Tiny Towns and Old Rivers (from Window on the Chesapeake)
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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Image from Window on the Chesapeake
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There are places on the Chesapeake Bay where you want to get lost—literally, metaphorically, certainly historically and maybe even spiritually. Lewisetta General Store is one of these. Truth be told, you almost have to get lost just to find it. Not by boat, so much; perched as it is by deep water at the entrance to Virginia’s Coan River, just off the Potomac, the store is perfectly located for waterborne traffic, which it has seen for over a century—schooners, skipjacks, steamboats, fishing boats, you name it. By land, however, you drive down the northern side of Virginia’s Northern Neck a long way before you make a left on Lewisetta Road and follow it past soybean fields and saltmarsh until it ends, with very little fanfare, in a tidy loop around the store. Which is to say, at the water’s edge.

Cover from Window on the Chesapeake
This story is an excerpt from Window on the Chesapeake by Wendy Mitman Clarke. To order this book, visit the Mariner's Museum.
From here, you can gaze across the mouth of the mighty Potomac River, and on clear days the horizon bends away from your eye, so incoming ships and boats seem to float upon a quivering sea of light. The store’s cement front porch faces southwest, looking across the Coan River, and on a sunny fall or winter day it’s not just a porch--it’s a Zen-like experience. It’s a way to spend an afternoon meditating on tiny towns and old rivers, a way to get yourself lost for a time.

The gray clapboard store that stands today was built in the mid-1800s. From the late 1800s until 1990, it served as the town’s post office. In fact, it gave the town its name—a simple anagram of Etta Lewis, who, with her husband Charlie, owned the store when the post office was established. Or so the story goes. In those days general stores dotted the waterfront all over the Bay, many of them linked to the steamboat lines that traversed the Chesapeake and its tributaries transporting everything from tomatoes and watermelons to livestock and people. It was far easier to travel by water in many places—the Northern Neck among them—because the water was so much more dependable than the roads, if there were roads. Waterways were highways, and general stores were the 7-Elevens of the time. Only a few remain, though, Lewisetta one of them. “That’s the story of Lewisetta,” says [Helen] Scerbo, sighing. “I love Lewisetta.”

Over the double front door is LEWISETTA GENERAL STORE written in white cursive letters. A single, naked light bulb dangles over the porch, and the wooden screen doors slam in that particular way that makes you think of hot, buggy summer nights. Inside, the old pine floor is hidden beneath blue and white linoleum. A command center of sorts stands in the middle, holding the cash register, the kids’ bookbags, boxes of candy bars and arts and crafts projects to keep young fingers and minds occupied on rainy days, among them some oyster shells decorated in gold and silver paint.

As the late-day sun warms the porch, Mark Scerbo walks up from the marina with one hand wrapped around the tails of three whopping bluefish, a gift from a customer. The sun will set soon, over the river. Maybe some dolphins will come in to play. The kids will tussle on the grass. The Lewisetta General Store will shut its doors for the night and rest awhile, awaiting the sunrise, fresh coffee and another timeless day.

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