Marshall, Michigan has been home to a number of prominent citizens since Sidney Ketchum founded the Midwestern settlement over 170 years ago: Sam Hill surveyed the state's Great Lakes; Thomas O'Brien was an ambassador to Denmark, Japan and later Italy; Abner Pratt and Clarke Hovey were members of the state legislature as senator and representative, respectively; William D. Boyce, the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, owned a summerhouse in Marshall; Isaac Crary and John Pierce forged Michigan's public school system under an oak tree; and merchant Jeremiah Cronin Jr. built a house.
The majestic Italianate structure was built in 1872 and its ominous size - we're told the house's mansard-roofed tower rises sixty feet, the highest point in town - and attractive interior reflected the status of the Cronin family in Marshall. For decades it caught the eye of city visitor and resident alike - including a young John Bellairs.
Born in 1938 - and eventually the oldest of three children born to Frank and Virginia - young John found historic houses and buildings such as the Cronin House all throughout his hometown and encountered them daily walking to and from school, visiting the library, spending time with family, and attending Mass at church. Overweight, often alone, and yet a highly imaginative child, John found familiarity and comfort in these locations, and would often escape into fantasized adventures during his explorations around town.
A voracious reader in his youth, by his teenage years John had made new friends by joining Boy Scout Troop 122 and by moving from parochial to public school, where he was active in journalism and the Latin and Chess clubs. In 1955, John graduated from high school...and the sky was the limit.
Growing up in this environment deeply affected John, who would go on to combine these detailed and cherished sights and sounds into a series of beloved adventures later in his life. John turned his hometown and memories of growing up into a series of successful stories beginning in 1973 with The House with a Clock in its Walls, the first adventure in what would go on to become the twelve-book Lewis Barnavelt series. Lewis lives and plays in New Zebedee, Michigan, whose houses, fountains, museums, and parks went on to inspire fan and bookstore owner Ann LaPietra to create a walking tour of John’s inspirations.
Marshall returned the honor in 1992, installing a dual historical marker honoring both the Cronin House and Bellairs.