Adventure to Ham Town

Jun. 10th 2012

Ok, after my disappointment with the lawyers, I need to do some retail therapy. This time, I decided to venture to a new place for some new finds. Brett and I have lived in Chesapeake, Virginia for 20 years now. But in all of this time, we have never gone to Smithfield, Virginia. Well, we have gone there, but only to someone’s house in the outlying areas. What we haven’t seen is the Historic District in downtown Smithfield. So our daughter, Alexa and I headed there for a day of fun. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Our plantation is not in or anywhere near Smithfield)

Smithfield, Virginia – Historic District – Main Street

Now you may know the name Smithfield from the hams that come from there. Paula Dean has recently started promoting them. (Brett asked me if we got to see Paula Dean while we were there. Sorry Brett, Paula is in Georgia.) But there is a whole different side of Smithfield we had yet to discover. According to the brochure “Smithfield Virginia, Historic Downtown District Walking Tour” that we picked up at the Visitors Center along Main Street here is a little about Smithfield:

“Born on the banks of the Pagan River and nurtured by the trade and commerce that sailed on its tides, Smithfield was, from its very beginning, a “river town” and its whole life and growth have been conditioned by the river. On our walking tour of Smithfield’s old town district, you will see a harmonious blend of the 18 century Colonial, Federal, Georgian and Victorian period houses and buildings side by side. Settled primarily by British merchants and ship’s captains, Smithfield, a river port town, thrived for more than 20 years as a British colony before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Today the town boasts fifteen houses that are authentically 18th century, ten of which are brick and ten of which pre-date the Revolutionary War. In the early 19th century, a number of excellent Federal period homes were built, but it was after the Civil War, in about 1876 that the big building boom began. It was in this era of steamboats and the flourishing peanut industry in Smithfield that many of the elaborate Victorian homes were erected. Their ostentatious elegance of turrets, towers, stained glass windows and steamboat Gothic trimmings is easily evident. After the Warascoyak Indians, the first person to own land was Arthur Smith in Isle of Wight County. On September 10, 1637, he patented 1,450 acres of Isle of Wight County, described as ‘a neck of land running southeast along a creek behind the Pagan Shore. It was Arthur Smith IV, who in 1750 had the land surveyed and laid off as a town. Smithfield derived its name from this Smith family, not from John Smith of Jamestown. The town consisted of four streets and 72 lots. The principal streets, as shown on the original plat, are now Main Street to Institute Street, South Church Street to the bridge at Smithfield Station, South Mason Street and Cedar Street from South Mason Street to South Church Street. Within two years after the town was established, 59 of the 72 lots had been sold, and before the Revolutionary War all of the lots were sold. Each lot sold for four pounds, six shillings.”

When Alexa and I arrived I was struck by the homes along Main Street. As you roll into town, first the homes and then store fronts greet you. It is everything you would imagine as a small town. The first place we stopped was “Smithfield Gourmet Bakery & Cafe”. This cafe was in a small older building that once served as a retail store. We were greeted by the wait staff as they rushed to help the large number of guests in and outside the cafe. We were seated in the front window area, which gave us a good view of the street and traffic that passed by. This cafe served some of the best food! And it was not little town style food you might expect. The chef created a sandwich for me of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and focaccia bread. Alexa had a turkey and roast beef with cheddar cheese on focaccia bread. The bread was made fresh and tasted it!

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella on Focacia Bread – Smithfield Gourmet Bakery and Cafe

After we finished we headed out to shop. Our first stop was “Laura & Lucy’s”. This was a large antique store that once served as a retail space for a large department style store. It was beautiful inside with items arranged in “room” settings. I think I could have bought almost everything in there.

After this stop, we headed to the next shop, “Return Engagement Antiques and Consignments. This store was in an old house along Main Street. Each room was set up as a store area for consignments. Here we walked the main floor, then headed down into the basement. There I found our first find of the day. A beautiful blue salad plate.

Then we headed back up to the top floor up some of the narrowest, steepest stairs I have ever climbed. At the top, Alexa and I got a little laugh that they had even used the bathroom as a store front.

Up here is where we found our second find of the day, a lovely pestle cup.

Next stop was the house next door, “Olive’s”, where I met Donna Lowery. Here we made a find we weren’t expecting! A gift for Brett for Father’s Day. Sitting on a shelf, tucked behind some other pieces was a blue, white and gold plate from Penn State University. Brett is really a devoted Ohio State fan, but just last year he completed his masters from Penn State. So we thought this would be something neat he could place on his desk. Donna was very helpful! We talked about our B&B and she let me know that she could help us locate some of the items for the house. We look forward to talking to her soon!

We headed down Main Street towards more shops, but took a moment to enjoy the beautiful old homes along the way. Brett and I have a passion about old homes. Our first home was built in 1885 and we spent our first two years restoring it. So to see these homes brought back memories of our old historic neighborhood.

Our next stop had to be one of our most pleasant visits. We stopped at “Olde House Antiques” where we met Pasty Privott. Pasty warmly welcomed us as we walked up the stairs to her front porch. We explained our mission and she right away showed us in to view her wares. She pointed out pieces that she thought I would like and allowed me to wander around, looking for those just right pieces for our plantation. We found most of what we purchased here. While she checked us out, we had a grand conversation and I really look forward to returning to see her!

Our last stop of the day had to be one of our greatest surprises! We found a tea shop, “Olde World Tea Company” where we met the owner, Jacki. We discussed our needs for the plantation and she informed us that she could do some research and come up with a blend that they would have used back in 1790! What a great addition to our teas!

After our shopping, we strolled down Main Street and viewed the homes and took more pictures. The homes here all have great charm and we even found an Inn and a Bed and Breakfast! May be sometime soon, Brett and I will have to come back and do some more “research” before we jump into our own project.

Smithfield Inn

Mansion on Main Bed and Breakfast

Today, I did make one more trip out to look for more finds. This time, it was off to Norfolk and the Ghent Historic District. Here we found five more pieces to add.

All and all, therapy kept me busy and helped me forget, if only for moment that we are still waiting. Maybe this week will be the week! Fingers crossed and holding my breath!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 41 Comments »