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Ohio Life

The Historical Markers of Marietta’s Sewah Studios

Marietta’s Sewah Studios connects the past to the present with its instantly recognizable signs.

People, places and events that helped shape our country’s past are commemorated every day at Sewah Studios in Marietta, as 20 artists meticulously craft the 1,200 historic markers the company creates annually. Each will be displayed at sites ranging from monuments and battlefields to homes and churches across the country.

President Bradford Smith, whose grandfather Gerald Smith purchased the company around 1953, estimates that the firm has manufactured more than 50,000 markers over its long history. Made from cast aluminum, Sewah signs — which weigh approximately 100 pounds each — are easily recognizable by their shape, pebbled background and typeface created for the studio.

“Historical markers are not kiosks or a cell phone with some technological advertisement,” Smith says. “They are storytellers that help visitors understand in 100 words or less what happened there.”
Marietta resident E.M. Hawes, who had a background in sales, copywriting and history, launched Sewah Studios in 1927. (The business’ name is Hawes’ moniker spelled backward). His aim: to develop roadside markers that would serve as points of interest for the increasing numbers of tourists traveling the country by automobile.

“Word really spread in the 1950s, when President Eisenhower championed the development of our highway system,” Smith says. “States saw the markers as an important way to drive tourism and started ordering them ... their popularity hasn’t stopped since.”

Each marker takes five to seven days to complete. The most challenging aspect, Smith explains, is adding the text, which is applied by hand the old-fashioned way: letter by letter.

Obviously, Smith hasn’t been to most of the sites where his markers are located, but he appreciates the photos he’s received from tourists who have, including those visiting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; the Old Mill in North Little Rock, Arkansas (featured in the film “Gone with the Wind”); the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; and The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

“Growing up, I never dreamed I was going to be here doing this,” Smith says. “But when my friends who travel tell me how cool the signs are, it drives home how important this little plant really is.” 

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