Piqua Surprise Tour brings history alive


PIQUA — Friends of Mainstreet Piqua unveils new venture called “Piqua Surprise.”

“A colorful brochure describes the city of Piqua as possibly ‘the most interesting town you never heard of,’ said a press release from Don Smith, member of Friends of Mainstreet Piqua. “The picturesque city, which sits alongside Interstate 75 between Sidney and Troy is, however, a mecca of attractions for locals and tourists alike.”

Smith, a 76-year-old entrepreneur who has owned a successful restaurant, floral business and taught business classes to hundreds of students in Miami and Shelby counties, is passionate about Piqua, the release said, and is anxious to share its history with locals, as well as tourist buses passing by the exit 82 and 83 corridors.

Smith describes the newly-established venture as an “immersive tour’ where sites and persons of local, state and national significance “are not forgotten.” He quickly recites a litany of prominent places and people such as the Miller-Meteor Car Co, Hartzell Propeller and Johnson Farm Indian Agency to The Mills Brothers, U.S. Congressman William McCulloch and U.S. Air Force Pararescue Hero and Medal of Honor Recipient A1C William Pitsenbarger, all of whom have gained national acclaim and hail from Piqua.

The inspiration to start up Piqua Surprise originated when Smith and his wife, Sue, were on several European river cruises and visited such landmarks as the site of the Trials at Nuremberg, Cologne Cathedral and glass-blowing exhibits by sculptor Dale Chihuly.

“It’s those kinds of things that made me all the more interested,” he said in the release, “I was moved by those tours and it made me realize all the (history) that has occurred. ‘I asked myself ‘why not Piqua?’ We have some pretty good stuff too.”

The Smiths, who are well-seasoned travelers, pitched the idea of a local tour business to the Piqua Caldwell Historic District, as well as the Eisenberger Miami County Visitors and Convention Bureau and Mainstreet Piqua. Through the encouragement of those organizations and others such as the Miami County Foundation and Awesome Piqua, Smith has received several grants to secure equipment, headsets, microphones and other items needed for start-up costs.

On Thursday, July 27, Smith is coordinating a “maiden voyage” tour which encompasses interesting sites throughout Piqua.

The tour, which starts at 9 a.m. at The Comfort Inn, and will conclude at 7 p.m., includes transportation aboard an air-conditioned bus, plus lunch and dinner. The cost to Miami County residents is $50 per person with tickets available at either Main Street Piqua or by contacting Smith at 937-214-0848.

Smith is hopeful the initial tour will allow patrons a chance to “correct any errors and offer additional information” for future tours. He anticipates Piqua Surprise will jump start in 2024 attracting bus tours passing through Miami County looking for half, or full-day, tours and overnight accommodations. Those tours will come with a fee of $110 per person.

Myriad activities are available on the tour package, including:

• A visit to the Johnson Farm and Indian Agency and its 1815 dwelling, museum and outbuilding plus a ride on the Erie Canal boat;

• A ride through Piqua’s beautiful downtown historic area, a look at the Hartzell Propeller plant where aviator Orville Wright turned for props for his second plane;

• The exquisite Fort Piqua Plaza with its spacious library and upstairs ballroom and banquet center.

Smith suggests “some of the most diverse, mid-19th and early 20th century residential architecture houses to exist “can be viewed including a prairie-style house designed by Harry Williams, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Go inside one handsome Victorian home for a glimpse of its architecture,” encourages Smith.

Tourists can “immerse” themselves in a variety of activities, ranging from cookie decorating at Dobo’s Bakery or participating in craft making with the Piqua Arts Council. And no tour would be complete, he adds, without stopping at Winans Chocolates and Coffee for a sweet treat. As part of the downtown walking tour, stops are also planned at the Apple Tree Gallery to view antique Christmas decorations.

Smith says his foray into establishing a tour venture has allowed him to “become even more impressed with the (Piqua) community. Every time I look around, I find something unique to Piqua.”

He adds, “I’m pleased to bring this history alive.”

The Smiths reside in a home on Greene Street dating back to 1843. They formerly owned Allisten Manor & Smith Catering as well as the Allisten Manor Flower Box.

For more information, visit the website at www.PiquaSurprise.com.

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