Smithfield (population 6,500) was settled in 1752 on the banks of the Pagan River and, according to the Virginia Landmarks Register, is perhaps the best preserved of the State's colonial seaports.
Among the important surviving 18th-century buildings is the original Isle of Wight County Courthouse, now preserved by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities with assistance from the Town of Smithfield.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Smithfield grew economically as a center for peanut farming and meat processing, becoming "Ham Capital of the World." This prosperity is reflected in the many historic buildings from the period that exist with their colonial neighbors to make up the Smithfield Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Young visitors to Smithfield can learn about its heritage through a town-developed coloring and activity book. It includes pictures, games, and quizzes focused on the town's history and historic buildings, and when a child visits at least three historic sites, he or she receives a coupon for a free ice cream cone.
More than $2 million has been spent in revitalizing Smithfield's Main Street, including streetscape improvements and building façade upgrades. Similar work is being planned for historic South Church Street. Both initiatives have involved a partnership between the Town of Smithfield, Smithfield Foods, Inc., Historic Smithfield Inc., and other parties.
Smithfield's preservation ordinance, which has been in place for more than 20 years, is administered by the Smithfield Board of Historic and Architectural Review.
In addition to the historic district zoning overlay district, Smithfield has also created another overlay district covering the entrances leading to the historic district. This provides the planning commission with review authority that will help to ensure that new entrance corridor development and signage is more compatible with the downtown's historic character.
Designated a Preserve America Community in March 2004.