Piqua, is an unincorporated city in Woodson County between Yates Center and Iola off U.S. 54. The many grain bins and co-op buildings let you know this is a rich agricultural community. But what isn't obvious is that it is a GREAT Explorer town. One has to just really keep their eyes and ears open to find the hot spots.
One thing that draws attention is the steeple of St. Martin's Church, easily seen above the trees. St. Isodore, the patron saint of farmers, greets you on the front lawn with his hand on a plow shear.
The bricks of the church seem a little wider than usual. Don't you think so? Shelia Lampe says they were custom designed for this 1922 church. The inside is beautiful with green and rust accents. The wooden pews are even numbered.
But the main thing to know about the church is that it is no longer open for weekly mass -- just weddings, funerals and special occasions. Shelia Lampe, KSF board member and Piqua native, was with us and is one of the keepers of the church. While we were there she discovered that three people want to schedule weddings in the upcoming months. Shelia and a group of Piqua women will make sure it's all cleaned up. No, they don't get paid. It's just part of being from a small town with a special church.
Learning gut wrenching facts like a church or school being closed is all part of visiting a small town. Understanding the story behind the facts is what helps you "get" the town.
The water office is a tan concrete block building. A sign and a bell from a family home identifies the building. Why are those red-colored drill bits at the top of the sign? Well, of course! The building used to house a drilling company.
A room in the water office is dedicated to exhibits on Buster Keaton. The silent movie actor was born here when his parents were performing with Houdini on a vaudeville tour. His mom's water broke on stage and he was born that night in a local home in Piqua.
Judy runs the water office and is glad for you to come in and see the exhibits. (Open Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m., when the water office is open!)
An aside... I was there with Martha Slater of First Generation Video and Ray Trevino. We were working on an Explorer DVD designed to help people know how to find these hard-to-find treasures in small towns.
Silverado's is a family gathering place in this small town. A place to get some food, maybe a beer. It would be easy to drive by and dismiss it, especially if you're by yourself or with a group of women. You'd take one look at the beat up front door, the beer signs and think you should just keep traveling down the road. But you'd be missing something! Booths were obviously obtained from a 1950s type diner and waitress Rosa was very friendly and welcoming.
You should know... steaks and broasted chicken are evening specialties.
(Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch specials; Thursday-Saturday for evening meals).
Read the window. One statement says "A restaurant and tavern built by friends for friends." Once you settle down inside you watch people come and go and they all seem to know each other, like in most small towns. But the sign says it all about the town and that's your first clue that you should go in and check it out.
Rosa was the waitress when we were there. She was the kind of friendly waitress you hope to find. She also met our favor with the good food she brought to us.
We were met at the restaurant by Don and Shelia Lampe and daughter Mandy. Don works at The Farm Store but played hooky for a while. Shelia works in Pittsburg at Sen. Lynn Jenkins office but left early to eat with us. Mandy writes for the paper so came over to do a story.
Not everybody can count on lunch with the Lampes but it's likely you'll see them there, or someone related to them or other friendly Piqua people. I think we also met Don's uncle when we were there.
The key to Explorer success in a small town is to start up a conversation with the locals and maybe they'll tell you about places like the Buster Keaton museum.
I hope they tell you to go to the Farm Store, too -- which was our next stop.
They were waiting for us at the co-op Farm Store. Usually this is where the guys have coffee but today there was a nice welcoming crew. The Lampes got there before we did, plus Sheila's Dad, Eddie Eckroat (!), Mark Massoth from the Farm Store, and Jay McNett and his partner Carolyn McGowan.
What a store this is. It's big! Beside offering lots of hardware store type items and farmer things they also have some grocery items, sell gas, and change oils and tires. But here's what you don't find in every farm co-op store. A barber!
Jay McNett is the barber and he has a little room in the back. On Tuesday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. you can walk in and get a haircut. I guess you sit at the coffee table until Jay has time for you. $7. Jay is a handsome guy with a full head of hair and is very personable so his haircuts are probably pretty good.
What an Explorer experience that would be to head to Piqua for a haircut. Let me know if you do it.
(The Store is open Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday 8-noon. 620.468.2435).
The Explorer lesson is this. Small towns don't always see themselves as "attractions." Why should they? They built the town for themselves. But that's what makes it so fun. It's the real thing. You may have to work a little bit to find out what there is to see and do but that's why it's good to visit with locals. Stop anywhere that's open in a small town and ask questions. You might get rude responses once in awhile but they just can't imagine you're wanting to know about them! You'll either warm them up or find out they are just one of the town's colorful characters.
Rural Kansas. Finding a barber at the co-op or a museum in the water office. Classic. For that matter, finding a nice place to eat past a rickety ol' front door is a pleasant surprise, too. All this in an unincorporated town! You gotta love it.
If you can figure out how to visit with locals you'll "Get Kansas" in a way you never imagined.
Piqua, you're a pretty special place. Quintessential.
KE #2 Marci Penner