Worth The Tipp

Welcome to Tipp City

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

Cover art by Jed Helmers

Ask around and you’ll find the most frequently used word to describe Tipp City, the little town that sits just north of Dayton on the Miami River, is “charming.” Founded in 1840, the city took hold as a stop along the developing Miami-Erie Canal and has just never let go. Adapting to the changing times and cannily advancing their industries in line with developments in transportation, Tipp has endured and grown, accommodating a population just shy of 10,000. Tippecanoe High School has made Newsweek’s list of the top 500 in the country three years running, and just last November, Tipp City was named one of the top five best hometowns in Ohio by Ohio Magazine.

But what is it about a town that leads to a reputation as charming? Safety, sure. A sense of community, definitely. Quiet shops on a tidy street, you bet. But all of those virtues could also be used to describe an outdoor mall, and “charm” implies a little more personality than that. Charm means something special, something unique, a mixture of qualities that makes you nostalgic for an experience you’re not even sure you ever had. For Tipp, is it the homemade peanut pie at Sam and Ethel’s? Is it the delights of the annual Mum Festival? Is it walking into a building that has stood for generations upon generations and knowing it will continue to stand for many more?

Before I begin to answer these questions, honesty time regarding some even harder questions: when I began research for this story, I came at it with a furrowed brow, bristling at the word “charm” because it is so often ascribed to those places with an all-white aesthetic, and no, I’m not talking about paint color. Census data shows surrounding cities to have populations comprised of around 10 percent people of color (closer to 50 percent in Dayton), while Tipp is less than five percent people of color. Why has Tipp stayed so racially homogenous over the years? Is charm only accessible to “white America”? And where is the enthusiastic history of the people who were there before the canal, the Shawnee? The Iroquois?

I was also startled to learn Clark named the city for his friend, William Henry Harrison, who had gained the nickname Tippecanoe after he defeated the Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana. And, I didn’t find terribly satisfying answers for these questions, as it seems the case asking these questions in most places across the U.S.; however, I did find a whole lot of kind, hard-working people who have both neighbors’ and newcomers’ best interests at heart, and that is certainly worth the trip to Tipp.


To get to the bottom of what makes Tipp tick, I enlisted the aid of writer and historian Susan Furlong. Furlong, who more than 40 years ago traded big city life for marriage into a deep-seated Tipp family, has written extensively about the history of Tipp in two plays, “Tippecanoe–Our Story” and “Tippecanoe–Our Lives,” and two books, “Tippecanoe to Tipp City: The First 100 Years” and “Legendary Locals of Tippecanoe to Tipp City.” We met at the Tippecanoe Historical Society Museum, which had once served as the city’s post office around the time Tippecanoe changed its name to Tipp City to avoid confusion with another Ohio town of the same name. Furlong introduced me to Cathy Flohre and Bob Bartley, volunteers who dedicate endless hours cataloguing and curating a steady rotation of fascinating finds. Dwarfed by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves packed with hand-bound volumes, they pour through masses of chronicled source material in the Grace Kinney room, much of it from the eponym herself, who unfortunately was not known for legibility.

Furlong walked me through the museum proper, divulging details on Dolly Toy’s appearance on I Love Lucy, veteran Mike Jackson’s flight suit, and John Clark’s preference for brick buildings, contending they gave the town a classier feel than the log cabins of nearby Hyattsville, which ironically would later merge with Tipp. Pausing in front of a photo of the Chaffee Opera House, Bob chuckles as he recalls how in his boyhood, Basil Butler had hired him to shoot the bothersome pigeons off the roof with his air rifle.

For me, the most intriguing item in the museum is an original guest sign-in book from the Carles House, the old hotel built in 1852, which still stands on Main Street, now operated by Sally and Steve Watson as the Hotel Gallery. The addresses, penned as elegantly as any wedding invitation, reveal to what extent the canal had made Tippecanoe a destination in the mid-19th century. One entry shows the guest had made their way to the city all the way from Kolkata, though they of course used the “Calcutta” spelling of then-British India. Gently turning the weathered pages, Furlong points out where it was indicated if the guest stayed the night or had just stopped in for lunch.

“You know, when asked who they’d like to have dinner with, people say Jesus or George Washington,” she says. “No. I want to have dinner with one of these people [from Tipp history]. What was it really like back then?”

And, she makes a strong point: for all the reading and research you can do to learn about a place, the ultimate key is its people. “I have always been fascinated by history as a story of real people. Not dates, buildings, battles, etcetera, but the people who lived it,” she continues.

