It was a perfect fall day. The sun was shining, the roses were still blooming, Tropical Storm Matthew was long gone and most important of all, there was no humidity.
It was a great day in downtown Smithfield, the town with “small town Southern charm.” The town with the “porcine parade.”
The town that still has brick sidewalks, unique shops where the owner greets you, lots of good places to eat, a fun Farmers Market, and a chance to have a photo op with George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. Those two are always there, sitting around right on Main Street, cast in bronze.
Smithfield is tucked into Isle of Wight County, not that far from anywhere in Hampton Roads. It’s a perfect getaway for a day. Smithfield has history, good food, art, music and all kinds of special events that give it that small town feel with some flare and fun.
I like coming into town on Church Street. Downtown starts as soon as you cross the beautiful Pagan River at Smithfield Station.
Smithfield Station is a marina, hotel, and an excellent restaurant with a deck overlooking the river, and shops, including the newest shop, Pier Side Gallery and Gifts.
Pier Side is owned by the Elliots. Robert is an artist, who wanted a place for Hampton Road artists to sell their work. Suzanne is a teacher. The art is local, unique and there’s a beautiful view of the river from their back deck.
Get the Smithfield Walking Tour ready on your phone, because there are beautiful old homes, dating back as far as the 1700’s, all along Church Street before you come to Main Street Smithfield.
Smithfield is chock full of history. The Warascoyak Indians lived for centuries on the banks of the Pagan River, before John Smith came by and the other British, including the town’s namesake, Arthur Smith IV, began to farm, build homes and the town on the river.
At the corner of Church Street and Main Street is the ornate Victorian house, now Mansion on Main Bed & Breakfast. Tucked right behind it, on Church Street is Mansion on Main Art and Antiques. More than one shop owner in town told me it’s the place to get fine quality antiques and art.
Kitty-corner from Mansion on Main is the next stop for history buffs, the Isle of Wight County Museum, where for a very small fee ($2) you can view the “world’s oldest ham” and the “world’s oldest peanut.” Smithfield is home of the ham and pigs love peanuts. The 102 year old ham on display is so famous, it has it’s own Ham Cam and Twitter feed, #Worldsoldestham. The County Museum is housed in an old bank building and has lots more than old hams and peanuts. Your kids will enjoy the recreation of an old country general store.
The newest exhibit is “Isle of Wight History in 40 Objects,” which will open on November 18, celebrating the Museum’s 40th anniversary. The Isle of Wight County Museum hosts all kinds of events. You just might run into the author of the book, Battle of Smithfield, Albert Buckland, in the Museum’s gift shop. Albert is a volunteer firefighter and local history buff who leads history tours around Smithfield when he isn’t fighting fires.
When you stand on the corner of Main and Church Streets, you will have to make a decision. If you are hungry and thirsty, now is the time to walk down the hill, toward the river, on Main Street and visit downtown Smithfield’s only brewery, Wharf Hill Brewing Company. Wharf Hill Brewing is a great place for either lunch or dinner.
If you are not quite ready for food and beer, walk a little further down Church Street and you will discover two cute shops, right next door to each other. Wendy Addison and Debi Wilkins are co-owners of Relics.
They like to say they are “shameless.” “We will stop at the side of the road to rescue furniture and save it from the landfills.” There are some beautiful pieces in their shop. Right next door to Relics is the tiny shop, Beyond Main. Owner Robin Stahura has clothing and jewelry that you will not find at any mall store. That is exactly what Smithfield is all about.
Walk back up to Main Street and just stroll on down. Downtown Smithfield is charming. If it is Saturday, don’t miss the Smithfield Farmers Market. There will be music, good things to eat and maybe an alpaca or two. Be sure to check the Visit Smithfield Facebook page before go. The Smithfield Visitor Center, at 319 Main Street, posts all the upcoming events.
Smithfield has that small town feeling. There is Halloween trick-or-treating downtown and an old-fashioned Christmas parade on December 17. There are also concerts, walking tours, home tours and art shows. This small town is hopping.
Main Street is easy to walk and fun to explore. Here are a few of my favorites, starting with the charming Smithfield Inn. We used to stay here when we were visiting the grandkids, before we made the permanent move. The Smithfield Inn has been around since 1752. It is a B & B, a tavern and a restaurant. Their outdoor courtyard will remind you of Charleston. It is very romantic. Perfect for a weekend getaway.
Let’s talk more about food. Smithfield is home to Smithfield foods, which means ham and bacon. Taste of Smithfield has all that and more. They boast the best burger in town. My son-in-law loves this place for brunch. They also sell all kinds of local foods and drinks to take home including ham, gourmet peanuts and chocolate.
My grandkids favorite place in town to eat is the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor. It has ice cream, sodas, shakes and malts, but they also make great sandwiches and grinders. There is an old-fashioned counter and stools. I can talk to my grandkids about the “olden days” while they eat Superman ice cream. They have a really nice outside patio. If you eat outside, you will notice the door to the fanciest public restrooms I’ve ever seen. This is a huge plus when your four grandchildren have just finished four ice cream cones.
