|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.
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.
|This story is an excerpt from Window on the Chesapeake by Wendy Mitman
Clarke. To order this book, visit the Mariner's Museum.
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.