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NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Ham It Up In Smithfield, Virginia

By: Michelle Harper

100 year old hamWith Thanksgiving upon us, our minds can't help but wander toward thoughts of good feelings and of course, good food. Fortunately for us, Smithfield, Virginia the "Ham Capital of the World" is just a day-trip away. Located along the banks of the Pagan River on Rt. 10 in Southeastern Virginia, Smithfield proudly lives up to its motto of "hams, history and hospitality".

Smithfield's most famous resident is a real ham - literally. The Isle of Wight Museum located on Main Street is home to the "World's Oldest Smithfield Ham". If any of you have visions of challenging this status with any of the old leftovers hanging out in your refrigerator, don't bother. This "pet ham" has been around since 1902. P.D. Gwaltney discovered this ham from a missed delivery and wanted to see just how long it would last. To insure its safekeeping he even had the ham insured. To this day, this infamous celebrity enjoys a life of leisure incased in glass in one of the museums "ham galleries".

100 year old hamHow can you possibly top being home to the world's oldest ham? Naturally, you bake the world's largest ham biscuit. Smithfield attempted just that on September 28, 2002 in celebration of the town's 250th anniversary. The giant biscuit was over 8 feet in diameter and piled high with about 500 lbs of ham. If cut up, it would have served 1752 people (symbolic representation of the fact that the town was incorporated in 1752). Something this spectacular shouldn't end up just being eaten, so the town decided to bake 1752 individual biscuits to serve to its visitors and save the actual biscuit for posterity.

Museum photosTo think of Smithfield only as a place for ham lovers would be extremely remiss. The town itself is worth the visit, with or without ham. Unlike many reconstructed historical towns, this river town has been spared the ravages of the Revolutionary and Civil War. All the old colonial and Victorian homes lining the streets are original. Additional information on these homes can be found at the Visitor's Center and a walking tour map of the town is available.

Smithfield's Main Street has a variety of unique shops where you can find antiques, art galleries, collectibles and of course a Smithfield Ham Shop. The town is suited for the pedestrian and its brick walkways are lined with benches so that visitors can just sit back and relax or perhaps listen to an outdoor concert played from the bandstand in the center of town.

As you stroll along Main Street, one of your first stops should be the Isle of Wight Museum, located in a building erected in 1913 that includes a unique tiffany-style domed skylight. Exhibits include a re-creation of an old general store, duck decoys carved by a native Virginian, war memorabilia from arrowheads to muskets and bullets, fossil shells and other archaeological artifacts and of course, ham exhibits, which include a 65 lb ham, cured in 1955 from a 900 lb. hog. Other items of interest include a gilded eagle taken from a Union Ship destroyed in the Battle of Smithfield during the Civil War.

Old courthouseAnother point of interest along your route is the Old Isle of Wight Courthouse. Once typical of courthouses across Virginia, this is one of only four remaining arcaded colonial court buildings. Built in 1750, it features a distinctive semi-circular apse popular in English churches of the era. Today this important colonial building serves as the Isle of Wight Tourism Bureau. Here you can learn about the law in days when justice was swift and harsh from a time when stocks, whipping posts and pillories were used to carry out sentences, as well as a hanging tree used for the worst offenders.

Bakery (Good Eats!)In a town famous for its food, you would expect to find many wonderful places to eat. It only takes a few minutes to stroll down Main Street before wonderful smells from the town bakery begin to fill the air. You can't help but be lured in for some of the wonderful creations. In addition to the bakery, the town is home to several restaurants, a tavern and an ice cream parlor. There are so many wonderful choices to consider, your waistline will begin to expand just considering all the possibilities.

A great place to taste the tradition of the town is Smithfield Inn. This Bed and Breakfast, Tavern and Restaurant combination have been around since 1752. From the moment you cross the threshold you become engulfed in the warmth and charm of this building. The unmistakable smell of ham fills your senses and adds to the anticipation of the meal to come. The menu is filled with home-style cooking featuring ham, peanut soup and sweet potato pie.

Other areas of interest in the area are Historic St. Lukes Church and Fort Boykin. The church is located 2 miles south of Smithfield on Rt. 10. Built in 1632, it is the oldest surviving original gothic church in the USA. The church also houses the nation's oldest intact organ. Fort Boykin, built in the shape of a 7-point star, was created in 1623 to protect the settlers against Indians and raiding Spaniards and has been involved in every campaign on American soil.

Jamestown FerryLike so many Virginia destinations, getting there is part of the fun. Smithfield is no exception and in fact offers one of the most unique travel opportunities offered in Virginia - The Jamestown Ferry. Located off Rt. 31 next to the old Jamestown Settlement, the ferry offers a 15 minute ride across the James River into neighboring Scotland, which is only a few miles from Smithfield. The ferry is the only 24-hour state-run ferry operating in the state and is free of charge.

 

 

For additional information visit:
Smithfield: www.co.smithfield.va.us/
St. Lukes Church: www.historicstlukes.org
James River Ferry: www.VirginiaDOT.org
Smithfield Ham & Products: www.smithfieldcollection.com , www.smithfield-companies.com or www.smithfieldhams.com

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