November 2005 Issue
For maximum enjoyment of the surroundings, here's the perch you want: The cool, shady sidewalk patio at Taggart's, with its metal railings and hanging plants creating a pleasant mood that's just a bit uptown, while providing a splendid view that is decidedly small-town, Ohio-style. From your table, sipping a drink and enjoying a burger, perhaps, you can while away a bit of the afternoon watching downtown Troy wander happily by.
Elegantly appointed 19th-century storefronts line the sidewalks, as Main and Market streets cross to create the center of town. Nearby, the slender beige dome of the Miami County Courthouse looms over the graceful rooflines, a stately landmark visible from most points in the small city.
The fountain in the traffic circle that rings the city's public square periodically bubbles to life with a cheerful gurgle and splash.
Shoppers and browsers take their time poking their heads into one offbeat shop or another. Over the summer, many came downtown to have a look at the unusual bronze statues of the artist Seward Johnson - life-size figures doing everyday things such as walking the dog or finishing off some carpentry, all shown in exquisite, not to say painstaking, detail. It was the second time Johnson's sculptures had been shown by the Troy Main Street business association as a creative way to draw folks downtown, and an average weekend would have found folks standing around, sizing up the artwork. A favorite was the old gentleman sitting on a bench, enjoying his newspaper.
"People absolutely loved them," says Sue Cantrell, owner of Around About Books downtown and board president of Troy Main Street, a merchants' association. "They kept mistaking the sculptures for real folks. [The art works] brought a lot of people downtown and gave them a chance to see a different side of Troy." She says the association is planning another big outdoor sculpture project for the summer of 2007; stay tuned.
Another spot to enjoy Troy's street-life parade is K's Hamburger Shop, which affords its view from either a swivel-seat at the Formica lunch counter or a booth in the wood-paneled dining room. Walls are decorated with old Troy Daily News clippings that recount the history of the place that's been flipping burgers and serving them up for 80 years. K's is a true southwest Ohio institution, its Depression-era white storefront and neon sign as inviting today as ever, its pies and milkshakes as rich as any you're likely to find. At some point, everybody in Troy has eaten at K's.
The uptown and down-home opposites characterized by Taggart's and K's say something about life in Troy, a delightful town that's full of such subtle flavors and contrasts. Swanky new loft housing co-exists with brick commercial buildings from the 1840s and faded old ghost signs advertising businesses long gone. City officials and local merchants debate about how to revive a downtown that to the weekend visitor seems warm, friendly and inviting. "We're always looking for new things to offer, and new ideas," Cantrell says. "But it's busy - I've seen it as busy on a Monday as on a Saturday. It just depends on what's going on."
And interestingly, it's a river town where one has to go looking for the river - the Great Miami, which flows just east of downtown in a slow, lazy channel hidden away by tall levees that have themselves become part of the social fabric of the community. On the east bank, they're part of a vast community park complex that includes the newly refurbished Memorial Stadium and other athletic facilities for the city and schools. On the west bank, the levee is the turf at the center of the annual Troy Strawberry Festival, one of southern Ohio's biggest summer shindigs. It draws tens of thousands of visitors to Troy during the first weekend of June with the lure of shortcake, pie, ice cream and other strawberried sweets.
If you miss the festivities, Troy reminds visitors all year with the large red, green-capped berries painted on Main, Market and other key streets throughout the city. Here, there's no escaping the fruit, which has been the city's festival theme since 1980.
The city's a bit older than that, of course. It was incorporated in 1814, and subsequently its residents engaged in a number of struggles with surrounding villages to become the county seat.
For a sense of how life here felt in decades past, there's the Museum of Troy History at 124 E. Water St., located in a restored pre-Civil War house where admission is free. The grand Miami County Courthouse, built in 1888, graces the skyline with its tall dome and four Beaux Arts towers.
The Museum of Troy History is one of three small museums downtown. The Overfield Tavern Museum nearby, at 201 E. Water St., is in a restored log cabin that once served a number of pioneer-day civic functions, from courthouse to inn to schoolhouse. Down at 101 S. Market St. is the WACO Museum and Aviation Learning Center, dedicated to telling folks about the once-famous WACO Aircraft Company, formed in the 1920s by Clayton Brukner, a member of one of the city's most famous and philanthropic families.
The Brukner Nature Center, in fact, is a popular attraction in Troy and throughout the area. It sits on about 150 acres of land Clayton Brukner bought along the Stillwater River about five miles west of Troy, and to this day the nature preserve is noted for its trails, education programs and commitment to the environment. From birdwatchers to stargazers to school kids, some 30,000 people a year visit the park.
Closer to the center of town, the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center at 301 W. Main St., a few blocks from downtown, runs a busy year-round schedule of art classes, kids' art camps, poetry readings, lectures and jazz and pops concerts. The beautiful Tudor-style building that houses it used to be the city's library, and speaks to a town that enjoys numerous amenities that seem to belong in a larger city.
Troy is a nice walking city. The place to start is at the center public-square fountain. Parking is plentiful and free, so find a slot and get going.
Worth noting is that downtown is bordered by elegant residential areas full of large, well-kept Victorian and turn-of-the-century homes. Walk along South Market Street, for a start, and go along Union, Plum, Cherry, Canal and Franklin streets before working your way back toward downtown. These are front-porch neighborhoods with a lot of restoration work and obvious owner's pride; enjoy the view as you go.
If you're hungry after your stroll, downtown Troy is home to about a dozen restaurants, offering everything from American-grill favorites to scrumptious homemade baked goods to very fine Asian fare. You might try the Bamboo Grill or Tokyo Peking, O'Brian's Pub, La Piazza's for Italian food, or Dunaway's Beef & Ale. They're all in or right around the fountain at Main and Market.
Still interested in shopping? Amish Coun-try Furniture & Quilt Company is right on the square and offers several showrooms' worth of decorative possibilities, all handmade and of the high quality associated with Amish goods. A complete galaxy away, at least in attitude, is Around About Books, which specializes in sci-fi and fantasy - as though one couldn't tell from the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" displays in the storefront windows. A peek inside reveals much more - neatly organized rows of mystery, romance, Westerns, general fiction and offbeat history and photography books of local interest.
Reams of rainbow-colored yarns greet the eye at Ewetopia, while beads are the thing at Bead Crazy - silver, seed beads, glass, ceramic and a dizzying array of everything in between.
The Main Street Deli and Bake Shoppe will entice the senses with fresh baked goods. If you aren't in the mood for a sandwich, you'll be hard-pressed to leave without a baguette or a bag of great-smelling cookies. If you decide to stay and munch, it's another spot with a nice view of traffic on the square.
Lone Wolf Gifts and CDH Collectibles is one of those inviting little nooks that's equally in touch with its masculine and feminine sides - in addition to stocking NASCAR-related racing items, you'll also find a line of very well-dressed Teddy bears, along with craft items and lots of American flags.
Lagniappe offers upscale consignment items, folk art, furniture and accessories in a warm atmosphere that begs browsing. Around the corner, Mayo Hall Antiques provides two floors' worth of glassware, furniture, books, unusual decorative items and toys.
There's plenty more downtown, from wine shops to purveyors of candles, Ohio State memorabilia, music, fine jewelry, chocolates and coffee.
A bit of advice as you're walking around: look up. The architectural details and ornamentation on the facades that line these charming streets is part of Troy's special flavor. "This is the best place to be," Sue Cantrell swears.
"It's a very homey type of feel, and the people here are wonderful and friendly."