Smithville, Texas, (population 4,510) was settled in 1827 by Dr. Thomas Jefferson Gazley, who had received a Mexican land grant. He and his neighbors returned there after the Texas War for Independence was won. The town, named for another early settler, grew to about 16 families over the next 50 years, and boasted a few shops, schools, and a Masonic Lodge.
Smithville has an important railroad heritage, and today remains a vital link in the operations of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Taylor, Bastrop, and Houston Railroad came through Smithville in 1886-87. In 1891, the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad (MK&T) took over, establishing a terminal and then a large repair shop in 1894. In 1895, the city of Smithville was incorporated, and by 1909 it was the biggest town in the county, shipping cotton to many markets.
Today, a Commercial Historic District and a Residential Historic District keep both residents and visitors aware of the stories of Smithville’s historic structures, which exemplify turn-of-the-century architectural styles. Preservation efforts are in progress for the 1907 Central School, historic Main Street buildings, and homes all over the city.
Smithville attractions include the Railroad Museum and Restored Depot, which offer a glimpse into the 1850s travelling experience, and the Smithville Heritage Museum, which is housed in a 1908 Victorian building. Visitors can take riding or walking tours through the Residential and Business Historic Districts that are led by volunteers.
The 1997 movie, Hope Floats, was filmed in Smithfield, and ever since, visitors have arrived to see the house featured in the movie. Recognizing the positive economic impact these visitors have had on local businesses in the historic downtown, the City of Smithfield and the Smithville Chamber of Commerce partnered in 2007 to participate in a new Texas state program. The Texas Film Commission designated Smithville as the very first “Certified Film Friendly Texas Community.” This program promotes the community as a filming site, which enables the town to show off its historic resources and attract more visitors. Four film companies have filmed in Smithville in the past year, making a huge impact on the local economy.
The film companies’ interest has also motivated the owners of historic properties to preserve and restore their homes and commercial buildings. Film industry workers have also become actively involved in local efforts to rehabilitate the endangered 101-year-old Central School for use as a community center.
Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2009.