Friday, June 15, 2012

American History — and it is right in our own back yard

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer
This past week, the Piqua Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours was held at the John Johnston Farm & Indian Agency.

Andy Hite and his wonderful staff were gracious hosts. Along with the expected mingling, sharing of business ideas and catching up with friends, was the opportunity for everyone in attendance to board the General Harrison and take an evening ride on the restored section of the canal.

Anyone who knows Andy is aware that history lessons lurk around every corner. On a personal note, that is one of the things that I enjoy about visiting the Johnston Farm. I rarely leave the site without gaining at least one new bit of knowledge about the history of our neck of the woods. Our evening on the General Harrison was no different.

A number of things come to my mind after our boat ride. First, is a fact that Andy pointed out to his audience. That fact is, the average figure for dollars spent, per person, per day, for a family visiting one of our historic sites is $80. Think about it. If a family of four spends the day at the Johnston Farm, $320.00 has come to our community. And that is just the average. Those are dollars spent in our restaurants, motels and retailers.

That fact alone makes it common sense for all of us to support our local historic sites.

Another thing that comes to mind is, I wonder how many of you really know and understand the significance of the historic places that are right on our own doorstep? I know that some will say that they don’t care. I truly feel sorry for them.

Anyone who knows me, knows that aviation is a passion of mine. While it is true that Wilber and Orville Wright made their first flight in North Carolina. Most of the research was done in Dayton and their flying machine was refined and perfected at Huffman Prairie, now a part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Think about that. Wilber and Orville were not fictional characters now-consigned to our history books. The brothers were real people who literally made history, right here in our area. You can walk on that same ground. It is just a short drive.

The same goes for our John Johnston Farm. The grounds were the site of Pickawillany, an English trading post that earned a significant place in the history of the territory, and the history of our country. We have all read about the War of 1812 and the Hundred Year War between England and France. People and places right in our backyard played important roles in those events, and consequently, the shaping of the United States of America.

This fall will mark the 150th anniversary of the forming of the 110th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. They were soldiers, most from right here in the Piqua area, who marched off to fight in some of the most definitive battles of the Civil War.

Those soldiers mustered and trained on Col. John Johnston’s property. In other words, on the grounds of the current John Johnston Farm & Indian Agency. I went out to the farm about a week ago and spent some time, just looking over the land, much of it now growing soy beans or alfalfa for hay. I cannot look at that ground without visualizing the young men who, though probably scared to death, yet filled with a spirit of excitement for the unknown adventure ahead of them, learned the intricacies of becoming a soldier.

One has only to turn around to look at the Johnston farm house, then still the home of Johnston family members, and realize those young recruits saw that exact same home as they trained and drilled, and lived in tents, in the Johnston’s front yard.

Even if you do not realize it, it may have been one of your family members training for battle on those grounds. It may be that one of your ancestors first came to the Piqua area by way of a trip to Pickawillany or Fort Greenville.

People are staying closer to home these days as long-distance vacations are even more costly. I can’t think of a better time to visit some of those places that played important and historic roles in the building our our nation — right here in our own back yard.

It will be a fun experience for the entire family. Just remember to be very careful — you may just learn something along the way.

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