Seville, a giant little village: Ohio Tiny Towns
Seville, a giant little village: Ohio Tiny Towns
SEVILLE, Ohio – Seville is a tiny village that does things in a big, big way.
Besides being the home of two literal giants, Capt. Martin Van Buren Bates (7 feet, 9 inches tall) and his wife, Anna Haining Bates, (7 feet, 11 inches tall), the village has other things to brag about.
Foremost is the annual village-wide yard sale June 15 and 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., which attracts tens of thousands of people from surrounding states to the village – which has a population of only 2,282. It’s been going on for at least 45 years, though no one is quite sure how or when it started.
While shoppers are in town, they might get lucky and find a seat at the American Heritage restaurant, which opened as a dry goods store in 1829. Or they could stop in at the “Barber of Seville,” a tonsorial artist (barber) shop that has been around under various names and owners since 1868.
And, if anyone wants to bring a piece of history home with them, check out the antique shops in the heart of downtown, including the Seville Antique Mall, which carries only “primitive” antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the antiques date back to the 1700s.
Not bad for a village of 2.6 square miles, most of it rolling farmland.
Patty Martens, a member of the village’s historical society, hopes that visitors take a few minutes to visit the town museum, stocked with dozens of exhibits, including life-sized statues of the Bates and a pair of Captain Bates’ shoes. They also tell tales of the Confederate officer’s life in the town.
“They moved here in 1871 because Anna had tuberculosis and her doctor told her to live near fresh water,” explain Martens. “Since Chippewa Lake is just up the road, and they were able to buy a large farm here, they moved in and lived here until they died.”
The couple, along with one of their two sons that died just hours after birth, are buried in the town cemetery under a statue of a beautiful woman, which Martin Bates commissioned after his wife’s death. The other son is buried in London, England, where he was born and where his parents were married with Queen Victoria among the wedding guests.
There are many stories about Martin Bates’ time in Seville; far fewer about Anna, who died in 1889 at the age of 42. After Anna’s death, Bates married the five foot, four inch, Annette LaVonne Weatherby. Martin died in 1919 at age 74 and had a reputation of being a bit of a scallywag and rather demanding.
They still talk about the time two brothers, apparently unhappy with a horse Bates sold them, attacked the big man with a pipe while he was getting a haircut in the village barber shop.
Or the story about men gathered in the dry goods store arguing about how strong the retired captain was.
“Usually, people could hear the hoofbeats of his huge horse as he sped into town,” said Martens. “But this time they did not. He walked into the dry goods store just as the owner said if Bates could lift the barrel of sugar (which weighed between 350 and 500 pounds, depending on the storyteller), he could have it. The captain walked right over and picked it up with ease. He later returned and asked if there were any other heavy barrels of goods he could have.”
The Bates’ original house with its massive, 14-foot high ceilings, burned down many years ago, but Mary Lou Mack, who bought the land decades ago, points to the barn which was built by Bates. The name “MV Bates 1883” can still be seen on the barn’s roof, in giant letters of course.
“When we first moved in (in 1977) there was a man up the road who was a child when the captain lived here,” she said. “He said he was always nice to him and used to pick him up and let him ride on his shoulders, which must have been something to see.”
She said the previous owner of her farm did not like visitors and did his best to discourage people from stopping. Mack said she does not mind when people stop to look at the barn.
“It’s not in very good condition,” Mack said. “The roof needs repair and so does the interior. You can see the giant doors he had built so he could go in and out. And you can see the barred holding area he had for wild animals he owned and the ones that visiting circus people would bring here.”
The couple were friends with showman P.T. Barnum and traveled with the Cole Brothers circus for several years in the early 1880s.
Even though the Bates leave a large footprint on the village, the local folks want people to know there are many other reasons to drive off the beaten path of Interstate 71 onto Route 3 and visit their town.
Located about 9 miles south of Medina and 16 miles east of Wooster, the village pops out after miles of rolling farmland. Its “downtown” is little more than a half dozen streets that cross Main Street.
Most of the buildings date back more than a hundred years, back to the time when Seville was part of the Interurban streetcar system that connected hundreds of Ohio towns. People could take the electric streetcars from Cleveland through Seville and all the way to Columbus in the early 1900s. The system was later deactivated as more people bought cars.
The historical society sometimes offers village tours to groups, telling the history of the town that was founded in 1816 by an enterprising New Englander named Henry Hosmer on the confluence of two creeks, the Chippewa and the Hubbard.
“We invite people to come by once just to visit us, and we know they will be back,” said Velvet Eby, another local historian and owner of Velvet’s W. Main Street Framing. “We’re very proud of our little town.”
Eby’s shop is just a few doors down from the “Barber of Seville” where Sandy Haines has been cutting hair since 2017. Given half a chance, she loves to talk about the shop’s history.
“I’m the tenth barber to own the shop since it opened in 1868,” she said. “And the first one to name it ‘Barber of Seville,’ which amazes me. This shop has never closed. Jungle Larry (animal trainer Larry Tetzlaff) used to come here and so did Captain Bates. You heard about the time he was beaten up by two brothers over a horse deal? That was right here.”
Pictures of customers sporting a wide variety of haircuts fill the walls of the shop where Haines lathers up Gary Fowls of Chippewa Lake for an old-fashioned shave.
The American Heritage Restaurant is famous for its food and the homemade pies, baked fresh every day.
“It opened as a restaurant in the late 1930s, though it had been a dry goods store since 1829,” said Dawn Holland, who has owned the restaurant with her husband Robert, since 2001. “It was most famous from the 1940s through the 1960s when it was owned by Ruth Tisher and called the ‘American Peace’ restaurant.”
“Tisher ran a very fancy place,” she said. “The waitresses wore white dresses and the tables were covered in fine, white linen tablecloths. Tisher used to play classical music the piano as people dined. It was cited for outstanding service by Duncan Hines in the 1950s.”
The restaurant went through several owners, and was closed for five years, but remains the most famous restaurant in town.
The village also sponsors special events during the year including the July 12 “Tiki Time Ladies Night” to benefit the Medina County Battered Women’s Shelter; the Sept. 15 “Seville Spa-cation” featuring a “day of pampering” and the Nov. 10 “Christmas Preview,” with shop sales, tree lighting and food.
But the one night that Martens looks forward to is Oct. 20, the “Seville Spooktacular” when local folks dress up in anticipation of Halloween.
“We figured adults should have fun too, not just kids,” she said. “Last year a friend and I went as the two wives of Captain Bates. My friend went as the giant Anna and I went at the Captain’s second wife,” she said. “A local couple go dressed up as Ruth Tisher and her husband and stood outside the restaurant, talking about what it was like in those days. We want to encourage people to do more of that.”
Mainly, Martens just wants everyone to know that Seville is a quiet, peaceful place on the road less traveled that offers some relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Ohio Tiny Towns is an occasional series that looks at small villages and townships in the state that are off the beaten path. Have a suggestion for a town worthy of the tiny town treatment? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.