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The Israelite House of David - A Brief History

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Benjamin and Mary Purnell
House of David Members
The Eden Springs Park
House of David Preachers
Legal troubles for Colony Leaders
Benjamin dies
Mary Purnell
Mary's City of David
City of David Museum
City of David Tours
Mary's City of David

Receiving inspirational communications from March 1895, Mary and Benjamin Purnell became the final successors as the "Seven Messengers".

With the publishing of their manuscript, 7 years in writing, The Star of Bethlehem, in 1902, the Israelite House of David was founded at Fostoria, Ohio.

Moving to Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1903, it quickly grew, gathering in from around the world members from the former 5th and 6th Israelite churches in America, England and Australia. By 1910 there were over 700 members, and in 1916 the membership peaked at 1000.

A communal society that practiced celibacy, vegetarian diet, conscientious objection to war, and gave equal rights to women, grew and prospered, creating an agricultural empire. Their Eden Springs Park became the premiere tourist attraction in the mid-west for over half of the 20th century.

Preachers canvassed the western-English speaking world from 1906 through 1930, while the House of David produced a legendary barnstorming base ball team and jazz orchestra in the 1920s that helped promote the Michigan colony to international fame as well as phenomenal wealth.

Great wealth and success brought the equal in legal troubles during most of the 1920s. Fame, fortune and success had inflated egos and eclipsed the reason and purpose in the faith of many that came to the "gathering". Several uncontrollable families, who were expelled from the colony for their behavior, later brought suits against the colony and its leaders. This litigation continued through several Michigan courtrooms until, finally, it was resolved, in appeal to the State Supreme Court in June 1929. However, the lower court trials severely damaged the House of David and the Purnells, but the final word handed down in Lansing was a complete victory for the House of David.

In the midst of this legal struggle, and before the Supreme Court appeal was heard, Benjamin Purnell passes away in December of 1927.

Small were the legal problems that incessantly buffeted the colony during the 1920s, when compared to an underlying current that eroded the original tenets of faith and practice.

1927-1930, the Israelite House of David as reorganized by Mary Purnell.

Mary Purnell stepped forward as co-founder, and continuing inspirational writer, but also did Judge H.T. Dewhirst, the CEO of the board of directors. Mr. Dewhirst was elevated to the colony's chief legal counsel and soon became, as secretary, the director of business and financial operations.

Both prominent figures put forth their claims to rightful head leadership, that divided the colony into 2 numerically equal halves, which quickly erupted into the short but bitter 3 years of an inner family feud over properties, monies, but most importantly, the future and direction of the House of David colony itself.

Mary Purnell, at age 68, seeks an end to the continual unpleasantries and squabblings; she legally draws up articles of dissolution that divides up assets and properties between the 2 factions. Then to avoid a lengthy and costly litigation, she decides to walk away from her home of 27 years and reorganize the colony, to re-establish its fundamental orthodox roots.

In the first year of the Great Depression, she begins anew. Building a whole new community, which now constitutes the most amazing chapter of the entire history. From the ground up, with zealous industry unmatched, and with new memberships coming in from the world over to help her build, "Sister Mary" becomes, successfully as the on-going inspired leader to the Israelite House of David.

Surrounded by area and national depression, the economic growth and success within the first 7 years was noticed throughout the region.

Mary Purnell, preached her Sunday sermons from the new, in 1932, auditorium (now the colony's museum - open to the public); she bought farms; sent out her base ball team into its most famous and professional era; established a thriving Jewish resort within her "City of David" colony; and contributed greatly to the golden years of Benton Harbor/Saint Joseph in agriculture, tourism and economic prosperity.

Her passing in 1953, at age 91, heralded a change throughout all of SW Michigan that became quite noticeable within the first decade upon her death.

Today, her co-foundation of the Israelite House of David, and subsequent reorganization in 1930, is America's third oldest practicing Christian community, celebrating its Centennial in 2003. Today, The Museum & Tours along with the revived Base Ball Team serve as educational tools showcasing this on-going "Living History".

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House of David Baseball Brother Benjamin Mary's City of David
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For more information on this remarkable chapter in the history of Southwest Michigan, visit the following websites:

Israelite House of David:

Mary's City of David:


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