Millersport Coffee Shop aka Who Says You Can't Go Home

If ever there was a “Mayberry” place to grow up in, the Greater Buckeye Lake Region area was it. Small town diamonds. I am fascinated by them. Gem stone stories, folklore and interpretations of exactly what went on before we all got to the place where we stand today. Then there’s the modern day buzz. Animated conversations about new things that are happening. Speculations of grand proportion on how it will all turn out. I love it. There are things about where I live that I’ve had questions about for decades. For all the answers I got while researching for this piece, I developed a whole lot more. There are some exciting things happening here in the Greater Buckeye Lake Region. New places and new faces. I will attempt, in this article, to build at least one verbal bridge starting with historic echos and ending with what’s happening now. I have so many people to credit for the stones that were turned. I will credit them at the end of this story. The pulse of this article is based on the heart of the Village of Millersport and here’s a great scoop! We now have a new coffee shop called Millersport Coffee. It is located beside the Canal Restaurant on the historic Ohio Canal that runs right through town. It is a gem, and to meet the owners, Tim and Jennifer Koenig (and baby Charlie) is to love them. They are GOOD people. I’ve watched them work hard to open an inviting coffee shop, while embracing the people and the history of the town it sits in. They really do care about both. I’m going to talk more about the shop and the Koenigs a little later. While witnessing what the Koenig’s have done with their space in the Canal Restaurant, I couldn’t help but reflect on some of memories I have from that space, the restaurant, the canal and the sidewalk in front of it. Allow me to expand. In chronological order, the owners of the Canal Restaurant since my family moved here when we were kids was as follows: The Berry’s, The Clatty’s, and the Whitaker’s prior to the present day. When my family came to town, it was Berry’s restaurant owned by Sherriff Dan Berry. My mom had a dime store called Virgina’s Village Shop and my dad had a Pizza Shop (once Romano’s) on the same strip in town. My parents put my brother Brad and me both to work in their shops so we spent a lot of time on that street. Mom and I worked the dime store and she’d send me down to Berry’s on Saturdays to get hamburgers so we could keep working. My favorite errand. Berry’s had a pool hall downstairs. It was situated directly beneath where Millersport Coffee sits now. Nobody I talked to could really come up with whether it had a name or not. It almost reminded me of a speak easy. I used to see the older guys descending the side steps to go down for their “therapy”. Likely 3.2 beer and a game of pool. I was told that Orville Hempleman ran the pool hall which sported a tin awning. My classmates, Steve Bush and Dave Schilling, would bounce walnuts on the tin awning from across the canal. Orville appeared at the door red faced and threatening them to within an inch of their lives. That’s pretty Huck Finn but I love it. Sorry Mr. Hempleman. Time moved on and the Clatty’s became the new owners. There was a steady group of village men who gathered there for their coffee at the crack of dawn every day. They all had their own personal mugs and were served coffee in them accordingly. I’m told one of the guys even had a key because he got there before they opened. Mrs. Clatty had a master carpenter brother named Jim Goree who did a lot of the handy work around the restaurant. You’ll need to know that later in the story. The famous football player, Bart Starr, was Mrs. Clatty and Jim’s cousin. There was a picture of him hanging on the restaurant wall. I am forever intrigued by some historical points of interest concerning the Canal Restaurant. #1 The Liar’s Bench #2 The Ohio shaped deck down on the canal which is part of the outdoor restaurant decking. #3 The bridge over the canal First, I’ll address the bench. Facing the front of the restaurant, just to the right was an old splintered bench called “The Liar’s Bench”. The town guys sat there and told stores which were, of course, occasionally based on truth and occasionally “improvisational”. Hence, the name, The Liar’s Bench. So very multi-purpose, it was a place for cultural storytelling, political discussions and even a place of commerce. The boys in my class waited there to accept delivery for their paper routes. The town mayor, Mr. Wilson, or “Mayor Willie” was a frequent flyer there. I’d like to think he engaged in political discussions that didn’t