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The House of David

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.


The House of David was a religious colony in my hometown of Benton Harbor, Michigan.

When I was a boy I was mesmerized by the magical, mysterious House of David. My father grew up around the House of David, and he told me many stories about its past.

In high school I wrote a highly praised history of the House of David after spending hours reviewing microfiche from the local newspaper, the Herald Palladium, in the Benton Harbor library. That paper is lost to time, and I've decided to write once more about the House of David.











King Ben Purnell

The "Israelite" House of David was a religious commune founded in Benton Harbor by "King Ben" Purnell, his wife Mary, and approximately 200 of their followers in 1903. They were affiliated with a Christian sect known as the "Flying Rollers." King Ben claimed to be the "Seventh Messenger" sent from God to save the world and also the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

To join, you had to hand over all earthly possessions to King Ben and vow to a life without meat, alcohol, tobacco, violence, shaving, haircuts, and sex—even with your wife. But King Ben could have sex with your wives. And he had to "purify" or deflower your daughters once they hit about fourteen.

King Ben amassed a fortune estimated to be in the vicinity of ten million dollars. It's rumored that he also buried millions of dollars that have never been found. He lived in magnificent mansions while his followers lived in minuscule cottages.

King Ben was brought up on morals charges in 1910, 1914, and 1922—and acquitted each time. In 1923, The Detroit Free Press ran a series of articles about his sexual peccadilloes with young girls, prompting the State of Michigan to file charges against him again. Going underground, literally, he went into hiding in the secret chambers he'd had built underneath the colony, but a stool pigeon ratted him out and he was arrested while in bed with several minor females.

In all, 13 girls came forward to testify against him. A sensational trial ensued, but it ended before a verdict could be reached; King Ben died, and the trial was over. Mummified and enclosed in a glass coffin, King Ben is ensconced in a place known only to his followers. They confidently predicted he would rise from the dead. But he never did.

As salacious as all that is, that is not the most amazing part of our story by any means. That would be the tale of the colony itself—split into two after his death.

After lawsuits flew, a settlement was reached by which the man who had been managing the affairs of the colony, Judge Dewhirst, took over the original House of David along with half its properties, while the wife of King Ben, Mary Purnell, started up the new "City of David" next door with the other half of the colony's holdings. The members could choose to go with either side, and they divided up up roughly 50-50.

House of David Video

House of David

The House of David was completely self-sufficient. By the 1930s, its then 1,000 members owned and operated vineyards, farms, a huge cold storage facility, extensive greenhouses, a dairy, stone quarries on their own island (High Island, MI), forests for timber, a foundry, factories, a machine shop, a printing press, a tannery, a woodshop, a school, a hospital, and of all things: an Oldsmobile dealership.

They completed their self-sufficiency by generating their very own electricity. Their agricultural prowess made the Benton Harbor Fruit Market the largest in the world. But none of this is what the House of David was famous for. I haven't gotten to that yet.

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The House of David

The House of David had a beautiful motor lodge with a famous nightclub frequented by such celebrities as Clarence Darrow and George Raft. It was home to one of the world's first vegetarian restaurants, which proved extremely popular.

Its baseball team toured the country and played in exhibition games against major league teams, such as the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals. It also had a basketball team that barnstormed the nation, even hosting the Harlem Globetrotters. These teams were a sensation as people flocked to see the long haired, bearded wonders. Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey (for the heavyweight title) boxed at the House of David.

The baseball team hired ringers, whom they put in fake beards and wigs. Among them were Babe Ruth, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown, and Satchel Paige. Yes, that Satchel Paige. The House of David fielded the first baseball team to play against Negro league teams, and it was the first team to roster a black player. They also hired and employed the first professional female baseball player in history to play on their team.

The House of David was most well known for its amusement park, The Springs of Eden, which attracted 500,000 visitors per year during its heyday. The park featured a world-famous aviary and a zoo, with lions and tigers and bears (OH MY!). They built the first miniature trains, on which visitors could take a tour through the facilities.

Especially popular with tourists was the gift shop, known for its hand-crafted statues, leather goods, arts and crafts. Walt Disney was a visitor at The Springs of Eden, and while there purchased one of their trains. It became a prototype for the future Disneyland. The Springs of Eden finally closed in the 1970s. I visited the park many times.







White Summer at the House of David

My father often took me to concerts at the House of David Beer Gardens. Top big bands used to play there, such as those of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. The House of David had its own famous blues and jazz bands that played the national vaudeville circuit. Their artisans even made beautiful musical instruments.

My own band, White Summer, was the first rock band to ever play at the House of David, in 1971. And we were the last band of any kind to play there, in 1987. In regard to the latter, to get permission to spruce up the long closed Beer Gardens and play there, my friend Gary Allison, a descendant of a House of David member, arranged for me to be interviewed by the famous orchestra leader, Manna Woodworth. He had to like me first. And he did.























House of David

Now, some remarkable firsts. House of David members invented the automatic pinsetter for their bowling alleys in 1910. They played the first ever night baseball game in 1930. They invented the veggie burger. They invented the sugar waffle ice cream cone. They were the first to bottle and sell mineral water in the United States. They operated the first cruise ships (on Lake Michigan).

Future House of David members, the Baushke Brothers, built the first American automobile in Benton Harbor in 1894.

