PIQUA — Family reunions conjure up many memories of years gone by when, as youngsters, you shared a bedroom with Grandma as she enjoyed a long-deserved nap, were awakened to the aroma of mouth-watering breakfasts downstairs, or scampered around the neighborhood visiting cousins whose families lived feet away from her back door.
Those memories and many more were relived this past weekend as descendants of the late Leo and Blanche (Wallbrunn) Louis gathered in Piqua to pay tribute to their family at the Louis homestead located at 621 Caldwell St. The distinctive-style home, built in 1909, later served as a private residence for the William and Dorothy Reed family and was subsequently purchased by present Innkeepers Deb Ruemmele and Stacy Stang.
Lou Golden, of West Hartford, Conn., was overjoyed when he visited Piqua several years ago after discovering his grandparents’ home was transformed into an inn. The sentimental recollections of visiting Piqua as a child ultimately prompted him to organize a weekend at the Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast to include four cousins and several younger members of the Louis clan.
“We had a truly wonderful weekend in Piqua,” commented Golden, upon his return to the East Coast. “It (Piqua) is a beautiful community and it welcomed our family back with great care and warmth. We were all quite impressed with the amazing civic spirit of the town, the effort to preserve its architectural heritage and its sense of history. There is a part of Piqua in each of the five cousins and we were so pleased to spend time in the place that helped form our family.”
Especially gratifying was a walking tour by local historian James Oda of the Piqua Public Library. Joining Golden were Barbara Williams of Las Cruces, N.M.; Dorrie Hunt of Bloomfield, Conn.; Nancy Louis of Saint John, Virgin Islands; and Peggy Mockery of Clifton Park, N.Y. Also invited to join the tour was former Chamber of Commerce Executive Dave Vollette of Piqua, who met Golden on an earlier visit and, in preparation for the family’s visit, spruced up Cedar Hill Cemetery on East Ash Street, where Louis descendants are buried.
In addition to enjoying Caldwell Street’s tree-lined boulevard from the bed and breakfast’s spacious front porch with its Corinthian-style pillars, the family also dined together at 311 Drafthouse and explored other Piqua landmarks over the weekend.
“Our grandparents sold the (Caldwell) home in 1960 after spending 50 years there,” noted the Louis spokesperson.
The late Abraham Louis was a former salesman at the Atlas Underwear Company and contracted the building of the home which was completed in 1909 by Airhart Marion Fry, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Leo reportedly went to the New York City office several years later and cousin, Leo Louis, moved into the home. Described as a four-square-style of architecture, the home sits right in the heart of the historic district and serves as one of the more distinctive homes in the area.
“I used to come here from Connecticut to visit one or two times a year,” noted Golden, until Blanche Louis died in 1960. “This house has such sentimental meaning. Piqua itself has a great feeling about it. As a child, I recall visiting the former Brown’s Department Store and, even today, have the same connection here. When I first arrived here and pulled over in front of Caldwell House, I just started to cry.”
It was Stacy (Stang) who greeted him with a hug and a “welcome home” to mark the occasion of his first visit.
“This (Piqua neighborhood) was a tight community,” interjected his sister, Dorrie Hunt, who sat alongside Golden.
Several relatives resided on nearby Boone Street and Hunt notes, “there were no walls or fences. We all shared the backyard.” Among those cousins they fondly recall was the late Helen Louis, who joined the staff of the Schmidlapp Free Library in 1921 and later became library director at the Flesh Public Library from 1946 through 1966. Louis passed away in 1984.
“The feeling is so strong being here,” added Golden, as he glanced around the inn’s sitting room and recalled as a child “watching the sun come through the window and make prisms on the floor. There’s a beauty in Piqua that hasn’t changed.”
The cousins describe Blanche Louis as the “quintessential grandmother” who selflessly devoted her life to family. Their grandfather, Leo, noted Barb and Peggy, was a “very kind man who loved sweets, kids and flowers in the back yard.”
Leo, who died in 1950, managed the city’s first self-serve grocery story at 404 N. Main St., known as the Piggly Wiggly. Cousins Rafael and Meyer Louis were proprietors of the Piqua Paper Box Co.
The Louis family were among prominent Jewish families in Piqua who founded the Temple Anshe Emeth. According to the archives, it was Rafael’s bequest (after he died in 1947) which launched the building fund for the present temple, also located on Caldwell Street.
Sharon Semanie is a journalist and longtime Piqua resident. She can be reached at [email protected]