Tasty Treats and Hometown History

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All in the Mix at Union Mills Confectionery

unionmills

Take an abundant array of irresistible baked goodies from cookies, brownies and cupcakes to breakfast rolls, cakes and pies; mix them with a generous helping of Southern Ohio history and you’ll have the recipe for a West Portsmouth treasure named Union Mills Confectionery.

Located at 1120 Galena Pike in West Portsmouth, Ohio, this specialty bakery owned and operated by Debbie Temple-Blevins and her sister Charity Whisnant, sits on a site steeped in the history of an area once known as Union Mills. Today the confectionery named for that early village, which had a population of 200 in 1884, draws customers from all over Scioto County and beyond. One attraction, iced breakfast rolls, sells out so quickly each morning that customers must get to the shop early or go home empty-handed. Those especially addicted to this particular breakfast treat often call ahead to have the rolls held if they can’t get there right when the shop opens.

The bakery offers seven standard flavors of decorated sheet cakes and iced layer cakes for all occasions along with favorites such as Amish carrot, red velvet and raspberry torte. A variety of cookies and dessert treats, including iced sugar cookies, coconut-filled chocolate along with no-bakes, cupcakes, cream horns and petit fours, are available daily or by special order. Nine kinds of “made from scratch” fruit and cream pies, along with pumpkin and pecan pies in season, are also popular bakery items. In addition to the alluring iced breakfast rolls, a variety of other breakfast treats, dinner rolls and homemade sourdough, Amish and honey wheat bread loaves, satisfy refreshment needs for entertaining and celebrating special occasions.

Undeniably, Union Mills’ most popular attractions are the iced sugar cookies, says Temple-Blevins.

“At holiday time, the kitchen usually contains three huge racks, each holding 40 dozen iced sugar cookies,” she reports. At least twice a year, usually for Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, the shop ships 45 dozen to a company in Denver, Colo.”

Built in 1997, Union Mills Confectionery opened for business just before Easter weekend. The attractive building, painted red with white trim, is visible as drivers come across the Scioto River bottoms via Route 73-104. Its well-equipped kitchen sports five mixers, a large oven with six revolving shelves and ample space for food preparation and storage.

In 1968 the parents of the bakery’s co-owners, Bob and Lenora Temple, opened the Mex-Itali Restaurant (formerly La Pizzeria) on Route 239 just south of the Union Mills bakery location. The idea for building the confectionery actually came from Lenora who wanted more space to create desserts for the restaurant. The Temples’ daughters decided to carry out Lenora’s idea and make her dream a reality. Now, the business has a staff of 11 bakers and decorators, often pulling in extra people for the holiday rush.

Bearing strong connections to the significant history of the area where it is situated, Union Mills Confectionery is located next to Lock 50 of the old Ohio and Erie Canal that ran 308 miles from Lake Erie to Portsmouth. A large stone mile marker found in the area by the sisters’ dad and brother, stands by the bakery entrance, indicating a distance of 298 miles to Cleveland. Two historic markers on the property, installed by the Union Mills’ owners and the Scioto Valley Canal Society, provide fascinating information about the canal and its importance to Ohio and the region. According to the markers, Union Mills, Lock 50 and the Scioto River were “the gateway to the Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico.” Remnants of the canal locks may be found at various points along Route 104.

On the present-day location of the Mex-Itali Restaurant , the first grist mill in the village of Union Mills was built by Lemuel Moss in 1834. He rented it to his brother-in-law Captain Samuel Coles and William Waller who managed the mill until it burned down in 1838; they rebuilt it nearby and continued its operation until 1851 when they sold the mill to L.N. Robinson. Robinson later sold the mill to George Davis, prominent businessman and farmer, who operated it until his death.

About the same time, Davis purchased a distillery built in 1837 just north of where the Union Mills bakery sits today. The distillery included a large stone building with extensive hog and cattle pens on the east side, typical additions to such a business during the period because the livestock could be fed on the remains of the corn after distilling. Temple-Blevins recalls a small pool of water, appropriately called “The Slop Pond,” close by where children ice skated in winter. Across the road from the mill was a combined grocery and dry goods store operated by Davis and later managed for him by C.H. Barbee who purchased it after Davis died. The building also served as a post office and a toll collector’s office for several years.

Proud preservers of West Portsmouth’s past, Union Mills’ owners are good business women with a strong following of faithful customers and a steady clientele.

“Our bakery work is fun because we constantly meet and talk with people,” Whisnant commented.

“We’ve been blessed,” said Temple-Blevins.

Union Mills Confectionery
1120 Galena Pike
West Portsmouth, Ohio
(740) 858-4633

Open Tuesday- Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon

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Kay Bouyack

Kay Bouyack is staff writer for the Scioto Foundation and a long-time freelance journalist for area arts and community organizations. She and her husband Ernie reside in Portsmouth, Ohio.

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