It is mostly all gone now. There may be a handful of ancient members left. I must say that they were known to be extremely long-lived. Sadly, the celibacy clause meant that they didn't have children, and so the House of David died as its members died. Are you listening America, Europe, and Japan?

One of the few things they could not make for themselves was auto parts. My family was in that business for generations and while working in the family auto parts store, I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with several members of the House of David. They were sincere, honorable chaps.















In Closing

One last sidebar: King Ben's grandson, David, murdered my gorgeous babysitter, Janet Uland, in 1971 with a golf club after she refused his sexual advances. As his defense, he claimed that the ghost of his grandfather told him to do it. He lived out his life in prison, dying in 2007. I was interrogated by the police for the crime because David Purnell had a similar car to mine, a Shelby GT. I was sixteen years old.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 20, 2020:

Jane Girod ~ That is amazing! Thank you very much for coming by to read my article. I had forgotten she was known as 'Johnny.' She was stunning and cool alright. Great to hear from one who knew as you did.

Jane Girod on September 16, 2020:

Johnny Uland was my babysitter too. She was stunning and cool and I adored her. We lived a few houses down on Trafalgar.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 26, 2019:

Paula ~ Thanks much for coming over to read my work here. I am glad you saw what a fascinating story this is, which it sure is to me. I am well pleased that you appreciated the photographs. Thank you for the lovely laudations especially.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 26, 2019:

Chris Mills ~ You are most welcome. Thank you for coming back by. Your awesome accolades have made my day.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 26, 2019:

Rick Huff! Hey, my friend, it is good to 'see' you here. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article. I am glad you appreciated it. I appreciate your feedback and blessings. I remember Larry Bryan well. God Bless You Brother.

Suzie from Carson City on October 23, 2019:

James.....PHENOMENAL! 9 years ago? Am I ever glad I came upon this incredibly fascinating & educational article. All "new" to me, every bit of it.

The younger brother of Jesus, eh? Wow, that's amazing. I can only shake my head & throw my arms up whenever I read of what some people will actually believe. I will never understand it. If you have a brain, can tie your shoes and count to's unforgivable to be that stupid and gullible. Yet.....the cults have existed and (obviously) thrived for years & years, while somehow, there are enough weak-minded morons lining up. "Give up all your money & worldly possessions, meat, some nasty habits and oh, BTW, your wife. As a Bonus, I'll purify your daughters at the age of 14. OK, buddy? Such a deal! (Lord help us!!)..........

"The House of David," a wonderful tale, James and I thank you for the education. It had to be great actually being there and knowing some of these "sincere, honorable" (but not-too-bright,) chaps!" That's an experience that will stay with a person forever.

The photos are a treasure!..........Cheers, Paula

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on October 22, 2019:

Jim, after all this time, I feel compelled to come back to your article and say how much I appreciate your research. This is outstanding journalism. Thank you for sticking to your story.

Rick Huff on October 22, 2019:

Jim, I appreciate your article about the HOD. Your facts line up with what I have heard (growing up in Benton Harbor) also. I even lived in one of the cottages there for a while with my friend Larry Bryan in the '70s. God Bless you my friend.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 29, 2019:

JRS ~ Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I did not know about the grape jelly or waffle comes. Fascinating. Thank you for the illumination. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and you are welcome.

JRS on August 28, 2019:

I can remember going to HD park. The Zoo was gone in the 50's, the cages were still there. One of the first you did not mention was the process of infusing the grape flavor in Welch's grape jelly, the waffle cone was made for the New York Worlds Fair, if I remember correctly. Thanks for bring me back home, even if it was only in my mind.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Rex T Nelson ~ Again KING BEN is how the man is remembered by the people of Benton Harbor. The purpose of communication is to be understood your hearers. Believe me, everybody knows who I am talking about when I say KING BEN. YOU may call him brother - he was not my brother.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Rex T Nelson ~ I am sorry that my article upset you so. I am well aware that Brother Benjamin was his preferred name but everyone I have ever known from Benton Harbor called him King Ben. That is how he was known to thousands of citizens of the area. I didn't hang that name on him. Nobody in Benton Harbor knows me as "butthead" on the other hand so your comparison falls short.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Lisa ~ Not that I have ever heard anything about.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

senlow10 ~ Thanks for visiting. I appreciate your comments about your family members involvement with the House of David. Fascinating!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

fozziebear ~ Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us. And I appreciate you reading my article as well.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Carl Payne ~ R.I.P.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Solaras ~ You are quite welcome. I appreciate you sharing my article with your friends!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Drive By Quipper ~ I know that's right brother man!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Karen VanDerveer Pullen ~ I very much enjoyed your comments. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and share your experiences with me.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

mikellmikell ~ I am sorry you feel my article contains 'misinformation.' I can assure you it was not intentional.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 27, 2018:

Becky ~ You are welcome. I was saddened to hear about your great-grandmother. Thank for for sharing that story and for reading mine.

Rex T Nelson on September 02, 2016:

It is too bad that you are such an idiot that you have to call this man by the hyped up media name that was given to him during the trial. His name was BROTHER BENJAMIN PURNELL not that insane name of King Ben. It is too bad that in all of your research that you did that you never came across the decency to call him by his given and proper name. I think that we should start calling you POTTY MOUTH James A Watkins. That fits you a whole lot better then anything else that I could come up with. Maybe when you get older you will get to know the proper respect for people and their proper given name.