And who is living that history now? While Furlong understands visitors’ attraction to the charm of Tipp’s revitalized downtown, she points out the city is more than Main Street’s vintage character and street improvements. “Tipp is a great place to raise kids,” Furlong says. “The schools are top notch, Kyle Park is a wonderful facility for sports; modern businesses like Meijer and Abbott Labs want to be here. People move here for more than the ‘charm.’ They come because Tipp City contributes to and benefits what they want for their families.”


The museum alone could draw you to Tipp, but there is oh so much to explore and experience. You’ll find local art, quality furniture, rare antiques, and, of course, plenty of fine places to eat. Everywhere you walk into, you’ll be greeted with a smile and feel an instant connection to the town. Wander the shops and galleries, and meet the people who make Tipp what it is, charm and all.

“I would say what I love the most is the camaraderie downtown,” says Sharon Elaine of Sharon Elaine Photography. “Every one knows each other. If you shop in one of the stores downtown, most likely the person helping you isn’t just some employee, they are the owners themselves. It’s like a family downtown, too. When someone is in need, the whole town bands together to help. It’s great.”

Kyle White, owner of Merchant31, is intimately familiar with Tipp’s ability to rally around its neighbors. “Tipp City is an amazing small town that is abundant in kindness,” Kyle says. “When we experienced the fire [which burned down Browse Awhile Books] recently, we were inundated with help and support. People helped us empty the store, brought us food, offered encouragement. We are so excited to reopen in the fall after renovation.” Kyle, born and raised in Tipp, loves the small-town feel. “Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand. My family has been here for so long, I know so many people, and it is such a joy to own a business in the town you grew up in.”

Kyle’s cousin, Jen White, owner of That Place on Main, also digs on the small-town vibe.

“Owning a business in Tipp has been most rewarding because we live in a small town with big hearts!” Jen says. “Big, generous hearts who are always willing to step up and meet a need. Our little downtown is the cutest, and the business owners all value, respect, and support each other. [Tipp] really is a great community and a wonderful family-friendly city that encourages love and kindness. I’d like to think our little town shines big and bright!”

“Tipp is a wonderful place to live and own a small business,” says Melissa Cairns, owner-operator of Cairns Toys. “All of our downtown merchants are great, and we all try to help each other. The city tries very hard to work with the downtown and grow business. They help promote our town, and that helps our businesses attract new customers from all around. People that live and/or work here really all love Tipp and are very good about shopping local to support the shops.”

Terri Bessler, owner of The Iron Dog Salvage & Antiques, says one of her favorite things about owning a business in downtown is the support of other business owners and organizations like the Downtown Tipp City Partnership. Another aspect she enjoys is the customer base: “We see hundreds of people each week, regulars and visitors from all over the country.”

Kristy Reis, owner of SWEET by Kristy, is in agreement that patrons are what makes owning a business in Tipp tops. “In Tipp City, with it being a small town, I can easily get to know my customers,” Reis says. “I really enjoy getting to know them, as well as other local business owners, and connecting us all to keep business local and support[ing] each other. We have a great community that makes that easy and fun!”

Studio 14 Manager Leslie Trimbach’s primary goal is to share and promote the arts and the many talented artists in the area. The variety of exhibits, gallery artists with work for sale, art parties, and art classes offer something for everyone. “There are so many amazing artists that live just around the corner from us and we try to showcase as much of their work as possible,” Trimbach says of the fine arts center, which she co-owns with her mother, Evelyn Staub. “Evelyn and I are committed to bringing in more quality art and art instruction to the downtown area, to get people interested in handmade, unique, and created from the heart.”

“I think of Tipp City as a village,” says Becky Ford, owner of Old Tippecanoe Coffee Co. “Doing business in this small village, I have the opportunity to let my small shop be what I do, but who I’m on the inside. We make friends – it’s a gathering place to share our lives with each other. I’m proud to be part of [this] community.”

The Tipp City Mum Festival will take place Friday, Sept. 23 ­– Sunday, Sept. 25 at Tipp City Park, 312 Park Ave. in Tipp City. For more information on the festival, please visit TippCityMumFestival.org. For more about upcoming events, local shops, and places to eat in Tipp City, please visit VisitTippCity.org. 


Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She can be reached at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com or through her website at JennerLumpkin.com.

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About Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

View all posts by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and amateur cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and is currently serving as Chair. She can be reached at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com or through her website at jennerlumpkin.com.

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