The Burlington County Commissioners invite residents of all ages to take a trip back in time to the 1800s during a new family-friendly festival celebrating the spring season and the history of Smithville.
During Burlington County’s first May Faire on Sunday, May 15, visitors will experience some of Smithville’s past, while being entertained by live music, theater performances, carnival games, historical re-enactors, historic arts and crafts demos, food trucks and more.
“Smithville is not only one of Burlington County’s most renown historical sites, it’s also the crown jewel of our incredible parks system, and this new May Faire event will celebrate its history and beauty,” said Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel, the Board’s liaison to the Department of Resource Conservation and Parks. “There will be music, performances, historical displays and even an old-time baseball game.”
The fun kicks off at 11 AM and continues until 5 PM.
History comes alive
The baseball game is slated for noon on the field adjacent to the event parking lot and will pit the newly reassembled Smithville Industrial Village Base Team, also known as the “Smithville Nine”, and the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. The players will don vintage uniforms and will play according to old-fashioned rules.
During the festival, visitors will also meet and interact with historical reenactors of Hezekiah B. Smith and his wife Agnes Gilkerson Smith and hear stories about their colorful lives and the history of Smithville.
Throughout the day visitors can also walk Smithville’s grounds and take tours of Smithville Mansion, an 1840 Greek Revival Mansion where Hezekiah and Agnes once lived. There will also be a New Jersey Wheelmen display of vintage bicycles like the famous American Star bicycles built at Smithville, carriage rides through the village and demonstrations by a blacksmith, basket weaver and old-fashioned tintype photographer, plus period theatrical performances by the Riddlesbrood Touring Theater and the Bridge Players Theatre Company, and presentations and displays by historical societies and groups from across the county.
“Burlington County is home to incredible history, important properties and artifacts, and an event like this is a perfect way to celebrate them. The May Faire will bring together historic groups, artists, performers and much more to showcase not only Smithville’s colorful past, but important historical facts, people and places throughout the county and region,” said Eckel. “This event will help bring history alive in a fun and exciting way.”
Outdoor fun for all ages
May Faire will feature food, music and entertainment for all ages, including carnival games, kids craft activities, face painting and storytellers, an artisan marketplace and a variety of food trucks.
The event is being organized by the Burlington County Parks Division with support from the New Jersey Arts Council.
“May Faire is another fantastic creation by our Parks Division to enrich, educate and entertain our county’s families,” said Eckel. “Events like this not only show off the beauty and history of Smithville but also why our parks system is one of the best anywhere.”
Hezekiah B. Smith was a wealthy inventor and entrepreneur who purchased the village of Shreveville on the Rancocas Creek in 1865 and transformed it into Smithville, a progressive industrial center that manufactured woodworking machinery and high-wheel bicycles. He also famously collected a menagerie of exotic animals on Smithville’s grounds, including deer, caribou, elk and even a moose named February that he had trained to pull a carriage.
Agnes met Hezekiah while working in a textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts and became his clerk and secretary before eventually marrying him. Agnes attended Penn Medical University and practiced medicine in Smithville, while also serving as editor of the H.B. Smith Machine Company’s trade journal, the New Jersey Mechanic.
Together the pair was credited with making Smithville into a model company town, complete with an opera house, public park, bandstand, Lyceum, school and library. The town also featured the world’s first bicycle railroad.
Burlington County acquired the entire village property in 1975 and restored several of its homes and structures and streetscape to how it appeared during its heyday in the Victorian era.
“The natural environment and history in our county are incredible assets and both come together beautifully in Smithville Park,” Eckel said. “Beside the village’s Victorian charm and industrial past, the park also has a 22-acre lake, a floating bridge, Smith’s woods and picturesque pavilions, playgrounds and butterfly gardens. It’s truly a special place and May Faire is a great way to experience it.”
Burlington County’s first May Faire at Historic Smithville Park will feature an old-time baseball game between the newly reassembled Smithville Industrial Village Baseball Team, also known as the “Smithville Nine”, and the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. The players will don vintage uniforms and will play according to old-fashioned rules.
The New Jersey Wheelmen will have a display of vintage bicycles like the famous American Star bicycles built at Smithville.
May Faire attendees will be able to tour Smithville Mansion, an 1840 Greek Revival Mansion. Tours of the grounds will be free. Tours inside the mansion will be given for $5 with proceeds benefiting the Friends of Smithville Mansion.