Rex T Nelson on July 07, 2016:

I am glad that you were so mesmerized by the House of David. But I just understand why you are so ignorant and stupid in your writing. His name was BROTHER BENJAMIN PURNELL. NOT KING BEN. That was the name that the newspapers decided to call him. Anybody and everybody that was involved with the colony knew him as Brothe, he never ever called himself King. You completely disrespect the man's name and legacy bu calling that derogatory name. That would be like if I decided to start calling you BUTTHEAD JAMES A. WATKINS and everybody else staring calling you that also. You wouldn't like it so I ask you why do you disrespect the man by calling him something else then what is name was.

Lisa on December 25, 2015:

Did Purnell or others make any WW2 era prophecies regarding Roosevelt leading the world into war, or Hitler coming to a mysterious end?

senlow10 on June 21, 2015:

I had family members that moved there in 1906 and resided there until 1920. A couple went back there in the late 1950x, I think but were there for sure in the 1980s. I have copies of some pictures. A great aunt played trombone in the women band! My grandaunt was on the Rising Sun when it sunk. She reported they lived on High Island. My mother was close with her cousins, Anna Lucretia (Lewis ) Martin's sons. I grew up hearing about the House of David. Funny, I never heard anything about the rumors surrounding the immorality of Ben and find it very curious that Anna would return.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 01, 2014:

Thank you very much for your fascinating comments. I enjoy hearing your perspective. The whole thing was a bit eerie all right. I appreciate the feedback.

Anna Knapp Vogt on October 29, 2014:

I knew of Janet Uland who was murdered by David Purnell and I attended most of the trial. I never heard anything in the trial about David saying his Grandfather told him to do this. The defense brought out that David had been mentally abused by his ex-wife and that she and her new boyfriend even asked him to be in their wedding. He had been devastated at her divorcing him. David's father testified from a wheelchair and stated he saw King Ben (his father or grandfather I don't remember) but he said he shrunk down to the size of about 12 inches or something ridiculous like that. It was really errie.

I enjoyed many ice cream comes at that place and concerts, the train rides etc. But we must rememer, this was a religious cult. The Benton Harbor Library a few years ago opened up a room where they opened up all the transcripts from King Ben's trial for people to read. It was interesting, but also creepy. Things went on there that were unspeakable, and while I knew a man who grew up there that said if it wasn't for the House of David he wouldn't have learned his tool and die trade, these cults can be very dangerous.

fozziebear on February 10, 2014:

I was born in Benton Harbor in the 40's at Mercy Hospital. I grew up in St. Joseph in the 50's & 60's. I knew the House of David well. Went to the zoo, rode trains and had a ball. My father was a Refrigeration man, and him and I worked on the refrigerators there for years! He used to ask the people in charge when ole Ben was coming back. They would always say he was soon. David Purnell was a friend of mine, and we went to school together. He lived in South St.Joe off of Lincoln Ave.I lived in South St. Joe also. He had a bit of a temper, and knocked down one of our friends once when we were walking somewhere because he did not like what he said. I was SHOCKED when they picked him up for murder of that poor girl, and could not believe it! I remember him saying that his Grandfather told him to do it. All a bunch of BS! I think he went to Jackson Prison. Never knew what happened to him until I read an article some time back. Years ago, the House of David was a Great Empire. My mother would take me every week to the Dairy in Benton Harbor for milk and Butter milk. It was quite a place back then!Some good memories, except for David!

Carl Payne on December 03, 2013:

James, I'm so sorry that you had to write this article without properly looking into the real history of the House of David. First of all there was never a "King Ben". Members never referred to Brother Benjamin as "King Ben". Although when you joined the colony, you would give your belonging over to the church and live communally, you did not give you belongings to "King Ben". Also Brother Benjamin never had sex with the wives of other members and the purifying of virgins is absolutely absurd. Please take some time to look further into our history and you will see all these things to be false. I was a member of the City of David and my family has been a part of the City of David since 1935.

Barbara Fitzgerald from Georgia on December 03, 2013:

Thoroughly enjoyed learning about the House of David. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing - shared to my friends at FB!

Drive By Quipper from Wrong Side of Town on December 03, 2013:

Give mr your money and your wife . . . I'll lead you to salvation!

Karen VanDerveer Pullen on December 03, 2013:

I remember this place at the end of its hey-day. As a child we ate spaghetti with mock meatballs here, played in that fabulous penny arcade, and rode the train through the park. I still remember the sound of the train's whistle as it echoed through the ravine. They also had ponies for merry go round rides. They were kept at the corner of Empire and M139, where my Mom would let me get out of the car to pet them. I was at that Blood, Sweat and Tears concert, (my Dad owned Fanta-C-Records, where the tickets were sold) and I remember David Clayton Thomas getting mad at the hecklers in the crowd (white jump suits were OUT at the time, especially if you were chubby!) and walking off stage for a bit. This, however, was in 1977, because I was 15 or 16 then. I have walked the beaches of High Island (Grandpa was born and raised on neighboring Beaver Island) and saw the ruins from the community that once was. An absolutely fascinating piece of Michigan's history!

mikellmikell on October 29, 2013:

Wow great to see so much mis information.