end in disowning family and friends. He’d delight himself with a piece of pie in the restaurant, then would retire to the Liar’s Bench to weave stories by the hour. I never saw him wearing anything but bibbed overalls and the memory of him raising his hand to do the one index finger old guy wave at me will forever be burned in my mind. I still consider The Liar’s Bench to have been sacred ground with history in the making just a few steps from the Ohio canal system that steadily flowed by them as time took flight. I probably sound obsessed with this bench by now, and if I included all of the stories I’ve heard about it while writing this, I’d have to write a separate book. I had to narrow it down, but here’s just one more. This one tugs my heartstrings. My dear friend Lori Zollinger McNaghten told me that after her dad, Charlie Zollinger, retired, he too enjoyed the wonder of sitting on the magical Liar’s Bench every single morning. He would drive right up and park beside the bench. Like clockwork, the restaurant waitress would appear with Charlie’s coffee and a pillow for him to sit on. He would wave at the passing cars. His daughter Lori would drive by and yell “Get a Job” and thank him for paying into her social security all those years. She’s a nut like that. Lori tells me that was Charlie’s daily routine every single day until he was unable to drive. Years later I was told that the state repaired and remodeled the bridge just to the side of The Liar’s Bench. When this project happened, the old splintered bench went away. I’d love to know where, but I just know that it’s long gone. The Watson family, then owners of the town gas station, purchased a replacement bench. They attached a plaque that said “Sit down, Rest awhile” - In Memory of Paul Watson” after Paul’s passing circa 1999-2000. The bench survived many more years, was eventually painted red and the words on the plaque wore off. Most recently it was removed and will at last be back in the possession of the Watson family. It has been replaced by beautiful cafe tables where the Millersport Coffee Shop patrons can now sit and enjoy that sacred spot where the village men told stories for years. It’s a bit Paris like. If you are lucky enough to hold a cup of coffee in that spot, close your eyes and ponder these people, places and things that I speak of. Their spirits are still alive and well there. Another echo of the past that intrigued me is the Ohio shaped deck on the canal at the foot of the restaurant. For years, I was under the misconception that it was built by previous owner Mrs. Clatty’s brother, Jim Goree, that I mentioned before. I stand completely corrected. It seems the docks and former boathouse that were then down on the canal were in disrepair. As the story goes, Mrs. Clatty wanted to have the Ohio shaped deck built in honor of her brother, Jim. Another local carpenter who frequented the restaurant, Mike Carr, took action. A labor of love, Mike and his beloved restaurant going brothers took it upon themselves to design, build and create what I consider to be an art piece. They took up a collection and received more money than they even needed to get the project done. Mike Carr designed it. Butch Schneider created a CAD drawing for it. The Lions Club members permitted them to assemble it on the Sweet Corn Festival grounds. Frank Foster craned the Ohio shaped frame from the Sweet Corn Festival grounds and lowered it over the bridge to where it sits today. After setting the frame, Butch, Mike and their pals built the decking to complete the dock. That is the story of small town wonder. Here’s a problem, let’s do something about it. Lest you think that all those hours of coffee drinking and spinning tales were all for naught, not really. In my opinion, this is a very unique piece of artwork designed and built collectively by a group of insightful good hearted folk. This was also funded by the generosity of monetary donations from the villagers. You know, kinda how the world should work. Lastly, I’ll cover a flashback I had about the bridge over the canal. This may seem like a Stephen King touch to this story, but I laugh about it now. I didn’t then. One night I was walking from my parent’s Pizza Shop to Taylor’s house a couple of blocks away. I collected LP record albums and Circus Magazines back then. On this particular night, I had a stack of the records in my arms and was headed down the street with them. The newest of the albums was J.D. Blackfoot’s “Waiting to be Born”. The main drag was dark and deserted that night. Almost. I saw two teenage guys from our school up ahead on the bridge. I’ve selectively forgotten who they