They were like a city within a city, and when people out here talk about the old days, they inevitably mention the legend of the House of David.“They had a profound impact on Benton Harbor,” said Bob Myers, curator of the Berrien County Historical Association’s museum.” Anybody that grew up here, back in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, early ‘70s, you hear that all the time.
Everybody remembers the House of David.”But a lurid sex scandal involving the group’s leader brought a court trial, unflattering national media coverage and a swift end to the colony, which split in two and slowly died off over the years. There’s even a bar in town that promotes a beer it brews using spring water from one of the colonies.
You got a couple of generations of people that really don't know about it except through stories of their grandparents or parents, or if they know history or if they follow baseball or something," said Debbie Boyersmith, a volunteer at Eden Springs Park in Benton Harbor.
An original steam engine sits in a garage at Eden Springs Park, which was the former amusement park owned by the House of David on Tuesday Oct. The engine was given the name because the founder of the House of David, Benjamin Purnell, called himself the seventh messenger of God. But, you know, a good cult.”Benjamin Purnell was a twice-married former broom maker and traveling preacher from Kentucky who one day declared himself the seventh and final messenger of God, as foretold in the Book of Revelation.
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They owned 100,000 acres of farmland and created what was billed at the time as the world’s biggest farmers market, and built the world’s biggest cold storage building for the food they produced.
"People once asked me what would happen if it comes to an end. He and his wife Mary wound up in Benton Harbor in 1903 and started a commune called the Israelite House of David on land donated by a follower. And by 1916, more than a thousand people had joined him.
I said I would go on living the same way with or without people because it's what I believe," said Ron Taylor, one of the last two members of Mary's City of David. He preached that Jesus was about to return to usher in a restoration of the Garden of Eden. The group taught that all sex was a sin, even for procreation.
House of David founder Benjamin Purnell is seen standing with his followers outside of the House of David ice cream shop in Benton Harbor in a photo on display at the House of David Museum in St. “It’s just a super mysterious, twisted, secret, unusual, fascinating story that touches everything from entertainment, to sports, to sex — or lack thereof — to religion, to everything,” Siriano said. Married couples who joined had to then regard themselves as brother and sister.
Although its reputation was stained by the sex scandal, and some detractors called it a cult, there are a lot of people who still look back on the House of David’s heyday with affection and nostalgia.“Was it a cult? Since killing is a sin, their diet was strictly vegetarian, and members refused to serve in war.