No King Ben he died in 1926 before they really took off

Alcohol Ok but not getting drunk

Smoking OK but only for the baseball team or band members

No sex with others wives

It was all about getting their money during the depression

Becky on March 29, 2013:

Enjoyed reading this. My mother grew up in the City of Mary created by Mary after the death of Benjamin. I have recently learned that my great grandmother died there after suffering for days without medical attention or medicine as they did not allow it. It is recorded that her screams of agony could be heard for days. This disturbs me to no end. Just wanted to tell you. Thanks.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 29, 2012:

cam8510— Cool! I was up there two years ago when I did the Lake Michigan Circle Tour for the first time. I wrote a Hub about the trip, in fact:

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on October 27, 2012:

James, yes, I am from Leelanau County near Traverse City.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 26, 2012:

cam8510— Hello there! You are quite welcome, my new friend. Thank you for posting such kind compliments on my work.

I am glad you notified me of your new Hub—"Rising Sun: Story of a Great Lakes Shipwreck"

I am not aware of the story surrounding that, no. I will come by soon and read it. I am sure it is fascinating.

I certainly appreciate you sharing this Hub with your friends. And I am glad to see you hit the 'voted up' button for me too. :)


ps Are you a Michigander, as I am?

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on October 24, 2012:

James, this is a wonderful article. Thanks for writing it. Today I published a hub called Rising Sun: Story of a Great Lakes Shipwreck. I'm sure you are already aware that the ship was owned by The House of David and was carrying member from High Island to Benton Harbor when it ran into trouble. I don't mean to promote my hubs, but you might be interested in reading it. Just visit my profile page and you will see the hub title. Thanks again. voted up and shared.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 10, 2012:

Chris Siriano!

What a pleasant surprise! Thank you for visiting and saying hello. You probably know that I had link from here to until a few months ago when I was notified that it was a "broken link." As soon as it is up and running let me know and I will add a little something about the museum as well as a link to your website at the end of this Hub.

It is great to hear from you, man. I'm not sure if you remember me; maybe from the White Summer band. We played at the House of David many times in the 1970s. We were the last band to ever play at the Beer Gardens.


Chris Siriano on September 10, 2012:

GREAT job on doing such indepth research on this fascinating subject!!! The House of David Museum website will be up and running again by the end of this month! We had quite a number of updates and improvements we've made over the past few months, so our webmaster had taken it offline until it was finished! Look for www.houseofdavidmuseum.organd you'll love the new look!! And keep writing these great stories!!!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 16, 2012:

Old Albion— Hello Graham! Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I am so glad that you liked it. I very much appreciate your compliments. Welcome to the HubPages Community!


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 15, 2012:

Tom Meldrim— I would like to see that. Let me know if you find a link to it so I can see you. The House of David Museum website I had linked from my Hub is "suspended." :(

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 09, 2012:

Karen Syed— I am well pleased that you enjoyed my article and the pictures therein. Thank you very much for taking the time to come by and read my work. I appreciate your excellent remarks.

I am afraid that I have no genealogical information about the members of the House of David. You might try the House of David Museum.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on May 08, 2012:

Hi James. Another great hub. I had never heard of The house of David. So informative and well presented. voted up.


Tom Meldrim on May 07, 2012:


The link I was referring to that was on your site was the clip from the recent documentary. I was interviewed in the documentary.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 05, 2012:

Tom Meldrim— I find it amazing that you know the guy who ran the Back Door all those years ago. It's a Small World after all.

The link I had to the House of David Museum quit working so I deleted it. Not sure what was wrong there.

I would love to see you on some old film footage at the House of David. Do you have it?

I did go over and read your articles on trains and musical traditions. Well done! :D


Karen Syed on May 04, 2012:

I have been looking into the House of David and this is by far one of the most informative sites on the subject. It has been rumored in my family that at some point I had relatives who were members of the HoD community. I am doing genealogical research on my history, but cannot seem to find any records of who actually belonged on the community.

I really did enjoy all of the info and images.

Tom Meldrim on April 30, 2012:

Ted Kistler, who ran the Back Door has been owner manager of the New Vic Theater in Kalamazoo for over thirty years. They do a folk music retrospective there every couple of years.

Didn't you have a link to a clip of the documentary on your site before? I played it the last time on the site and saw myself on it.

I have a couple of articles on the trains and the musical traditions on the official HofD web site at

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 17, 2012:

Tom Meldrim— Thank you for your further correspondence. Are you a professor at WMU? I used to play a lot of frat parties up there back in the day. And we played many times at the Back Door and Coral Gables and Big Daddys.

I saw your New Town Cryers website. Very nice. I tried to listen to the music but it didn't work. You might want to check the links. I see there that you played at another of my old haunts—Fidelman's Resort in South Haven. We performed there many times, too.

I have never met anyone who knows as much about the House of David as you do. Maybe you should write a book about it. I do not know if you are aware of it but a documentary has recently been filmed about the HOD. Here are links to news about it and an accompanying new book:

The information you provided about Jewish tourists at Eden Springs is fascinating. Thank you for sharing that illuminating stuff.

I have never heard of the Idlewild Resort. I just read up on it and it is quite interesting.

I very much appreciate your remarkable remarks.


Tom Meldrim on April 04, 2012:

The first time I appeared on the HofD stage was at about 5 yrs old then later several times in a folk group called The Town Cryers who performed regularly at many resorts in SW Michigan and Northern Indiana in the 60’s and early 70’s.

In your picture of the Shiloh communal building (with the central round tower) - the second floor windows in the left corner tower I believe to be the apartment originally occupied by Benjamin and Mary when the building was finish in about 1908. I would assume they resided there until the move to Diamond House several years later. I was told this by a member years ago and have seen myself the special HofD religious iconography carved into the woodwork there which that is not present in other apartments.

