Michigan Ave. which was built in 1867. The third floor was opened as the opera house in 1870. The auditorium seated more than 500 people and was the center of community entertainment and activities. It hosted more than 400 theatrical and musical shows along with high school graduations and other events. However, it was ordered closed by the Marshall Common Council in January 1904. Two weeks earlier a fire at a Chicago theater had killed more than 600 people. Both buildings had only single entrances above the ground floor.

Bob Lowman, curator of the local historic marker program, prepared the information for the new markers and submitted the applications to the Michigan Historical Commission. City crews have installed the markers in recent weeks.

Plans for dedication ceremonies were canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Lowman noted that important research into Marshall’s patent medicine industry had been done by Teresa Trupiano Barry for her master’s degree thesis.

Forty-one of the 45 area markers are in the city limits. Detroit and Lansing are the only two Michigan cities with more state markers. Lowman has been curator for 16 years assisted by Martin Overhiser and more recently by Phil Nager.

The Marshall historic marker program began in 1972 and is a cooperative effort of the Marshall Historical Society, the Marshall Community Foundation and the City of Marshall. Contributions can be made to the Marshall Area Historical Marker Fund that is managed by the community foundation.