Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler
There’s a good reason why Piqua, Ohio, is as comfortable as a worn pair of pajamas – it was once known as the Underwear Capital of the World. Today, Piqua entertains its visitors with beautiful recreational trails, unique small-town shopping, living canal era history, and original events.
Piqua continues to blaze new trails, literally, adding to an already large network that connects park systems. Significant investments and resources have enabled extensive plans to take shape over recent years. New sections of trail have recently opened, and more are coming soon. Eventually, Piqua’s trails will link to a system that extends to Dayton and as far as Cincinnati.
“Word is traveling fast in Ohio’s recreational hiking circles,” said Diana Thompson, Director of the Miami County Visitors & Convention Bureau. “It definitely lends support to the cliché; build it, and they will come.”
Currently, the trail system ties into the Canal Run Trail, River’s Edge Trail, and Piqua Activities Trail For Health (P.A.T.H.) Rail to Trail, a former railroad, returned to Mother Nature. Together, the network of trails provides opportunities for walking, running, and bicycling. Each trail has its unique scenery.
Once in Piqua, visitors are drawn to its heart – the Fort Piqua Plaza – where a massive $20 million restoration has just brought the Romanesque structure of the former hotel and its surroundings back to life. Dating back to the 1890s, the hotel has hosted many famous guests, including Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, and the Cincinnati Red Legs. Today, the new Fort Piqua Plaza hosts a library, banquet & conference center, and Winans Coffee and Chocolates. More additions are being added, including a restaurant and other amenities.
“As far as architectural gems go, this is just for starters,” said Lorna Swisher, Director of Mainstreet Piqua. “The entire downtown area has a variety of canal-era to high Victorian style buildings that have been beautifully restored.”
Over several generations, once vibrant small-town downtowns have been choked off all over the country due to a global economy, manufacturing leaving, and the invasion of big-box stores. But when a success story like Piqua’s breathes new life into a charming town, authenticity blossoms again, and unique mom-and-pop shops start to dot the landscape, much like yesteryear.
Piqua’s resurgence has given a new lease on leisure shopping adventures. Quaint storefronts offering clothing, books, glassware, hardware, furniture, and jewelry abound. When a break is needed from shopping at the unique merchants, many find themselves at the original family-owned restaurants and cafes. Before the day is through, it’s difficult not to go home with homemade baked goods and fresh-cut flowers from the florist.
“Piqua is where the good life is,” said Rebecca Cox, enjoying an ice cream cone on the curb. “I love small towns with character.”
Of course, there’s also a reminder of bygone days in antique stores and specialty shops. But to get a true feel of the good ole days, one must not travel far from downtown. Just down the bicycle trail, or just north on State Route 66, is the Piqua Historical Area State Memorial. The 220-acre site is home to a Historic Indian Museum, Colonel John Johnston Farmhouse, and a restored section of the Miami-Erie Canal.
All aboard the General Harrison for a lazy afternoon ride on a replica 70-foot long 19th Century canal boat. Costumed guides direct the mule-drawn boat in an experience of a lifetime.
Over at the Johnston Farm, visitors see the preserved and period-furnished two-story Dutch Colonial and Georgian-style farmhouse. In addition, there’s a cider house and a two-story spring house. Farm tours are led by costumed interpreters and crafters, revealing life in an era long past. There’s even a large double-penned log barn dating to 1808. It’s believed to be the oldest and largest of its kind in the state. Another pleasant surprise on the grounds is an Adena Indian mound dating back over 2,000 years.
A visit to the farm during Labor Day weekend coincides with one of the largest festivals in Ohio – the Piqua Heritage Festival. This event provides an interactive experience with a look at Ohio’s link to the early frontier. Artisans will share their techniques for woodcarving, basket weaving, quilting, rag-rug making, and pottery. The festival includes dozens of pre-1800s encampments and a large selection of homemade foods.
Throughout the year, Piqua has fun-filled activities and events ranging from festivities where there’s dancing in the streets to art walks. Seasonal fun features horse-drawn carriage rides, an old-fashioned holiday parade, and Victorian Christmas. Also famous in the spring is the ever-popular “Taste of the Arts,” which features great food and fun for all ages! For complete details to plan a visit to Piqua and the surrounding area any time of year, call the Miami County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-348-8993 or see their website at http://homegrowngreat.com/.