The apartment is small – just a couple of rooms like the other apartments. As a communal society members spent most of their time elsewhere i.e. the communal parlor on the first floor, communal kitchens and dining rooms in the basement, business office suite in the Cash House Annex or in other parts of the colony.

In regard to other entertainment facilities I can provide you with a download link to pictures of the Australian Colony, the McAllen Texas resort and also the Buena Vista motel and nightclub complex they operated in nearby Stevensville closer to Lake Michigan.

I do not know of any other pictures from the Australia Colony other than those I donated to the archives at the Benton Harbor Public Library some years ago or those still in my possession. Many people are aware that earlier Christian Israelite Churches from which the House of David drew many members were located in Australia but few know that the House of David also had a colony of its own there.

A few thoughts on the early days of Eden Springs –

In the old days tourists came by the thousands to the twin cities from Chicago and other metropolitan areas. Many tourists – especially Jewish tourists, came on lake steamers to the municipal docks, hopped a Britain Ave. city trolley to the House of David, boarded the miniature trains at the north depot and rode them around to the south depot, then rented a room at the park hotel or one of the cabins for a week or two. They could eat their meals at the park restaurant and take advantage of the many entertainments in the park including riding the trains, bowling, boating, swimming and diving, posing for pictures, visiting the zoo and greenhouse, buying souvenirs, consuming ice cream and confectionaries, as well as watching sporting events, early moving pictures, various musical performances and vaudeville acts. Guests could also imbibe.

Tourism was a big industry in that neighborhood going back to the 1800’s it was a popular vacation destination for urban Jews. When the Eden Springs Park first opened there were still numerous boarding houses within walking distance the catered to Jewish tourists and many of them also spent a lot of time in the park and ate their meals in the vegetarian restaurant there. In later years the City of David also catered to a primarily Jewish tourist clientele with kosher food, a synagogue and the kosher hospital.

I imagine that the early Eden Springs Park played a role for Jewish guests similar to that played for African Americans years later by the Idlewild Resort further north: it was a place where people who were often discriminated against could escape racial/cultural tensions. The neighborhood’s historic Jewish resort tradition, the affinity and sympathy of the accommodating Christian Israelites to Jewish history and traditions and even the physical resemblance of colony members to Hasidic Jews all contributed to an atmosphere where Jewish tourists could relax and enjoy themselves.

Many of the “facts” about the House of David today are hard to substantiate. Much of it sprang from an oral tradition whose early purveyors are no longer available. Information has been lost, changed or invented in the process. Like the bible once things finally get written down they are assumed to be facts. Among these are many I have not myself seen hard evidence to support including: the Disney connection; invention of the sugar cone; the banishment of members to High Island; HofD Vaudeville Band recordings. I had relatives on both sides of the sexual accusations in the 20s and 30s but no proof exists that any of it took place – much heat but little light.

I am currently studying the new 1940 census raw data release and have already identified the pertinent House and City of David member records which should keep me entertained for a while.

Good luck with the work on your book

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 30, 2012:

Tom Meldrim— Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I must say, you are the most learned man about House of David history from which I have heard. I appreciate your thoughtful and insightful commentary. And I apologize for not responding sooner; I have been away from HubPages for a week working on my first book.

I am well pleased that you enjoyed my Hub. I am amazed that you played on the House of David stage as well. What was the name of your group? I might have seen you there.

Your reflections on the communal buildings at the House of David compound are fascinating and illuminating. I had no idea that "The small cottages were originally built for tourists." I had friends who lived in those in the early 1980s.

I do not recall where I got the information about the High Island stone quarry. I got all my information from the internet, where I found maybe a dozen articles about the House of David, including a few old newspaper articles, and from conversations with my father, who was quite a House of David buff.

I will make the correction on the photograph I misidentified as Judge Dewhurst. It was good of you to educate me on that score, too.

I did know the colony had a strong connection with Australia but the McAllen, Texas part is news to me.

I do not have any particular information about a House of David hospital.

The story of Walt Disney buying one of the trains is mentioned on quite a few websites. I cannot substantiate it.

Your point about longevity is well taken. I had not thought of that angle. I learned much from your remarks. Thanks again for contributing to my knowledge and that of my other readers.


Tom Meldrim on March 23, 2012:

I enjoyed your article very much. I too played on the House of David stage several times but in the 60’s. Too bad there isn’t a forum for folk who want to discuss HofD history, etc.

A few reflections:

- The large communal buildings at the House of David compound – The Ark Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Shiloh and the Diamond House were just that – communal buildings. At no time in the history of the colony did Benjamin and Mary have exclusive use of any of these buildings – they just had apartments like everyone else. In the case of their last residence, Diamond House, they did occupy most of a wing but in all cases other members of the colony co-occupied buildings with them. The small cottages were originally built for tourists although members did live in them in the winter months. In later years after Ben’s death and Mary’s exit members did live in them year around as did renters. The same was, and still is true at the City of David.

