World-renowned for country hams, Virginia's colonial seaport sets the stage for down-home charm on
greater Chesapeake Bay.

By Susan Haynes
July 25, 2005
World-renowned for country hams, Virginia’s colonial seaport sets the stage for down-home charm on greater Chesapeake Bay.
Taunya Tae Waxham

Remember the innocent lure of River City in that classic movie The Music Man? Then you can imagine Smithfield, Virginia.This small town on the brackish Pagan River drums up the samefinger-snapping community spirit. "Memorial Day to Labor Day,people gather at free Friday night concerts on the grass outside The Smithfield Times," says Rick Bodson, who moved herethree years ago. "Everyone brings a picnic supper, and atintermission we all head to the ice-cream shop." His wife, BrendaJoyner, chimes in about the camaraderie: "You can practically stopcooking here," she says. "There are barbecue dinners, fish fries,baked-potato suppers, wine-tastings―something all the time tomake money for a cause."

As Rick and Brenda saunter down Main Street, acquaintancesappear as if on cue. With one passerby, Rick confirms tomorrow'stime for sailing. There's a friend Brenda knows through her MasterGardener program and another from the Cultural Arts Center. "Heyy'all" rings out from fellow Relay for Life volunteers. In 2004,Smithfield ranked fifth in its population group for U.S.contributions to that cancer-research fund. "This county isn'trich," says Rick. "It's just folks digging deep into theirpockets."

John Edwards, editor/publisher of The Smithfield Times, describes how the "digging" goes.Overhauling Main Street, he says, required townspeople to match aprivate grant. "One homeowner told me, 'If you said it's foreconomic development, I would have thrown you out. But forbeautifying our hometown, I'll give.'"

Main Street's resulting brick sidewalks and fresh storefrontstestify to generous donations. As a civic benefactor, SmithfieldFoods Inc. leads among businesses. Founded in 1936 by thestill-prominent Luter family, the pork producer tallied $11.4billion in sales last year and remains committed to Smithfield.

Newcomers such as Rick and Brenda, who spent 25 years inbig-city corporations, share Smithfield's optimism. John Edwardssays people like them "give new manpower, organizational skills,computer technology, and personnel management to our activities."They also bring respect for this place's past. The 17th-centurysettlement grew up here "because it was a safe harbor," saysBrenda. It still is, she adds. "Rick and I moved to Smithfield tobe part of a real community."

Smithfield & Isle of WightConvention and Visitors Bureau; 757/357-5182