The Adena and Hopewell cultures (the Woodland Period, c.1000 B.C.E. to c. 900 C.E.) occupied the Upper Miami Valley area around Piqua. These cultural groups built earthworks and burial mounds throughout our county. The Fort Ancient Peoples (the Mississippian Period, c. 900 C.E. to c. 1600 C.E.) built small, circular fortified villages throughout the area, along the Great Miami River.
Historic native peoples entered the Miami Valley in the 1600’s, using the area as hunting grounds. The earliest known permanent settlement occurred at Pickawillany located north of Piqua. A band of the Miami Tribe or confederacy, led by La Demoiselle, (better known as Old Britain because he preferred trading with the British), and a group of east coast colonial traders established Pickawillany in 1747. The tribal tokens of the Miami’s were the Elk and the Crane. There were several branch of this confederation that occupied Western Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and a part of Michigan. One of these branch tribes, sometimes called Twigtwees, had their town three miles north of present day Piqua. This became such an important area, that in 1749 the traders erected a trading post, or fort, which in a few years became the headquarters for about fifty traders. This fort, called Pickawillany, was destroyed on June 21, 1752.
The second Native American settlement period in the area began in 1780 with the creation of two Shawnee villages, Upper Piqua (Bi-co-we-that/Pique) and Lower Piqua (Chillicothe). (Chillicothe means head-town, or the council place of the whole tribe). This group of Indians moved here after a large expedition of frontiersmen and militia, under the command of George Rogers Clark, attacked and destroyed the Shawnee town of Piqua (pronounced Pe-quaw) on the Mad River about five miles west of Springfield. They named their new town Piqua in honor of their former home.
The Legend of Otath-he-wagh-Pe-qua.
George C. Johnston, a trader for many years among the Indians and a member of the Shawnee tribe, explained the origin of the name Piqua. He was told by a member of the tribe, that many years ago the whole tribe was assembled at an annual feast and thanksgiving. They were all seated around a large fire, which having burned down to embers, a great puffing was observed in the ashes. Suddenly, a full formed man sprang up from the remains of the fire and the tribe exclaimed in astonishment “Otaht-he-wagh-Pe-Qua.” (He has come out of the ashes) And from that time, that place was called Piqua.
Sometime around 1793, General Anthony Wayne built Fort Piqua at Upper Piqua. A small company was garrisoned here until late in 1795. After the Indians defeat at the battle of Fallen Timbers and the after the signing of the Treaty of Greenville, nearly one half of the present southern and western part of Ohio was opened to settlers. Joe Gard built the first structure on the present site of the city in 1796. He was followed by John Hilliard with his sons Charles and Joseph, who cleared land east of the city in 1797. They were soon followed by the families of Garrard, Hudson, Rollin, Cox, Rich and Hunter. The first child born in Piqua was Elias, son of John Manning on May 22, 1800. By the end of 1804, the first grist mill was in operation under John Manning.
The village of Washington was laid out in 1807 but this name was unpopular with the settlers, In 1816, the State Legislature was petitioned to restore the town to its Indian name, Piqua. From 1811 to 1829 Colonel John Johnston operated an Indian agency north of Piqua. By the year 1823 the village formed a city government and boasted a newspaper, several mills, a post office, and a population of over 350.
Miami Erie Canal
The Canal reached Piqua in 1837 and the city remained the canal’s terminus until 1842. During the most active period of the canal during the 1850’s, produce and passengers arrived into Piqua from as far as Cincinnati in the south and Toledo in the north on a regular basis. While canal traffic dwindled in the 1860’s, the Miami and Erie continued to support heavy traffic load such as coal, lumber, and stone until 1912.
The first railroad traveled through Piqua from Columbus, Ohio to Indiana in 1858 under the name, The Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad. This became part of the Pennsylvania and later Con-Rail lines before being abandoned in 1983. The community’s second route, the Dayton and Michigan Railroad, began operations in 1854. The route continues today as the CSX Railroad.
When the village began in 1807 it operated under the control of Washington Township. In 1823 the village incorporated and elected officials. The village re-incorporated in 1835 and elected its first mayor, John S. Johnston. From 1835 through 1930 the City of Piqua operated under a mayor/city council form of government. The city voted in 1929 to change to the city manager/city commission form of government and the city hired it’s first city manager, Lester G. Whitney in 1930.
Communication technology connected Piqua to the rest of the world in 1850 with the telegraph. This expanded in 1880 with the telephone, followed by WPTW radio in 1947, and cable television in 1964. The community moved away from the realm of candlelight to gas lights in 1856 and electric lights with the Piqua Edison Illuminating Company in 1884. Electric power remained a private concern until 1933 when the Piqua Municipal Power Plant went on line. The community went nuclear from 1963 through 1966 with the construction of the nation’s first municipally owned atomic power plant.
The biggest wave of local German immigration lasted from the 1830’s through the beginning of the Civil War. As new settlers in Piqua, the Germans established several German speaking churches (St. Boniface Catholic, Zion Reformed, German Methodist, and St. Paul’s Lutheran), breweries, and sold two-story brick homes in the city’s south side. For a time, Piqua had newspapers printed entirely in German. ‘The Piqua Staut und Landbote’ was a weekly established by Fredrick Josse in 1865. ‘Der Piqua Correspondent’ was started by J. Boni. Hersteger in 1878.
The first known African-American resident of Piqua, Arthur Davis, arrived in the community a few years prior to 1820. By 1840 the African-American population had grown to forty-eight (about 3.24% of the total population). The first major African-American migration came to the Piqua area about 1847 when the manumitted slaves of John Randolph settled in Miami and Shelby counties. John Randolph was a noted Virginian who was opposed to slavery. He made a will giving all his own slaves their freedom after his death. The largest Randolph settlement occurred in Rossville, just across the Great Miami River from Piqua. One of the best known African-American citizens of the nineteenth century was Goodrich Giles, a businessman, bank investor, farmer, real estate investor, and theater owner. Although not an African-American citizen of Piqua, William M. McCulloch, our long-time republican representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Many years before the Civil War, a line of the Underground Railroad went from Cincinnati, through Hamilton, Dayton, Troy, Piqua, Sidney and on north. The different stations on this line were kept by Abolitionist citizens. In Troy, Barrett’s house was one of those stopping places. From there, the runaway slaves were taken to James Scudder’s in Piqua, and then on to Sidney.
One time, when Henry Bibb was escaping, he was followed by slave hunters. The slave hunters knew he was hidden in Piqua, so they watched the road to the north. Scudder knew they were on the watch, so he waited until the morning, dressed Henry Bibb as a coachman, and with William Rayner, started out in a fine two-horse carriage with Bibb as driver. They passed the slave hunters on the road, but were not suspected, and Henry Bibb arrived in Sidney safely.
A majority of Piqua’s early social services and reform movements had their start as a result of women’s activism. Women established Piqua’s first community organization, the Piqua Female Bible Society. Local reform movements, such as the Temperance, adult education, community-wide welfare all began because of women who demanded a better community life. The local suffrage movement counted its first major success with the election of Frances Meilly Orr to sit on the Board of Education. Joanna Hill Heitzman became the Chamber of Commerce’s first woman president in 1983 and in 1991 Lucy Fess became the first female mayor and city commissioner.
For genealogical information or more historical information about Piqua contact the municipal historian, James Oda at the Flesh Public Library, History Department: Telephone: (937)773-6753 Fax: (937) 773-5981 Email: email@example.com