- Regarding House of David business – To my knowledge High Island was used for logging and farming. That it was used as a stone quarry by the House of David is news to me. I know that there was a promontory in the West middle of the island but have never seen any pictures of stone outcrops. I believe the promontory was a dune. Did you recall where you got that information? Also Judge Dewhurst was never overweight. The picture of the interior of the cold storage plant depicts his son Tom Dewhurst who was heavy set. Tom was one of the baseball players and later the manager of the cold storage plant. After all the original colony governing pillars were dead he was general manager for many years. The House of David also operated a resort in McCallen, TX and had an auxiliary colony in Australia that had, among other things a big equestrian riding academy and a shopping center (I have pictures if you are interested). While the House of David did have a dental office I don’t recall that they ran a hospital. For a short time the City of David did maintain a kosher hospital as it's clientele was mostly jewish. I would be interested in what you might have on a House of David hospital. The mineral water from the Springs in the valley were originally bottled by the Eastman Springs company who operated a resort in the 1800’s from which both Eden Springs and the City of David were later created. I have seen no evidence that it was the first bottling operation in the country. The most famous springs ended up on City of David property and I have seen direct evidence of a bottled water operation there. I have not seen evidence of like operation at the House of David.

- Regarding the miniature trains - I have never been able to substantiate the story about Walt Disney purchasing one of the House of David trains. Of the older Cagney style engines that were sold off after the new prairie style engines were built in the 1940s I was able to track down a couple that were broken up for parts that were incorporated into several 12” gauge engines at the St. Louis Train club and at least one that ended up hauling apples at a large fruit farm. The train that was exhibited at the HofD museum for several years was claimed to be one of the originals but I never saw supporting evidence. The Cagney Engine works made thousands of these engines in the 1800s and early 1900s. The Cagney style engine currently being used on the new south track at Eden Springs is the same model/vintage as the original one the House of David bought at the St. Louis World’s Fair and, I was told, also came from the fair. If you know of any hard evidence about the Disney story I would love to know. I do know the Walt was a park train nut and had an extensive park train system at his home, 12” gauge - not 15” gauge like the House of David system.

- Longevity – years ago I manually loaded the original hand written 1910 and 1920 census information into a database along with cemetery and death records on House of David members. Although they were vegetarians and lead healthy lives there is no evidence that they lived longer than the general population. It only seems so because most people are only familiar with the last remaining members which, of course, were long lived.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 21, 2012:

editorsupremo-- Yea, King Ben was very good at taking care of King Ben. :-)

I am glad you enjoyed my Hub and appreciated the pictures.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article. I look forward to reading your writings, which I will do ASAP.


editorsupremo from London, England on March 21, 2012:

Very interesting hub. I had not heard of this sect before reading your hub. King Ben was a very clever man by all accounts as he made sure he satisfied his sexual appetite to the detriment of his followers. But how could they be so fooled by him? Amazing pics!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 05, 2012:

stars439— Happy New Year!

Thank you for visiting my Hub. I appreciate you recognizing how interesting the pictures are. I am thankful for your compliments, my friend. You always uplift my spirit with your words of encouragement.

God Bless You!

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on January 03, 2012:

A wonderful hub, and so many fantastic pictures of interesting people of the past. Quite and education as is all your work. Impressive as usual, and awesome. God Bless You Brother, and wishing you, and your family a wonderful 2012.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 11, 2011:

djhsdhj— Thank you! Thank you very much. :)

djhsdhj on December 07, 2011:

i'm 9 what is this?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 13, 2011:

Ask_DJ_Lyons— You are quite welcome, young lady. :)

Thank you very much for the kind comments and the voted up! I do appreciate it.


Ask_DJ_Lyons from Mosheim, Tennessee on October 10, 2011:

This was a fascinating hub, James. The pictures and videos really enhanced it. Thank you for you sharing! I voted this up.

Best wishes,

Debbie aka DJ Lyons

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 15, 2011:

Hyphenbird— Thank you very much for reading my articles. I appreciate your thoughtful remarks, too.

I have long felt that the story of The House of David is utterly fascinating. It is strange and perhaps somewhat sinister but at the same time they were incredibly successful at being self-sufficient.

Yes, people always have been susceptible to crazy cults and they still are. I mean, look at Jonestown or the Heaven's Gate Cult.

I am glad you enjoyed the pictures. I have very fond memories of this place from growing up near it as a boy. It was magical then.

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 13, 2011:

I am forever amazed how people just give their lives and families over to an obvious egomaniac. I had no knowledge of these people or this cult. They built a virtual kingdom. And to think people still fall for these evil cults today makes me very sad. The desire for a spiritual live opens one up to Satan the devil if one does not know the truth. Wow, just wow! You have written a marvelous Hub here, informational and educational. I was saddened about your babysitter. The pictures were a great addition and made the entire account come to life.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 12, 2011:

Molly Currey— You are quite welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I really appreciate your gracious compliments.

I agree with you that there was an incredible and mysterious ambiance about the House of David Park and Beer Gardens. My rock and roll band, White Summer, was the last group to ever play on the stage at the Beer Gardens.

I met quite a few of the members of the House of David over the years. A couple of them used to come down to my family's business, Rex Auto Parts, to buy automotive parts—one of the very few things they could not manufacture themselves.

