Setting: Nestled in a crook overlooking the Pagan River, Smithfield has escaped the congestion of the Hampton Roads port towns―Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. Yet Norfolk's international airport lies only 35 minutes away; Virginia Beach, 50 minutes.
Attractions: Friends and neighbors enjoy a strong sense of small-town life. It's possible to live here serenely and work for the world's largest naval base, in Norfolk. Entrepreneurial spirit is applauded. History and architecture buffs revel in the presence of colonial America. The climate brings Atlantic breezes but no brutal winters.
Drawbacks: A maritime community once teeming with watermen, Smithfield has not escaped the impact of marine habitat decline and related problems. Opportunities are limited for young people to develop careers here. Residents wrestle with development prospects that some say threaten the historic ambience.
Housing Options: Two-story brick or frame homes, some dating from the 1700s, grace Main Street neighborhoods. Gatling Pointe and Cypress Creek offer new upscale homes and pristine landscaping. In Isle of Wight County, Smithfield is the gateway to fertile farmland for roomy homeplaces.
What It Costs: Historic properties range from $200,000 to $2.5 million. With a marina and other amenities, Gatling Pointe properties go for $300,000 to $1 million; Cypress Creek golf-course homes start at $500,000. Small fixer-uppers near Smithfield can be found for $80,000. Monthly rental for a three-bedroom, two-bath house can be $1,000.
Your Next-door Neighbors: Early retirees embarking on second careers. A young military couple back from European assignment. A family of watermen. A Northern transplant starting a winery. Graphic designers. Smithfield Inn's chef. Smithfield Foods executives. A docent from the Isle of Wight Museum. An antiques auctioneer. A College of William & Mary professor.
How You'd Spend Your Free Time: Sailing. Biking out to Darden's Country Store for delicious cured ham. Driving to Surrey for a ferry hop to Williamsburg to cheer William & Mary teams. Attending George Washington and Thomas Jefferson re-enactments at the Old Courthouse of 1750. Taking houseguests to St. Luke's, the nation's only surviving original-brick Gothic church.
(published September 2005)