We are all fans of Smithfield Gourmet Bakery & Café. The grandkids love the cookies and cupcakes. I love their éclairs, but they also serve delicious lunch and dinner in their dining rooms. There are no chain coffee shops in town. Coffee is really good here. You can sit at tables outside and watch the world go slowly by.
You are going to have to come back for more than one meal in downtown Smithfield. Walk it off with some shopping. Shopping is excellent here. Not a chain store in sight. It is usually the store’s owner greeting you when you walk in and everyone is friendly.
Wharf Hill has been on Main Street for almost 24 years. Lisa Dobrott, a fellow Michigander, is one of the friendly faces working in this old hardware store from the 1800’s. She calls it, “a mix of home, garden, antiques and gourmet foods, with a unique department for babies.” It’s a beautiful store that has been featured in national publications throughout the years. Ask to see the old, still-working freight elevator. Lisa loves Smithfield. She says, “there aren’t many downtowns left like this.”
I always stop at Laura & Lucy at 223 Main. Bob Redlin and his dog, Gracie, will greet you at the door. Laura & Lucy is named after Bob’s late wife, Laura, and her beloved dog Lucy. Laura’s dream was to open a store full of “exquisite junk.” After Laura passed away, Bob kept on. This is not a junk store. You are likely to find some real treasures there, including original art, lamps, jewelry, model sailboats, old typewriters and globes. Bob finds his merchandise at estate sales, so that you don’t have to. The store is clean and bright. His prices are very reasonable. Bob is 72, although he doesn’t look it. He’s ready to sell his store and inventory, if you’re looking for an opportunity in downtown Smithfield.
Cute Jessica Ann Casper owns Vintage Potential, with a little help from her mom and dad. Jessica is a photographer. She is “born and raised in Smithfield.” She sells some of her photographs, but she specializes in “vintage goodness, everything from kitchen accessories to furniture.” Jessica’s passion is the stuff from the 50’s and 60’s.
Just down the street is The Main Event by Emily. Emily Norton plans weddings and other events out of her shop on Main Street. She sells wedding jewelry, art from local artists. This is the place to get the cutest pig t-shirt in town.
Nansi Stickland is an artist in many mediums. She paints, makes jewelry, soap and more. She sells her art, and art by 22 other local artists, in her shop When Pigs Fly…Magic Happens.
Her shop used to be the offices of Joyner Hams, one of the big ham producers in Smithfield. Nansi says they used to “smoke hams right out back.”
Right next door to Nansi’s shop on Main Street is another old hardware store. Isle of Wight County has transformed this space into the Visitors Information Center and the Arts Center @ 319. Rick Bodson, who likes to call himself “an artist with Excel” is one of the dedicated volunteers at the Arts Center. Rick was manning the desk at the gift shop, featuring art by member artists. There is a full range of art classes for adults and children and working studios for eight resident artists.
Two of the “artists in their natural habitat” were working. Juliette Marshall, “one of Hampton Roads eco-artists,” was pounding away, making beautiful copper jewelry. She is also a painter and believes in “upcycling” to create fine art pieces.
Right next to Juliette was Stephanie Faleski, who walks to the Arts Center from her home in Smithfield every day. Stephanie’s passion is animal portraits. She was working away at a sketch that would become a painting of some beautiful cats. She also teaches at the Arts Center.
The Arts Center, run by the Isle of Wight Arts League, hosts a wide variety of musical events, like their summer concert series and donates to Isle of Wight County Schools for their arts programs. Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor Center in the same building for all kinds of other things to do, see, and to eat in downtown Smithfield.
There is one more stop I make every time I go to downtown Smithfield. Walk a couple more blocks down Main Street from the Visitor Center, and you just might find a treasure. Gimme Shelter is housed in an old school gas station at the corner of Main and Grace Streets. Robin Knauth is the founder. Her nonprofit thrift shop is dedicated to the “animals of Isle of Wight County.” The community donates some really cool stuff that she and her volunteer staff sell. They donate to local animal shelters and to people from the community that might need extra help for their pets.
Gimme Shelter also awards a scholarship each year to a local high school student who is planning on a career in the animal sciences. Jamie VanCampen was volunteering the other day. Her daughter, Allyse, was a scholarship recipient a few years ago. Allyse just graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Animal and Poultry Science.
Go for a day or for a weekend. Smithfield is friendly, fun and you will find all kinds of delicious things to eat. It’s easy to get to and easy to love.
About the Sponsor of this Post:
Rose & Womble Realty Co. was born and bred in Hampton Roads – our owners live and work here in the Seven Cities. We are a family-owned and operated business – with multiple generations working at all levels, from agents to managers.The leadership within the company is LOCAL – not out of state – but right here in Hampton Roads.