Near Benton Harbor is this massive palatial looking building. It was part of the Israelite House Of David a religious commune that was started by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in 1903. The members of the commune were prohibited from alcohol, tobacco, meat, owning property, and having sex. Their belief in not cutting their hair made the members of the commune stand out with their long hair flowing down to their waist, including the men.
To occupy their time when they were not out working in the farm fields or doing chores they played music and sports and even built an amusement park called Eden Springs which was known for its miniature train. The House of David opened their park up to the community and became very popular with people traveling for miles to visit it. The members played a lot of baseball to occupy their time, and because of that, they excelled at the sport. The House of David baseball team began traveling the country playing teams in exhibition matches defeating some of the best teams in the country. They were never allowed into the major league because of the rule banning facial hair. Their musicians traveled the country playing music to audiences in the vaudeville circuit. By 1916 the commune had more than 1000 members and attracted over half a million visitors to their amusement park. The House of David owned over 1000 acres and they had their own hotel, cannery and operated a power plant to supply electricity.
The group became rather wealthy and well liked by the public until the 1920s when 13 young women confessed to having sex with the group’s leader Benjamin Purnell when they were minors. Purnell died in 1927 before he was convicted. The accusations caused the commune to split with Benjamin’s wife Mary Purnell taking half it’s members and creating a new commune down the street known as Mary’s City Of David. Over time the membership declined in both communes and the amusement park closed. Today there are a few members left. The Eden Springs Park has reopened restoring one of the trains. The park is not what it used to be but the train still gives rides to passengers.
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