Sounds of Shawnee

Photo by Morgan Spehar

Photo by Morgan Spehar

Morgan Spehar

It's a beautiful Saturday evening in Shawnee, Ohio. The sun sets on the historic Tecumseh Theater while the sounds of plucking string instruments and harmonizing voices float down Main Street.

A handful of vendors line the streets, selling everything from tie-dye T-shirts to watermelons, and around 50 people lean up against buildings, sit in lawn chairs and perch on the back of trucks to listen to the music.

The occasion is Second Saturday, a monthly gathering hosted by the nonprofit organization Destination Shawnee. As the name would suggest, it is held on the second Saturday of each month from April through October to bring together the people of Shawnee and to raise money for Shawnee-focused organizations.

In the shadow of the Tecumseh Theater, George Biggs and Richard Lutz sell beers, everything from Coors to Jackie O’s, out of a cooler. A glass tip jar sits half-full on the folding table in front of them. Together, they are raising money for both Destination Shawnee and restoration efforts on the theater. They hope events like this will bring more people into Shawnee. 

“I’ve always felt we’re fortunate to be located smack-dab in the middle of Wayne National Forest,” Biggs says, “because our history is a really good reason to come to town, we just need people to have a reason to stop. Folks will come to the area, provided we give them something to do.”

Shawnee Mayor Bev Travato and resident Deb Hutmire began organizing Second Saturdays in August 2017 to do just that. 

“There’s not a lot going on in the community,” Hutmire says. “Bev wanted to bring in music for free to bring people out and pull businesses in the community together.”

Shawnee shares a similar history with Athens; both were mining towns that were largely dependent on coal, clay and iron mines and suffered greatly when the coal boom ended and the mines closed. The two towns are part of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds region, a nickname for old coal mining towns in Southeast Ohio that was coined by the Sunday Creek Associates, a Shawnee-based nonprofit organization. 

Many residents, like Travaot, Hutmire, Biggs and Lutz, want more people to understand the history of the region. They look for grants and funding from groups such as Rural Action in order to educate both locals and newcomers and restore pieces of local history. 

About halfway through the show, The Perry Morgan Pickers, a Southeast Ohio-based string instrument quartet, brings up one of their oldest fans to sing with them. As a handful of chickens wander across the street, 95-year-old Ethel Doty croons out the words to “You Are My Sunshine” while the band harmonizes and strums behind her. When the song is finishes, the audience breaks out into enthusiastic applause and Doty beams as she gives a small bow. 

“It’s a really nice time,” says Gloria Finck, a Shawnee resident. “There’s good food, good music, good people. Everyone comes together and it’s just a good time.”