During the year 2000, were making our way around
Virginia, each issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the
heart of electric co-op country. On this years eighth stop, well be...
Down Home in Smithfield by Judy Hare, Contributing Writer
in PDF Format Hams, history and hospitality define this close-knit community whose foundation is
built on locals with deep roots.
With a few tweaks,
the brochure for the town of Smithfield says it best "In a world where we are
buffeted with change, where progress seems to be clearing land to build another parking
lot there is a corner where tradition means stability, and where change occurs
slowly, thoughtfully. In Smithfield, you are constantly reminded of your link to the past.
Through its history, its homes, its landmarks, and especially its food."
Says town manager, Peter Stephenson,
"We are lucky in Smithfield. We are one of the only towns our size to have a Fortune
500 company plopped directly in the middle of it. And Smithfield Foods has been a
benevolent corporate citizen. They have contributed greatly to the historic revitalization
of our downtown, and of course, because of the popularity of Smithfield ham, our town has
reaped the benefits of worldwide recognition."
From the ham smokehouses in this little Virginia town on the Pagan River comes
one of the worlds unique gourmet delicacies. The tradition goes back three centuries
to the early days of the newly formed Colony of Virginia. The settlers had prized the old
razorback hog and understood the art of curing hams and bacon as a source of great eating.
The succulent, amber, dry-cured hams made from peanut-fed hogs started a tradition that
would make Smithfield, Virginia, famous worldwide.
Today, Smithfield is still known for its prized hams. By law, in order to be called a
"Smithfield Ham," the piece of meat in question must be cured within the town
limits of Smithfield. Smithfield Foods, a corporate giant and the leading producer of
Smithfield hams and other meat products, is located within the small town of Smithfield.
The "great eating" tradition continues at the towns most enduring haven
of hospitality, the elegantly appointed, original Smithfield Inn and Tavern. The inn is
still providing lodging and serving meals in the Southern and Smithfield tradition.
Recently voted "Best Plate in Virginia" by USA Today, The Smithfield Inn
and Tavern is proud to feature classic wafer-thin slices of Smithfield ham on
"Yum!" Betty Thomas, marketing
director of the Smithfield Inn gushes, "Mozell Brown gets up and makes those fresh,
wonderful ham biscuits every morning at 6 a.m. for our guests. We think the Best
Plate designation is a real compliment and says a lot about
what great taste the folks at USA Today have!"
But todays Smithfield offers much more than flavorful ham. Its history and
well-preserved historic homes are an additional beacon to visitors and its hospitality has
turned many visitors into residents. Unlike many historic towns, Smithfield has known
repeated periods of prosperity which has resulted in a charmingly eclectic mix of handsome
colonial, stately federal, and elaborate Victorian homes. The Smithfield historic
district, which is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Historic
Register, is a fashionable address for locals.
Every Memorial Day weekend the town hosts
the Smithfield Olden Days Festival. Take a step back in time for this weekend-long event
featuring carriage rides in the historic district.
According to Diane Howard, director of tourism for Smithfield and Isle of
Wight County, "Tourism has become a real growth industry in our area. Smithfield has
become a mecca for tourists looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of city and
suburban life with its food, its history, its homes, its attractions and of course, its
A River Town from Way Back
The Smithfield Inn and Tavern provides
lodging and meals in the Southern tradition.
From its very beginning, Smithfield has been a river town, and its whole
life and growth have been conditioned by the river. Commerce and trade were born on the
banks of the Pagan, and nurtured by the men and women whose lives and lifestyles depended
on it. It was this waterway which first attracted merchants and made it one of Colonial
Virginias busiest and most prosperous communities. Today, trade continues on the
water at one of Smithfields best-known landmarks, Smithfield Station.
Ron Pack, owner of Smithfield Station,
looks the part of the Gortons fisherman, but is a savvy businessman and one of the
first proponents of a successful tourism program in Smithfield and Isle of Wight County.
Smithfield Station, perched on the banks of the Pagan River, is a unique
waterfront inn, restaurant and marina built in the spirit of a coastal life guard station.
This popular watering hole is a gathering place for locals and a popular place to tie up
on the weekends to sample delicious seafood and pork specialties. The hotel is a favorite
romantic getaway spot and even has its own lighthouse that you can spend the night in!
Elizabeth Goldman and her husband Larry
have made their home on South Church Street for years. She enjoys the close-knit community
feeling she shares with her neighbors. "I love living in old town among friendly,
caring people. Local residents and visitors are so curious and interested in these
historic houses. We feel a sense of pride and responsibility to be good caretakers of our
home so future generations can enjoy its grace and beauty."
But if you really want a slice of life in Smithfield, you must spend some time
with the gang at The Twins Restaurant. The "boys" start gathering in the wee
hours of the morning to play the "coffee game," get the latest crop reports, or
solve the countrys latest economic crisis. The "ladies" of Smithfield
visit The Twins at a much more respectable hour of the morning! Or, join Smithfield kids
of all ages for a scoop of sweet ice cream from the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor. And, the
good eats are not just found in Old Town. Plenty of locals "in the know" swear
by Robert Cox at the Battery Park Grill, Ken Brown at Kens Bar BQ, and
Charlie Webb at C.W. Cowlings for American chow and Annas Ristorante when in
the mood for something a little spicier!
