The cottage is one of the oldest frame structures in the courthouse area. It contains changing exhibits and a collection of objects reflecting a typical home of the 1800s. The building is named for Christopher Tompkins (1787-1838) of Poplar Grove, a prominent local planter, merchant, sea captain, and ship owner/builder. He purchased the property before August 1838. A room is dedicated to his daughter, Capt. Sally Louisa Tompkins, CSA (1833-1916). Capt. Sally was the first woman to be commissioned as an officer in an American army. An excellent example of early Tidewater folk architecture, distinctive features include beaded beams, batten doors, and wrought iron hardware as well as an unusual door at the turn in the steep stairway. Over the years, the building has been a tailor shop, but primarily family residences. For much of the twentieth century, it was known as the old Miller House.
The cottage was bought by the county from a private owner in 1964 and saved from planned demolition by the efforts of a dedicated group that rallied to preserve the historic building. In 1969 it was leased to the historical society for use as a museum and related educational purposes. The cottage is the society’s headquarters, is staffed by volunteer docents and is open to the public on Saturdays, April through October, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.