I have heard that some folks are trying to revive the place. I drove through the grounds this summer to take a look.

molly Currey on September 10, 2011:

Such a wonderful article James, thank you for bringing back so many memories of my childhood. I grew up not a mile from the House of David and the fun of going to the park on Wednesday amateur nite in the beer garden were memories I'll never forget. When the circus came to town, they put up their tents in the HofD ball park . There was an ambiance about the place...train rides through dark lush woods and exciting things to see and do. What great times those were. Visited recently to see they are trying to revive interest in the place and hope they are successful. Thanks for a very nostalgic read.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 30, 2011:

Carolyn— Yes, I surely agree with you. Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I appreciate your comments. :)

Carolyn on August 28, 2011:

Ben was indeed a bad, but rich, businessman. The poor children!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 03, 2011:

betty— Hello! You are welcome. Thank you for visiting my Hub and sharing your interesting comments. I do not have such a list. I would recommend contacting the House of David Museum:

betty on August 01, 2011:

Hi, James. I wanted to tell you that my great grandmother was said to be a member of this church. I just yesterday found out that she was supposedly a member and wondered if you have a list of the congregation. Appreciate any information and thanks for the article.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on July 30, 2011:

fahsion— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :D

fashion on July 30, 2011:

Interesting hub.Really enjoyed it.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on July 27, 2011:— You are welcome. I appreciate the kind compliment.

Yes, the colony did do well and they were self-sufficient. I am glad you enjoyed the story. Thank you very much for taking the time to read it.

j on July 26, 2011:

I have to agree with DeBorrah K. Ogans - however, the group after k. David seems to have done quite well for themselves - too bad they did not have children.

You told a great story and I thank you


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 06, 2011:

gina— Really!? You saw us jamming! Awesome. There is a little box on this page (upper right) where you can "contact me" (send me an email it means). I would like to know your full name or who you hung out with so I can see if I remember you. How did you find this article?

By the way: thank you very much for your gracious note.

gina on June 05, 2011:

wow...great storyteller! i have read alot about house of david and this was quite surely one of the best and informative reads!! thank you so much! and...i remember hearing your band play at the sweet cherry resort when i was younger,rock on!!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 03, 2011:

RichardCMckeown— Thank you for saying so. And you are welcome.

RichardCMckeown on June 02, 2011:

I like the article. Thanks for sharing.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 26, 2011:

Stan Faryna— I have bookmarked your page and I will come over during a quiet time to read it and share my thoughts with you about it. I made myself a note to do so as I am forgetful in my old age. Thanks for the link.

I am gratified to read your comments about my article. You perceive it to be exactly what I was shooting for and I thank you for letting me know I hit the mark. It is a mixed message, to be sure. I appreciate the visit and your kind compliments.

Stan Faryna on May 24, 2011:

What a fascinating account of an American cult. Normally, I don't like a mixed message. The moral paradox of evil and prosperity, wonder and horror, and, yes- perhaps also, envy and contempt. But you've written this well and, strangely, without a moral or emotion. Creepy and yet sublime in cool, James...

I'd like to share my novel on the end times with you. I'm working on it, but the sketch starts here:

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 04, 2011:

Laura Minne— You are quite welcome. The House of David is a most interesting subject for both of us, and for many others I see.

I am not aware of King Ben actually killing anybody. I hope that was not the case. I am not familiar with the video you mentioned. I'll have to look that up.

I will look for your book. I would like to read it. Thank you for writing to me. I appreciate your insightful comments.

Laura Minne on May 01, 2011:

Thank you for this article..I can't seem to get enough information on the HOD. My great great grandmother lived with her son Frank (artist) at the HOD, giving up the family fortune. Looking at the HOD Serenadars Video I gasped because one of the pictures shown as part of a poster was the same photograph of a women that I have had for years and did not know who it was. It may be my great great aunt who i was told was killed by King Ben. There is no record of her name though in the Berrien County.

I am just finishing Eden Springs--fictional account with some non fiction included.

So thank you again for writing this.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 16, 2011:

AnnCee— Thank you for taking the time to read my Hub. I appreciate your comment. My, what blue eyes you have!

AnnCee from United States on March 14, 2011:

Wow, fascinating. Never had heard of this at all!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2011:

scouty— You are surely welcome. It was my pleasure to write about The House of David. Great anticipation is right! You took me back and I felt that memory. A mysterious place run by mysterious people. What a treasure!

I am so glad you found my article and let me know you enjoyed it. As a writer, this is an ultimate joy for me.

scouty on March 01, 2011:

Thank you for doing this story! I have only vague, but warm memories of the House of David from the early and mid sixties when I was 5+ years old. We would drive from the Chicago area in the summer to enjoy the park. I remember the walk up the wide ramp with great anticipation, the strange men with long hair who operated the place, the train ride and the old go-karts that I fell asleep driving as I sat in my Dad's lap while steering.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 12, 2011:

Writing_Wine— This story is not well known to those outside my home area. Interesting, though, isn't it?

Thank you for the accocades. Makes a man feel good. :D

I look forward to reading your writings. Welcome to the Hub Pages Community!

Writing_Wine from San Francisco Bay Area on January 11, 2011:

Wow! A piece of US History that I was completely unaware of, told from an insiders insight. Fantastic hub. Fabulous read! Glad I stumbled across you! Can't wait to read more of your work.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 04, 2011:

Hello "ModelT" aka GreatGrandma Miller! My mother's maiden name is Miller. Her daddy's name was Grover.

I am so glad you liked my article (Hub). Your post is fascinating indeed. I especially liked the cablegram you provided the link for. Extraordinary!

The baseball players and Kalabarians were very interesting too. Thank you for all of that.

I don't know where Mary is buried but could more than likely find out. I was just up there last weekend and drove through and around the House of David and City of David.

