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Between the 1880s and the 1930s, Peru served as the winter home for 13 different circuses, giving the community its nickname, Circus City.

Though the circuses left 60 years ago, Peru remained the home of such famous circus performers as Emmett Kelly the clown, Willie Wilno, the Human Cannonball and the Hodgini Troupe of circus performers. Today the city boasts the International Circus Hall of Fame, and it recently staged its 35th annual Youth Circus.

There's no escaping the link Peru has established with the entertainment industry. Classic songwriter Cole Porter, a Peru native, used to have chocolate from Peru sent to him while on road tours in the 1960s.

"He did that for five or six years," recalls Bob Haskett, owner of Arnold's Candies for 34 years. "He used to have us send him nine pounds a month of Cole Porter's Fudge, which had pecans in it. He ate it, but he also gave some to Hollywood stars." Arnold's Candies remains a thriving business today, and two Arnold's stores are stops along the Cole Porter walking/driving tour.

Sweet memories of a musical icon and the circus are not Peru's only bragging rights; there are plenty of others in present-day Miami County.

Ruth Grider, the Peru Area Chamber of Commerce's executive director, points to the employment stability of the area. Examples include the county's largest employer, Square D, a manufacturer of electrical panelboards. Square D has a work force of 523 people. The second-largest employer is Duke's Memorial Hospital, with 305 on the payroll. Another large Miami County employer is American Stationery, whose 260 employees are involved in the manufacture of personalized stationery.

But rural Miami County thrives on its smaller businesses. "Some retail people say this has been their best year ever," Grider says. "The antique and crafts stores are going great guns. They provide service, the items people want, and people are into those things. We get people from all over the area--not just Miami County--who come here to shop for antiques."

Grider admits the community has been challenged by the impending deactivation of Grissom Air Force Base, located in the southwest quadrant of the county. The base is scheduled for full deactivation by this September. The Grissom Redevelopment Authority is studying how to use the base. "Peru/Miami County cannot ignore that Grissom will have an impact, but it also presents a challenge," Grider says. "People now see that if they want something, they have to take part in it."

Grissom has many assets. One is the Air Park and Museum. The Heritage Museum Foundation recently raised nearly $100,000 to keep about 20 vintage planes at the base museum.

Another showpiece for the area is the train depot in Peru, which was renovated three years ago. The depot now serves as a theater and reception hall. Recent uses for it have included a production of "Our Town" as well as weddings and receptions.

"We have probably one of the finest museums and historical societies in Indiana," Grider adds. "It's a three-story building in the downtown that has been converted into an absolute showplace." The historical society is located in the former Singer Dry Goods store, now fully renovated.

Another familiar jewel in Miami County is Mississinewa Lake. The 3,180-acre lake actually spans Miami, Wabash and Grant counties. Though swimmers enjoy the many private coves, boaters and water-skiers find Mississinewa to be a sportsperson's haven. It also offers camping, fishing, hunting and picnic areas.

Area housing took a boost with the recent development of a championship-caliber golf course and community with 100 sites available for upscale housing. Rock Industries, which operates stone quarries, is building the unique Rock Hollow course in an old quarry, with most of the action taking place below ground level.
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Title Annotation:City Spotlight; Circus City
Author:Alexander, Curt
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Aug 1, 1994
Previous Article:North-Central Indiana update.
Next Article:A boost for Mead Johnson?

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