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Vol. 19, no. 5
October/November 2016


Hale Marshall 
Story By: Peter von Buol
Photos By: Danielle Duval

During his two years in Honolulu as US consul—the first to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i—Judge Abner Pratt fell in love with the Islands. He also was a scoundrel; his term ended abruptly in 1859, when he became the target of a federal corruption probe surrounding a medical billing fraud scheme. So Pratt hightailed it out of Honolulu (officially due to “health problems”) and headed home to the little Midwestern town of Marshall, Michigan. 

The corruption probe fizzled; with the start of the Civil War, the US government had bigger problems. So with some of his ill-gotten gains (about $20,000), Pratt set about building a tropical dream house in 1860. Not just any house, but one worthy of royalty: Pratt modeled his home on Hale Ali‘i, the royal residence that preceded ‘Iolani Palace. The governor of O‘ahu built the one-story house for his daughter, Princess Victoria Kamamalu, in 1844. It was said to be the finest structure in Hawai‘i at the time—so fine that when Kamehameha III moved the capital from Lahaina to Honolulu in 1845, he bought it from Kamamalu and named it Hale Ali‘i (house of the chiefs). In 1863 Kamehameha V changed the name to ‘Iolani Palace, and in 1879 King David Kalakaua demolished the deteriorating structure to make way for the ‘Iolani Palace that stands today.

So if you want to see what the height of luxury in mid-nineteenth-century Hawai‘i looked like, you have to head to tiny Marshall (pop. seven thousand). Pratt’s homage to Hawai‘i, called Honolulu House, is a grand mansion painted red, green and ivory, now a museum. It features the combination of Island and Victorian styles distinctive to nineteenth-century Hawai‘i (but absolutely unique in the Midwest). It has the wide lanai and hipped roof common to Island architecture. Its elegant staircase leads to an observation deck—a feature that’s maybe a little out of place in flat, landlocked Marshall but would be a perfect perch from which to gaze over Honolulu Harbor. 

One anomaly both share is the lack of bedrooms; Hale Ali‘i was used only for ceremony and state functions. It’s possible Honoulu House lacks bedrooms not because of zealous fidelity to the original but because the Pratts might not have ever had the chance to live there, as the couple died shortly after its completion.