I am well pleased that you found my Hub. Thanks again for the correspodence and you are quite welcome!


ModelT on January 04, 2011:

Dear James---What they all said!! ( So sorry about Janet )

I was squealing like a little girl when your Hub came up on my Google Image search for the HOD (#2)

It was my 3rd serendipitious squeal since a week ago, when I was roaming “Rootsweb World Connect“ looking for dead people to play with and I finally found more info on my

GreatGrandfather's older brother.


Birth: 1832 in London England

Christening: 23 Jan 1833 St, Leonard's Shoreditch Middlesex England



This was all I knew…but thanks to “peggsun“ I discovered he had immigrated to Australia and then led 15 members of his family to the HOD at Benton MI in 1905!!!! (He had 8 children so I guess he’d “been there/done that” so what’s a little celibacy!)

Cablegram Oct 3 1904

WHO KNEW!! His parents John and Jane S Bulley are buried in ABNEY PARK

in London Eng. the “non-conformist Cemetery….but William Bulley took non-conformistism to new heights.


pages 13, 14, 15, 16 (Geelong, Melbourne, Collingwood, Fitzroy)

Colony members, William George Bulley's sons;



and Edmond Bulley

played for the House of David Baseball Team

Déjà vu All Over Again!

Two of MY Uncles (Bulley side) joined “The Kabalarians”

in Vancouver BC c. 1947 Leader Ivon Shearing 1997 :(

Two of THEIR Uncles had to flee to Oregon from Victoria BC in 1903 when they led a Union steamship strike against the Canadian Pacific! (“Don’t spit into the wind, Don’t tug on Superman’s cape”)

Note: The other side of my Mother’s Family were also missing for 100 years and I found them about 2 years ago also living in Michigan. One even “invented the internet” (no, not Al…but he never claimed he did….he introduced the Bill!) that I’ve used to find all you awesome people living and dead!


Celibacy? HOD Amusement Park existed and WDL/WDW exist because of the amazing little human beings produced by the Anti-celibates……Hip Hip Hurray!! OK, I know none of our Mommies and Daddies ever did THAT! ;)

Questions--Do you know if the Bulleys went with Mary and where would they have been buried?

Thank You for your amazing HOD history.

Sincerely, GreatGrandma Miller

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 18, 2010:

Edward Scwartz— Thank you for this great note. I too have many fond memories of the House of David. I have been in those little cottages, too. I appreciate this visit and your comments.

Edward Schwartz on December 17, 2010:

Back in the 1940s our whole family,grn parents aunts,cousins would go to the House of David for two weeks evey summer.We all stayed in little cottages.We traveled from Chicago via South Shore train,than took the Bluebird bus that stopped in front of the HD restaurant. Lots of fond memiores.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 20, 2010:

Larry Jackson— Welcome to my Hub! It is a pleasure to meet another person who has actually been to the House of David, and shares lovely memories of it with me. I guess it was 1960 the first time my dad took me there. It was magic. Like no place else on earth that I have experienced since even.

Thank you for visiting and sharing your memories. I appreciate it very much.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 20, 2010:

Coming of Age— No, it hasn't. That's a darned good question though.

Larry Jackson on November 20, 2010:

I was doing research on King David and ran across this write up. What memories it brought back. As a child in the 1950s I remember my dad and family going to the House of David park. I dove my first ever car there. The minature cars were driven by the riders with no guiding track to keep you going in the right direction. For a ten year old it was great fun. It would be a wish to still see this facinating place still open as it was fun entertainment for all.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 19, 2010:

kirky— You are most welcome. I am well pleased to hear from a fellow Benton Harborite. I was around the House of David during the same era as you. It was magical!

Thank you for reading my article. It was my pleasure to put it together. Feel free to come back as often as you like. Tell your friends too! :D

Coming of Age from Rocky Mountains on November 19, 2010:

I don't suppose your research has given you any insight as to where the missing money might be?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 19, 2010:

Denise Handlon— No one I admire more than a nurse. Thank you for all you do to alleviate suffering and anxiety among the sick.

Your folks may have heard of the House of David. It isn't a well known story outside of my hometown but I find it a fascinated story on many levels.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I also appreciate your kind compliments. :-)

kirky on November 19, 2010:

I grew up in BH, thanks for the nice story and history. We frequented the HOD park for pony rides and arcade (penny) value.

The train whistle could be heard from our house. This was in the 63-70 era. We did not know of the sex issues back then or at least we were to young to hear about it.

I remember climbing in the little stone replica house and the bowling alleys, all neat stuff from my child hood. Thanks for posting. I will now read it again and again.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 18, 2010:

Wow, wow, wow! I grew up in Michigan (east side) and never heard of the House of David, nor do I recall my parents mentioning it. I wish they were still alive so I could ask them about it. What a fascinating bit of history. I'm so glad I happened to catch it highlighted as a feature story.

You're an excellent writer. I'm amazed that you were involved at the level that you wonder you wanted to write about it in high school and now. What a piece of life story!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 18, 2010:

Kathy Hall— Thank you! I have fond memories of the House of David, too. Tons of them.

It is a pleasure to receive your comments. Thank you for reading my article. And you are welcome. :)

Kathy Hall on November 18, 2010:

What a thoughtful summary of the House of David. I have fond memories of the train rides, ice cream cones and penny arcade games from my youth. Many of us from that era recall the faint sound of their train horns at night. Thanks for the remembrances.

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