Seaman: A small town with a big heart and a family spirit


By Patricia Beech – 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about any small town is that everyone knows everyone, but in the quiet rural town of Seaman, people take it one step further – they’re not only familiar and neighborly, they’re family.
“The people in this community have a deep connection to one another,” says Lisa Toole, whose parents moved to the area five decades ago. “If anyone has a setback the entire community steps up to help out and lift them up in any manner needed, whether its monetary or just to show them that they are part of the community family.”
Michael Parks, the Pastor of Church 180, agrees that the town’s greatest asset is its people.
“There’s no question about it – it is the people that make Seaman such a special community,” he says. “They’re good-hearted and down-to-earth, they always look out for one another and help each other out.”
Lions Club member Patty Wilmoth, who also serves as Treasurer for the Friends of the Seaman Library, says she finds it surprising that so many young people choose to remain in the town.
“People will drive miles and miles to work because they want to live here – that’s really kind of amazing,” she says. “I suppose it’s because they prefer living in a rural area rather than in a city.”
Angelina Newman, a mother of three whose family has lived in the village for three generations, says it’s a good community to raise a family.
“It’s an excellent place for kids to grow up,” she says. “There’s not a lot of crime like you would find in a city. We have our problems, but basically, it’s a very safe community.”
Founded nearly 130 years ago at the confluence of a dirt road and the Cincinnati & Eastern Railway line, the village was named for Frank Seaman, a wealthy farmer who donated two acres of land for the construction of a railroad depot – on the condition that the new station be called Seaman.
Set in the heart of a prosperous farming community, the little town grew quickly. Men and women of independent energetic spirit built thriving businesses, and as the village prospered and the population grew a post office, a bank, several churches, and a school were added as the town’s borders expanded. The village was incorporated in 1913.
“This is a young town compared to the other villages in the county that were founded in the early 1800’s,” says Jim Young, who ran the local IGA grocery store for 40 years. “It’s not a very big town, and there’s not a lot going on, but it’s home, and that’s what makes it special.”
Every year in late September the residents of the town and surrounding community come together to celebrate their annual Fall Festival – an event first sponsored by the Norfolk & Western Railway company 104 years ago. Months of planning by the town’s Fair Board precedes the four-day long festivities.
“We pretty much pull off a miracle every year putting on the festival,” says David Zimmerman. “We’ve got a pretty efficient system set up, but it takes a lot of planning and a lot of scheduling.”
As with most small town festivals, the center of the village is cordoned off and Main Street is filled with street food vendors, carnival rides, games, and information booths – all surrounding a central stage where folks gather to watch pageants, competitions, and entertainers perform. White vendor’s canopies line the sidewalks in the park on the east side of Main Street where long lines form next to the shelter house where the Lions Club members set up their popular cafeteria.
“The festival is a tradition in our community,” says Toole. “It gives us an opportunity to meet up and catch up on old time and memories.
The festival is also a celebration of the people’s ties to the land and to agriculture.
” Seaman is a strong farming community,” says Lions Club member Doug McClellan. “That’s why we have the Tractor Pulls during the festival. People here are proud of their agricultural heritage.”
Ernie Butts oversees the festival Tractor Pulls which feature a wide variety of tractors of all sizes driven by both children and adults. Crowds gather on the bleachers and along the fence on the west side of the track to cheer on the competitors as they attempt to pull heavier and heavier loads.
“The festival is kind of like a homecoming,” says Butts, as he watches a young man on a small tractor pulling a slab of concrete over the hard pressed track. “People that graduated and moved away to work and get married enjoy coming back and seeing everyone again.”
Farming is an essential part of the fabric of the Seaman community. While the family farms that were once a common feature of Adams County’s landscape have faded away, agriculture remains a treasured way of life for folks in the Seaman area. Before there was a railroad or a town, there were farmers who with their hands and hearts cleared the land and tilled the soil.
John McCormick, whose family owns a 208 year-old farm, says the people are devoted and firmly rooted in their agricultural heritage.
“The oldest farm in Ohio is located here in Seaman,” he says. “It was deeded to John Smiley by the king of England in 1774, and it still remains in their family today.”
He says he believes his own family has held onto their farm because agriculture has become the predominant feature of their history.
“My brother and I are the seventh generation to live on the farm,” he says. “Once you reach the point where it’s been in the family generation after generation, it’s just a natural thing to be interested in keeping it going.”
McCormick is also somewhat of a local history buff. He points out the large heritage billboard that stands in the center of town. It is a photographic panorama of scenes from the village’s past, and in the lower right hand corner stands a lone enigmatic figure – Stephen Kelley, the town’s local historian and author of the Lores, Legends, and Landmarks column that appeared weekly in The People’s Defender.
“It’s all right there, the history of our little town, and we’re all so glad that Stephen Kelley was included in it – it was unbelievable the amount of knowledge he had, not just about Seaman, but the whole county.”
