Marshall: An Explanation On The Appeal Of Michigan'S Small Towns - The Awesome Mitten

Marshall: Michigan’s Small Town Appeal

The intricacy of what pop culture latches onto is a fascinating subject. It could be its own article or even its own book.  One thing American pop culture loves is small towns. Populations continue to grow and urban sprawl slithers its concrete tendrils far and wide. However, the small town still holds sway over us. It’s why after countless reboots and retellings we still agree Superman was raised on a small farm. It’s why main character Leslie Knope’s undying and pure love for Pawnee, Indiana, made Parks and Recreation one of the most beloved sitcoms in television history. Now I can’t tell you what went through those writers’ heads while making these things. However, I do live in the small town of Marshall, Michigan, so let me offer some insight.

Let me start off by dispelling a somewhat common misconception about small towns. We’re not all a bunch of dumb hillbillies who think iPhones are witchcraft. We know things! I talked to Mayor Jack Reed, who emphasized Marshall’s commitment to keeping pace as technology continues to press forward.

“A lot of things like our Fibernet [high-speed internet], downtown businesses, and types of restaurants we bring in; all of those things are geared for the people we want to have come here and move here with their young families,” he explains.

Marshall: Michigan's Small Town Appeal - The Awesome Mitten
Schuler’s Restraunt & Pub, a Marshall staple since 1909. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Aikins

Marshall and other small towns don’t forget their past, though. When living in a small town, you don’t have to go looking for history. It is all around you. Marshall has over 800 historic homes, so we know what we’re talking about. Some have original owners you may have never heard of. Some are a bit more famous like The Cronin House, the inspiration for John Bellairs’s terrifying novel The House With a Clock In Its Walls. Well-known or not, every house and every person in Marshall have a story to tell.

The businesses Reed talks about also have stories to tell. I’ve already written about Dark Horse Brewing Company and the Morse family’s strong ties to this community. I also talked to Ian Gilyard-Schnaitman. His story is one dedication to a hometown that is found in all small communities.

Gilyard-Schnaitman is also part of a town tradition of fascinating and easily traceable family histories. Members of the Schnaitman family have run businesses and been prominent citizens of Marshall for generations. This includes the 1901 construction of the building that Gilyard-Schnaitman now works in.

Marshall: Michigan's Small Town Appeal - The Awesome Mitten
Quality Engraving Service’s downtown storefront. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Aikins

Of course, I can’t pretend that small town living isn’t without its quirks. One of the funniest parts of the aforementioned Parks and Recreation is the highly combative town halls, full of citizens of all varieties loudly expressing their opinions. While this is naturally played up for television, there is a kernel of truth in it. Marshall recently held a fundraiser for the creation of a new park. The conversation surrounding it was intense. You couldn’t open the paper or walk down the street without hearing or reading someone’s opinion on the merits of the park. And trust me, every single person had an opinion. As Mayor Reed points out though, the level of communication you can get between generations and groups of people in a small town is simply not replicable in a big city. This winds up being an advantage.

Gilyard-Schnaitman also pointed out there’s not much to do in the way of traditional entertainment for younger generations (there’s no shopping mall and the local theater only has two screens). However, Marshall more than makes up for it with other appeals. There’s Dark Horse for those over 21 and a ton of museums for all, including the American Museum of Magic. There is also a thriving fine arts scene. While there are real downsides to urban sprawl, it also means Marshall is a prime location. Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids are all within two hours of Marshall. This makes the small town a perfect home base to explore much of what Michigan has to offer.

Marshall: Michigan's Small Town Appeal - The Awesome Mitten
The Brooks Memorial Fountain in the center of Marshall. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Aikins.

Whatever age or interests you might have, small towns have something for you. If you live here you’re going to know your neighbor and know all the good spots to go to. If you’re only visiting, you will be met with a smile and will readily receive directions to the great spots. Mayor Reed suggests wandering amongst the historic neighborhoods. Gilyard-Schnaitman suggests a drink at Dark Horse before relaxing at the Brooks Memorial Fountain at the center of town. Both of those are fine ideas, and we’ll have many more suggestions if you’re ever in the area. Chalk it up to small town charm.

What other small towns in Michigan should we cover? Let us know in the comments!


  1. I have been to Marshall several times and I thought this was a truly disappointing article. It felt like a stream of consciousness tied together with boring quotes from the Mayor and one business owner. Surely there was someone more exciting in Marshall to interview. I was left feeling like Marshall is maybe not that great of a place if they are fighting over parks and high speed internet is their crowning achievement. Does this kid have an editor? The length of paragraphs and the continued use of the same phrases is distracting. The whole piece was choppy to read and didn’t, in my opinion, offer much positive about Marshall. Mitten…you can do better!

    1. Marshall,
      MI is my home town. It is a beautiful small town.
      It had a. Under ground tunnel that help save the
      Slaves during the Civil War.
      It has beautiful homes over an 150 years old which have been kept beautiful.
      I could go on and on.

  2. I grew up in Marshall. I spent 20 + years there. Graduated from Marshall High School. When I was a kid, Marshall was full of fun things to do and safe. Everyone knew everyone. After the Friday night football games everyone would cruise through the downtown, cars would circle the fountain that would light up in the center of town. Adults and their young kids would be out riding bikes or walking their dogs, kids and cars lined the streets, people would run back and forth across the street to greet their friends. You could grab some ice cream at the Dairy Bar, Side Tracks or original Circus Circus or a slice of pizza at Mancinos! Hundreds of people would be out blaring their music and hanging out next to their cars. We would drive over to the then thriving Lakeview Square mall in nearby Battle Creek for shopping and midnight movies. Holidays were even better. July 4 was always a blast with the Bbq and strawberry shortcake at the Fountain and the rides in the “Snorkel” fire trucks. Memorial Day parades and 50s cruise car classic parades, the absolute best Fair in the area, the Blues Festival, the Home Tour every September. Camping at Tri-Lake Trails or swimming and boating at Lyon Lake! Marshall was THEE place to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *