“Ham, history & hospitality” - Smithfield, Virginia

It was the captain’s weekly day off and he actually quit around 2pm on Saturday giving us a few more hours to enjoy time off from boat chores. As the crew’s social director, I had already booked us a “free” room in Norfolk and made plans for a day outing on Sunday in nearby Smithfield, Virginia. We’d passed through this charming little town on our way to Jamestown last Spring, but hadn’t stopped. This time we planned to give Smithfield a bit more attention.

Smithfield is the self-proclaimed “ham capital of the world”. Yessiree … ham is king around this town. We saw the biggest ham, the oldest ham and a parade of porkers while wandering about town. Smithfield Foods’ company headquarters, located in Smithfield since it was founded 80 years ago, is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer and boasted $14 billion in annual sales last year. That’s a lot of hog!

The “porcine parade” is comprised of eight life-size market hog statues artfully decorated and scattered throughout town. We picked up a walking tour map and headed out to find these porky masterpieces. Evidently, two of the eight hogs are on R&R ( or met an unexpected end) because we were only able to locate six.

PORCINE PARADE (Not sure Miss Piggy would approve of this!)

The Isle of Wight Museum opened at Noon and we popped inside for a quick look. For a small town museum, it’s very interesting and well-appointed. The collection of memorabilia on display in its “general store” was fascinating.

 The "general store" was chock full of interesting memorabilia.

The "general store" was chock full of interesting memorabilia.

The museum is situated in an old, restored bank with vault still in place. We enjoyed tracing Smithfield’s history from colonial and Revolutionary times through the Civil War to the present. The pièce de résistance, however, is the display containing the world’s oldest ham (cured in 1902 and still hanging around) and the biggest ham (uncured: 91#/cured 65#). The oldest ham even has its own HamCam with live feed at 12:05 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Really? Talk about hamming it up!

 The biggest ham on the left, the oldest ham aka the "pet ham" in the center and another ham which we cannot identify. 

The biggest ham on the left, the oldest ham aka the "pet ham" in the center and another ham which we cannot identify. 

And … not to be diminished … the world’s oldest peanut (1890) is also on display with an official Ripley’s Believe It or Not Certificate to its credit.

The town is also graced with eight George Lundeen bronze sculptures. We readily admit that we were not familiar with Lundeen nor the fact that he lives and works in Loveland, CO! As we discovered his works throughout Smithfield, we came to appreciate his artistry and the town’s passion for history, fine art and culture. The attention to detail is amazing. Thomas Jefferson is penning the Declaration of Independence and his work clearly shows cross-outs and rewrites. Robert Frost is creating "Stopping by woods on a snow evening" and the woman clutches her Valentine in The Valentine Couple.

Smithfield’s tree-lined historic main street is edged with brick-paved sidewalks and ambling along it is shady and quite pleasant. There are several shops, restaurants and boutiques to choose from, as well as lanes, gardens and parks to explore. Windsor Castle Park is an absolutely glorious place and we barely touched the surface of what it had to offer. A 208-acre riverside park overlooking the Pagan River and Cypress Creek, we walked along its paths, bridges and boardwalks and marveled at the beauty of its fields and marshlands.

 Entrance to Windsor Castle Park ... what a gem of a place!

Entrance to Windsor Castle Park ... what a gem of a place!

We bellied up to the bar at the Wharf Hill Brewing Company and enjoyed a great lunch of seafood stew and a shrimp po-boy, washed down with the local brew … perfect after several hours of exploring. We still managed to save room for an ice cream cone at the local ice creamery … delightful decadence!

 We bellied up to the bar at the Wharf Hill Brewing Company - local beer & great food

We bellied up to the bar at the Wharf Hill Brewing Company - local beer & great food

On the outskirts of town is St. Luke’s Church, “our nation’s only surviving original Gothic building”. Built c.1632, this “old brick church” set off the road in a serene wooded setting is a national landmark. We visited late in the day and passed on the church tour, but thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the graveyard which is the final resting place for four centuries of Virginians.

It was a full day and still we don’t feel we saw all this little town has to offer. Needless to say, we were impressed. Smithfield is a welcoming, friendly place. Amenities like easily accessible public toilets, ample free parking, a Visitor’s Center which offers lots of information and park benches strategically placed around town inviting visitors and locals alike to sit, rest and enjoy the moment are so appreciated. Everyone we passed smiled and said hello. This is a town that’s proud of its heritage and its image. What a great way to spend a day! We might just go back for more.