John Newman, a local farmer and FFA teacher at North Adams High School, says that the town’s agricultural community is uniquely close-knit and supportive.
“If someone is sick or hurt, or if there’s a death in the family – the local farming families and businesses are always willing to help out and lend a hand when it’s needed.”
Bud Semple, who owns a farm situated between Seaman and Winchester, agrees with Newman.
“A couple of years ago one of our local farmers passed away unexpectedly,” he said. “Half-a-dozen farmers came together and used their combines to harvest the family’s crops, others brought wagons and trucks – everyone pitched in, that’s just what happens when someone gets hurt or something bad like that happens – everyone pitches in.”
Semple’s wife, Margaret, who taught math at NAHS, comes from a long line of farmers. She says she believes a farm is an excellent place to raise kids and teach them a strong work ethic.
“I raised my four children on our farm, they were all active in sports, and they all had responsibilities on the farm, so they didn’t have a lot of time to get into trouble,” she laughs. “Even when they came home from college on the weekends, they knew they had to work on the farm.”
In the 12 decades since the village was founded, it has undergone many changes. In its earliest days fires were often the drivers of that change, but so was progress.
In 1915 an enterprising young mechanic named C.O. Garrett began construction of a power plant in the town. He set poles along the main streets, and despite the townspeople’s skepticism, he successfully brought electricity to the fledgling village. In the years that followed The Seaman Electric Light & Power Plant would branch out to become the sole provider of electrical power for Adams, Brown, Highland, and Scioto Counties.
Village Council member Bob Wright, whose family settled in Adams County in 1797, was the founder and owner of the WC Milling Company. After graduating from high school he left his hometown to find work.
“I became a barber in Cincinnati, I got married in Cincinnati, I spent seven years there and hated every minute of it, so I decided to move back home because my roots are pretty deep here,” he says. “The thing I like about Seaman is that it’s a laid-back town – nothing big and exciting happens here, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re going to have to go somewhere else to find it.”
Wright says he believes the changes that have occurred in his hometown in recent years were driven by the presence of the Appalachian Highway.
“We don’t have the businesses in town we once had,” he says. “I can remember when there was a doctor’s office, a dentist’s office, five grocery stores, three or four filling stations, and a pharmacy – all those businesses were here, but as time goes on progress changes things. When I started in the feed business in 1973 there were 10 mills in Adams County, today there’s only three. It’s like everything else got bigger, and you had to get bigger too, or get out. They call that progress. I don’t always agree with it but there’s not much a little guy can do about it.”
Wright points to the Lions Club Park as an example of how the town has improved in recent years. “It’s one of the nicest things about the whole town,” he says.
Sue Fulton, who has lived in Seaman since 1977 agrees. “It is such an asset to community,” she says. “My children and my grandchildren have used this park, it’s been wonderful to have it here – it’s definitely one of the highlights of our town.”
The park was created through the efforts of the local Lions Club members who bought and developed the property in four sections over a 20-year period. Using grant funding and donations, they built a shelter house, a play ground, a gazebo, sidewalks, benches, and picnic tables for the community to use.
Club member David Zimmerman designed the park’s centerpiece – a monument to the village’s former red brick elementary school and yellow brick high school – both of which were demolished when the new schools were built.
“I don’t take credit for it, don’t need credit for it,” he says. “I saw something similar to it in a Lion’s Club Magazine, and that’s where I got the idea.”
Zimmerman was born in the Seaman area, but spent most of his adult life working in Florida before retiring and returning to his hometown. He says the greatest changes he sees in the town have occurred in the area around the Appalachian Highway. “That area has been developed, but not much has changed in the town itself, except for the park and the schools.”
Praise for the local school is nearly universal among community members. “It’s a good place for kids to go to school – we have excellent teachers, a really good music program, and agricultural classes,” says Angelina Newman. “There is a lot of parental involvement in the PTO, in sports, in the choir, and in FFA.”
“We have the best school in the district,” says Jade Osman, a former fifth grade teacher at the elementary. “Our teachers and principals do a great job with the kids.”
McClellan says that many of the changes Seaman has experienced came as a shock to him. “Whoever would have thought we would have the hospital out here, and all the businesses and restaurants on the edge of town, I would never have dreamed that would happen.”
While he acknowledges that the changes have been impressive, he says he doesn’t think the town proper will experience that level of progress.
“Adams County is growing, and there are a lot of people trying to buy property here, but they aren’t especially looking to buy in the village.”
In the eyes of a newcomer, like Keith Robinson, the minister of the Seaman Church of Christ, who grew up in South Bend, Indiana – a city of 110,000 people – life in the village is a unique experience.
“It was quite an adjustment at first,” he says. “Seaman has such a small town feel and the people who have lived here for a long time are very interconnected – they know what’s going on and they look out for each other, and there’s something about that kind of genuine interest in the well-being others that you can’t necessarily get in a larger community – it’s a very appealing quality.”