This historic community in Cornelius, NC can trace it’s routes back to 1908. Smithville was born after a man named Jacob Lafayette started mortgaging land to the bank for the benefit of descendents of former slaves.
Smithville History Tour
Over 100 years ago in 1908 a man named Jacob Lafayette Smith made the bold decision to parcel land and mortgage it to the banks so that descendants of former slaves could finally become land-owners. Through this kind gesture, he allowed many black sharecroppers and tenant farmers to purchase homes for little money down and establish a community of their own. Mr. Smith’s actions were not accepted by the town of Cornelius at the time, and because of his courage the residents of Smithville named the town after him.
Today Smithville contains many historically significant features including two historic churches, one of 5,000 Rosenwald Schools in the U.S., and countless historic homes each with a unique story. It’s hard to walk too far down the streets in Smithville without interacting with some portion of it’s history. The streets, the location and positioning of the homes, even the baseball fields are all remnants of this remarkable community, and each one is remembered fondly by long-time residents.
Preserving Spaces worked in cooperation with the Smithville Community Coalition, Old Town Cornelius, and the Town of Cornelius to produce the documentary seen on this page. Smithville History Tour, narrated by lifetime Smithville resident Ron Potts, features many current and former residents of Smithville.
In the video, we take a walk back in time with these residents and learn about what Smithville was like throughout the generations. They tell us about some of the struggles they faced as well as the joys of everyday life in a place they remember fondly.
The future is uncertain for Smithville as they petition for an ambitious redevelopment plan which would allow for the continuation of the Smithville community and lifestyle, while providing resources and opportunity for it’s current and future residents.
This is a complex, and still developing situation which we hope to follow here and in our journal. However for the time being, please view these additional resources to learn more about the past of Smithville as well as future plans.
Interview With Willie Jones About Smithville Revitalization Plans
Interview with Mayor Woody Washam remembering Smithville
Smithville is a historic community located near downtown Cornelius just east of I-77 and Catawba Avenue. It features many homes, and community feautres, some of which are public. Please be respectful of the community and private properties and do not trespass on property not designate for public use.