Roads are curious thing – and in Kentucky, they are big business. A new road delivers up promises of jobs and economic development; sometimes the premise for a project seems to be nothing more than “if you build it, they will come.” A road also takes away – a new road bypasses a community (this can happen with the best of intentions) and that community, an organism of that transportation route, withers away quietly. I thought of this recently when I performed a sharp U-turn in Robertson County, Kentucky, backtracking to catch the sights of Piqua.
Located four miles south of the county seat of Mt. Olivet, the community received its name from Isaac Chamberlain, a teacher from Piqua, Ohio. Tecumseh was born in that Piqua, which was the site of a village of the Piqua subtribe of the Shawnee Nation. I’ve been told that the colloquial pronunciation is “Pick-way,” but I’m a Mt. Sterling girl, so I could be wrong.
Mitchell’s General Store, built in 1896, still stands in Piqua, which has been bypassed by a new and improved road. The store has already seen one restoration, about 15 years ago, but though maintained, now appears closed.
Robertson County is Kentucky’s smallest county by population size and second smallest in land area. Piqua, according to one source I found, claims around 200 residents scattered across the surrounding farmland. This small frame building, with the canted display windows and transom, fulfilled many roles historically: store, post office, barbershop, creamery, and blacksmith shop.
The store, I am sure, was a lifeline for this very rural area during a slower and less mobile time period. The most recent owners, Wendy and Rooster Mitchell, were profiled in a May 2000 article in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Rooster Mitchell, a native of Robertson County, recalled buying candy in the little store as a child.
Several original items remained in store, including the front counter and display cases – but even before road improvements, Piqua was isolated. I can’t imagine what a leap of faith it must have been for the Mitchells to fix up the store and open it again. And I can’t help but wonder whether this weathered – but sturdy – little building will experience another rebirth down the road.