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Little gray cottage keeps many secrets

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

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Jim and Shirley Weakley own Dr. Frank Lewis’s former office at the end of Morattico Road.

There’s a tiny gray cottage at the end of Morattico Road in upper Lancaster County that has survived a century of storms and owners.

The little house, which faces Mulberry Creek and the Rappahannock River, has been a landmark in the tiny village of Morattico since it served as the office of Dr. Frank Lewis in the early 1900s.

“If that little house could talk it could certainly tell some stories,” said Shirley Weakley, who with her husband, Jim, bought the property where the building stands in 1999.

The Weakleys live in a 2,500-square-foot main house that juts out on a point at the end of Morattico Road. It has wide views of Mulberry and Morattico creeks and the Rappahannock.

“We have water views from every room in our house,” said Shirley.

But it’s not the Weakleys’ beautiful main house that visitors first spot. It’s the tiny two-room cottage that sits at the entrance to their drive.

Why, then, haven’t they torn it down?

“We wouldn’t dare,” said Shirley.

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The front porch faces Mulberry Creek.

The property has belonged to only three families in over a century—the Lewises, the Rulas and the Weakleys. And none of the owners could part with the tiny house.

In fact, after Hurricane Isabel and subsequent nor’easters flooded the cottage, the Weakleys debated raising the building.

“We thought about it, but we chose not to. It would change it too much,” she said.

Instead, the cottage has become part of their landscaping. It’s surrounded by flowers and blooming trees. Its front porch, like the porch on their main house, includes white wicker furniture.
“We’ve used it more or less as my playhouse,” said Shirley, who has decorated its interior with dozens of hanging wicker baskets, a white iron loveseat, coffee table and a screen that she believes was used in Dr. Lewis’s office.

Over the last 10 years, they’ve replaced the roof, replaced the front porch and steps, put up ceiling fans, painted the interior walls taupe, the floor a reddish-brown and the exterior wood gray to match their home.

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Shirley uses the main room of the house as a sitting area.

Before Hurricane Isabel flooded the cottage in 2003, the Weakleys were using it as a guest cottage.

“The grandchildren loved it,” she said. “But water went through everything — the wingback chairs, the computer, quilts, everything. It was all lost. But the little house stood.”

Back in the early 1900s the office was in the center of Morattico’s activity hub at the end of the one road in and out of the village. The steamboat landed just in front of the office and several commercial buildings surrounded it.

The Storm of 1933 demolished the steamboat wharf and most of the surrounding buildings. But the little doctor’s office remained.

The front room was the waiting room and the rear Dr. Lewis’s examining room, where many babies were likely born and many people died, said Shirley.

A concrete slab, where they made the gas that operated the lights in the doctor’s office, still remains off the rear of the building. The Weakleys have covered it for the most part with flowers and shrubbery. They never removed a thin pipe that runs across the ceiling. It was used to pump in the gas for the lights.

After Dr. Lewis closed his office in the early 1930s, the building was rented several times as a home.

The Lewises owned the building and the surrounding property through the 1980s until it was purchased by the Rula family. They used the building as an office and for storage and added electricity. 

posted 03.27.2009

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