Yama Farms Inn: A Home in the Mountains


Frank Seaman, Olive Brown Sarre and the Creation of Yama-no-uchi

Originally from Rochester, New York, Frank Seaman (1858-1939) had attained early success in New York City, building an advertising firm that boasted such clients as Eastman Kodak, American Tobacco, Colgate Palmolive, Studebaker Automobiles and the Southern and Northern Pacific Railroads. According to Seaman’s unpublished memoir, the origins of Yama Farms date to 1903 when he purchased a property just outside of Napanoch, known as the Fish Ponds. The property had been developed as a commercial trout preserve. Seaman, who was in his fifties at the time and separated from his wife, purchased the place as a weekend getaway. The advertising business, he explained, had tired him out completely. Gradually he bought up neighboring parcels of land until his holdings in Napanoch totaled 1300 acres.

Not long after taking up residence at his Napanoch country home. Seaman traveled to Japan. While he was there, he apparently came up with the idea of transforming his new home to give it—in his own words—“a Japanese atmosphere.” Unable to hire a Japanese architect, he tried to find an American to do the job. One architect, in turning down the commission, mentioned to Seaman that he knew of a woman who he thought ”capable of carrying out your ideas....Her name is Mrs. Sarre.”

Olive Brown Sarre (1873-1954) was an adventurous and charming widow in her early thirties, the mother of a young son. Born in Binghamton, New York, she attended private schools in Philadelphia and the Art Student’s League in New York City. Although it is not documented, she may have visited Japan prior to meeting Seaman. Later newspaper articles would refer to her as having spent “years” there. Other sources claim she that she was fluent in the language.

When approached by Seaman, Sarre first visited the site before finally agreeing to take on the project. One stipulation, as recorded in Seaman’s memoirs, was that he build a house at Yama Farms for her, her mother, and her son, Gordon. Mentioned in several sources on the subject (but not in Seaman’s memoir) is a year and a half-long trip to Japan undertaken by Sarre but underwritten by Seaman, enabling her to increase her already extensive knowledge of Japanese architecture.

Together, Seaman and Sarre worked on the plans to develop a complex of Japanese buildings and gardens on Seaman’s estate.  It was to be called Yama-no-uchi, translated as “Home in the Mountains.” Seaman claimed that the name had been suggested by a Japanese acquaintance, Marquis Ito Hirobumi, first prime minister of Japan.

At some point in Seaman and Sarre’s relationship they apparently formed a romantic attachment. Although they lived together for many years, they didn’t marry until 1934, four years before Seaman’s death.

Frank Seaman and Olive Brown Sarre photographed during visits to Japan.

Olive Brown Sarre at right with her mother Eleanor Brown, taking tea at the Hut.

Frank Seaman and friend.