September 5, 2012
LIMA ‚?? James M. Sealts started in the wholesale grocery business and would continue in that vein his entire life.
Sealts was born to Manley J. and Christiana M. Sealts and first worked as a grocer in Mansfield. In 1883, he sold out his half of that business to his partner and came to Lima, according to ‚??History of Allen County and Representative Citizens,‚?Ě published in 1906.
Here, he began J.M. Sealts Wholesale Grocery, which also went by the simpler J.M. Sealts Co. It was first headquartered on North Main Street but later opened for business in the 300 block of E. North St.
The Main Street location, at 336-338 N. Main., according to newspaper accounts, was a four-story building with stables in the rear. The grocer served an area reaching 75 miles outside of Lima with 10 workers, some traveling.
Sealts served as president of the company, with family members helping. His brother, Merton E., was vice president, and son Clinton T. was secretary/treasurer. After the death of Sealts, there would be five of his sons and a grandson involved.
A newspaper story published March 23, 1952, reported acting president Earl Sealts ‚?? the last survivor of the six sons ‚?? gave high posts in the business to men in the Lima-Kenton Grocery Co. It‚??s implied the companies had been working together in some fashion before that, and this partnership likely took over the Sealts name to some extent.
What lingers today is not the business or its name but memories of Sealts‚?? castle.
On Oct. 24, 1892, founder James M. Sealts bought a farm in Perry Township off of today‚??s Greely Chapel Road. His pockets were deep by this point, so he hired the best. Local architect Frank Leech started construction of the country home at the same time he started on the Banta/MacDonell house. Sealts‚?? home had a billiard room on the third floor. He had electric lights and its own waterworks plant. The original hipped roof barn had an octagonal cupola. The cost was about $15,000 for the house and about $7,000 for the barn. The house had 19 rooms with 10 fireplaces and was done in a Victorian style.
‚??J.M. Sealts will build probably the finest country home in the county,‚?Ě a newspaper story reported March 24, 1893. ‚??It is on the same style as the Terwilliger residence, corner of Market and Baxter streets, but will be larger. It will be 82 feet long and 48 feet wide. Both Messrs. Banta and Sealts will have a billiard room on their third floor. Mr. Sealts also has plans prepared for an 18 box stall barn. It will be 100 feet long and 80 feet wide and equipped with everything modern.‚?Ě
The barn was for Sealts‚?? hobby ‚?? racehorses. The 240-acre farm adjoined the stock farm of Dr. D.W. Steiner to the south, and the two men were known for being enthusiasts.
‚??Mr. Sealts has over $40,000 invested in his farm. He has given employement to a small army of men in preparing this farm to receive his valuable and highly bred horses,‚?Ě a March 31, 1894, story reported.
One in that army was a private electrician, and he earned a newspaper mention when he broke his right big toe and had it reset by a doctor in 1894.
In 1895, Sealts was elected president of the local driving club, an organization of horse breeders and racers. The group was working hard on putting together a racing circuit that would include Sidney, Tiffin, Fostoria, Findlay, Dayton, Bowling Green, Van Wert and Lima, as reported in 1895.
But Sealts developed health issues, reported as ‚??serious liver and kidney trouble,‚?Ě and was dead by 1904. His obituary reported he had dropsy, or was retaining water, and became jaundiced about five months before his death. He lived out his last days at his farm. The service was held there, and he was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.After his death, his wife moved back into town.
And the castle left the Sealts family. It was first sold to Joel Spyker in 1905, who sold it to Earl Burden for his interest in the Penny-Jones-Burden hardware store.
In 1911, there was a kitchen fire that caused some $500 damage, and the Spykers sold it to Alva N. Harold, of Alexandria, Ind. It passed like this between many different owners in a short span.
In the 1920s, the Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp was held there. The six-week program enabled 45 ‚??undernourished children of the city‚?Ě to enjoy the countryside in a camp setting. This program continued for about eight years.
In 1924, men were arrested for having a still in the attic of the house.
In 1931, John Warren, of Chicago, bought the property. It‚??s believed the original barn was lost in a fire. What is known is firemen fought a fire for two hours in a large pasture of high, dry weeds that threatened a nearby woods, according to a story from Aug. 7, 1932.
In 1934, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration gave almost $26,000 to start a large truck gardening project. A city councilman suggested that about 80 acres of the Sealts farm be used for out-of-work men to grow vegetables. There would be two shifts of 25 men apiece. They planted 400 bushels of seed potatoes, 35,000 tomato plants, 75,000 cabbage plants (for sauerkraut), 20 pounds of carrot seed, 200 pounds of beans and several acres of yellow dent corn, according to a June 5, 1934, story. The produce would be canned for distribution to needy families that coming winter.
The city rented the acreage for the season and agreed to use the barn for equipment storage.
‚??A tractor borrowed from the state highway department, drawing a gang plow, will be used for breaking the ground, with work expected to start before the end of the week,‚?Ě the story reported.
By 1942, the property was owned by Patrick Warren, who built many of the structures at the Century of Progress Exhibition. He dismantled one of the barns used in the fair and rebuilt it at the Sealts farm, and he used the house as a country home and guest house. It was during this time that rumors swirled.
‚??Rumors have abounded about the ‚??castle,‚?? which has been untenanted for long periods during the last 30 years,‚?Ě reported a story from April 20, 1952. ‚??The most persistent rumor was that the old Capone gang at one time used the place as a hideout. Rough-looking men were reported lurking about the mansion from time to time during the heydey of gangsterism. Other rumors had it that the basement of the old building was a favorite hideout of bootleggers ‚?? when the house had no paying tenants. This week, an expedition into the basement of the building turned up some five-gallon tins ‚?? of the type used by moonshiners during prohibition.‚?Ě
Today, the house is gone and the barn is barely standing, a far cry from its former glory.