Attractions abound in Smithfield from the visitors center itself, which is
housed in the Old Courthouse of 1750, to the Isle of Wight Museum, which includes the
history of the world-famous Smithfield hams, Indian artifacts, Civil War relics, and
fossils from the James River to Fort Boykin Historic Park (a historic fort that has
been involved in every major campaign fought on American soil) and historic St.
Lukes Shrine, the nations oldest existing Gothic Church (1632) of English
foundation in America.
Diane Howard, director of tourism for
Smithfield and Isle of Wight County, not only promotes the pleasures of Smithfield, she
enjoys them! Diane and Barbara Williams enjoy a relaxing repast at the Smithfield Gourmet
Yes, the hams and the history are the defining framework of what makes Smithfield
fun to visit and an incredible place to live, but the defining "H" is the
"hospitality" Smithfield has to offer to visitors and residents alike. There is
a rare quality in the South that, in this day and age, has lost ground in most states,
regions and towns but Smithfield has held true to its roots. What truly defines
Smithfield is the people that are its infrastructure. Its the locals whose roots run
deep and are the foundation upon which todays town society is built. It is the
newcomers who have come to build a family dream of community and giving, not just taking
of public bounty. It is a sense of responsibility and giving something back to a common
collection of souls living in the same place at the same time. It is the visitors who are
in awe of the gifts that Smithfield residents live with everyday and hope to restore to
their own lives by touching and taking a little piece of the graciousness and spirit of
what is truly "Smithfield" home with them.
first place to begin any visit to Smithfield is at the Isle of Wight Tourism Bureau,
currently located in the Old Courthouse on Main Street. Reach them by phone at (757)
357-5182 or (800) 365-9339 or visit their Web site at www.smithfield-virginia.com. The
friendly folks there can give you maps for the self-guided historic walking tour,
brochures on the major area attractions and recommendations for shopping and dining.
Dont miss the video! Youll be able to get the flavor of the area by enjoying
this 10-minute presentation. They are open daily.
The "gang" starts every morning
communing at The Twins Restaurant.
Special events abound in Smithfield. Every Memorial Day weekend the town
hosts the Smithfield Olden Days Festival. Take a step back in time for this
weekend-long event featuring carriage rides in the historic district, arts and crafts,
antiques, antique and vintage cars, concerts, a ghost walk, special childrens
activities and a closing outdoor concert in the natural amphitheater on the grounds of
Summer brings the annual Friday Night Summer Concert Series in Times
Square (the aptly named gazebo stage at the Smithfield Times newspaper office on
Main Street)! This series offers something for everyone with big band concerts, bluegrass,
folk music, military bands, gospel, teen night, and a variety show by the local theater
Dont miss the Isle of Wight County Fair the 3rd weekend in
September (Thursday through Sunday). Attractions at this popular family-oriented event
include a carnival, music, gas and steam engines, childrens activities, mule pulls,
livestock and lots of homemade items. For more info contact: Isle of Wight Parks &
Recreation, (757) 357-2291.
The holiday season is magical in Smithfield and features a multitude of special
seasonal events including a tree lighting, boat lighting on the Pagan River, Historic
District Decorating contest, and much more! Call the Isle of Wight Tourism Bureau for
specific dates and times.
The first place to begin any visit to
Smithfield is at the Isle of Wight Tourism Bureau, currently located in the Old Courthouse
on Main Street.
Other events throughout the year include: art shows and exhibits
sponsored by The Collage Arts Center: (757) 357-7707; The Smithfield Little Theater
presentation of three show runs per year. (The first show, generally a musical, runs
the first three weekends in November. The second show runs the last weekend in February
and the first two weekends in March and the third show runs the first three weekends in
May.) Box office: (757) 357-7338; Monthly antique auctions held the first Wednesday
of every month by local auctioneer and funny man, Jim Abeicht, at the Smithfield Antique
Center (757) 365-0223.
A variety of accommodations are available in Smithfield and the surrounding area
to suit every taste and budget. Smithfield Station Waterfront Inn ((757) 357-7700)
is located on the Pagan River and includes a marina, lighthouse and boardwalk suites and
dining facilities. The Smithfield Inn Bed and Breakfast ((757) 357-1752), circa
1752, is located in the historic district and has been continuing its legend of
hospitality since 1752. The Isle of Wight Inn Bed and Breakfast ((757) 357-3176) is
located on one of Smithfields main thoroughfares and envelopes its guests with
colonial charm. Porches on the James is a newly opened bed and breakfast located
just outside of town complimenting Smithfields river-port heritage. Also available
are an Econo-Lodge ((757) 357-9057) and a Best Western ((757) 562-4100).