were even though I know I knew them at the time. I sensed danger but there was only one way across the bridge, so I kept walking toward them. They approached. My heart pounded. The bridge was narrow so I couldn’t really escape. They picked me up, with those records clutched tightly in my arms, and held me upside down over the bridge railing dangling me head first over the water. I think they were confident they wouldn’t drop me for fear that my dad, who was a big dude, would kill them. As terrified as I was, the comical thing to me about this is that I was fully focused on the safety of those records much more so than the fact that I could potentially be dropped head first into dark murky water at night. I don’t even remember screaming. I just remember thinking DON’T BREAK MY RECORDS! Seconds seems like hours. Being satisfied that they’d put the fear of God into me, they put me back on my feet and I took off. No injuries injuries were sustained and except for the cover of my J.D. Blackfoot LP being a little bent, the records survived without a scratch. As I said before, it was a little bit like being in a Huckleberry Finn book growing up around here and warts and all, I still embrace it. Let’s talk about the present day. Let’s talk coffee because somehow it has EVERYTHING to do with why this piece was even written. One day I was introduced to a young couple on the Buckeye Lake bike path. Tim and Jennifer Koenig was that couple. They were in the planning stages of opening the coffee shop. I can honestly say, I don’t think there isn’t anything they didn’t think of when they opened this shop. It is magical. Tim asked me to do an artist rendering of the shop. I looked at several of his pictures. My absolute favorite was the one he had taken of a vantage point from the bridge looking down the side of the building where it kisses the canal bank. I felt that it enveloped every story that building had to tell. I asked Tim to tell me in his own words what he would like to say about their new shop. His words: “In our view, a coffee shop serves more than just coffee. A coffee shop serves hope, provides a place for people to come together, to socialize, to see neighbors and old friends. It is more of a community center that just so happens to serve coffee, tea, hot chocolate, italian sodas, smoothies and more. This is what excites us most, to be able to bring something to the Village of Millersport that may have a profound impact on others. Perhaps we will be the location of a first job, a first date, a job interview, or an important business meeting. We may also be a place in which a father and/or mother will bond with their child or a couple can sneak away together to take a coffee break from the hustle and bustle of life. This is our vision behind Millersport Coffee, and we hope that the village will quickly begin to experience that we are brewing more than just coffee.” I have, since starting this article, personally visited the shop several times. The thoughtfulness and love that has gone into this endeavor is inviting and like new birth in our little town. As I was standing in the shop, I felt the spirits of those who had gone before and the vibrance of the ones that are going forward. You carry the torch so beautifully Tim and Jennifer. Bless you for coming to our village. MORE DETAILS ABOUT MILLERSPORT COFFEE: April 24 will be grand opening celebration-Buckeye Lake Chamber event at 11am (ribbon cutting). They have been added to the Fairfield County Java Trail. Also, June 5th and every Saturday following from 9am-noon will be the Millersport Coffee community market in the lot (up to 10 vendors will be set up) Website: THE PAINTING: This painting was done with watercolor and ink on a 16 x 20 canvas. The original lovingly hangs in plain view when you enter this quaint and welcoming little shop called Millersport Coffee. It has been an extreme pleasure to meet the Koenigs and talk to all the people that I did while bringing this project over the finish line. Prints are available on my website at If you are interested in a commission, please email me through my website. Thanks for reading. Please know that I included as many names and details that I learned about while in research. If I missed anyone, my apologies and my thanks for to you all for being a part of our village and history. I want to credit the following people for assisting me with research and helped me to finish it: Nancy Fish Steve Bush Mark Thogmartin Gilbert & Connie Arnold-Special thanks for the pics and history facts. Jeff Watson Lori MacNaghten Tracy McNaghten Mike Carr Tim Koenig Jennifer Koenig Bob Weldon Gary Matheny Butch Schneider