Historic Smithville - old fashioned charm in Southern New Jersey
By Ruth Rovner
On the other side of the lake, across the wooden footbridge, visitors stroll along the walkways and browse in the attractive specialty shops housed in colonial-style buildings. Others relax in the gazebo with a view of the lake or walk near the shoreline and watch the ducks glide by.
Historic Smithville is a world of its own — a beautifully restored village with colonial flavor where visitors are transported to the past. Surprisingly, this quaint village on Route 9 in South Jersey is just 12 miles from the glitter and glitz of the Atlantic City casinos. But here, in contrast, visitors can slow down to enjoy the charm of an old-fashioned village.
With its picturesque setting and array of activities, it’s no wonder this South Jersey attraction draws visitors year round. It’s especially colorful in autumn, when fall flowers are in full bloom and special events take place each weekend.
It’s a decidedly family-friendly village. Kids and their parents can enjoy rides on the carousel, the mini-train and the paddle boats.
And no one goes hungry here. Among the casual eateries are an ice-cream shop, pizzeria, bakery and café. Then there are the two restaurants — the convivial Fred & Ethel’s Lantern Light Tavern and the stately Smithville Inn, a popular choice for weddings and other special occasions.
What makes it even more interesting to visitors from our area is that Smithville was restored to new life by two couples originally from Havertown: Laura and Charles Bushar, now of Gladwynne, and Fran and Tony Coppola, who now live in the Smithville area. They are longtime friends who had been neighbors when they in Havertown.
In l997, they became owners of the side of the lake known as the Towne of Historic Smithville. It’s distinct from the actual town of Smithville nearby.
Historic Smithville was created in the l950s as a restored colonial village with shops and an elegant restaurant, the Smithville Inn. But later, it fell into serious decline, that is until the Bushars and Coppolas took on the huge challenge of bringing it to new life.
It’s been a dramatic success story ever since, open every day of the year except December 25 and attracting numerous visitors, including devoted fans who return repeatedly.
They find varied activities on both sides of the lake. The Towne of Historic Smithville, owned by the Bushars and Coppolas, has most of the specialty shops covering a wide range of wares — candles, pewter, collectibles, crystals, Irish imports and much more. Many have quaint names such as Two Country Ducks, Pocket Full of Posies, Fleece on Earth, and Ireland and Old Lace.
On the other side, known as the Village Green, are more shops, the carousel, mini train, paddle boat rides and an arcade.
For those who want to enjoy the full flavor of Smithville for more than a day, there’s the Colonial Inn, a 24-room bed and breakfast featuring colonial ambience but modern amenities.
This side is separately owned by a local couple, Wendy and Ed Fitzgerald of Absecon, N.J., who work in cooperation with the Bushars and Coppolas. The Fitzgeralds’ daughter, Tracy Walsh, is also involved. Walsh owns the train and paddle boats. Her brother, Steven Fitzgerald, owns the old-fashioned barbershop which offers hot shaves and men’s haircuts. Kids who come for a haircut get a free ride on the carousel.
Besides its ongoing attractions, Smithville is the scene of special weekend events well into the fall and the village is fully decorated for autumn with cornstalks, mums and at the Inn, a hand-carved wooden tub filled with apples.
One major autumn event is Costume Pet Parade on Saturday, Oct. 30. Elaborately costumed pets (who must be registered in advance) in all their finery will be on parade.
“It’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen,” says Walsh. “It’s just adorable.”
Smithville looks especially enchanting once the holiday season gets underway. The shops are beautifully decorated with lights and greenery. Every weekend, there’s a “Magical Talking Tree,” plus a Christmas train ride that travels throughout the village. Also, during Story Time with Mrs Klaus, she reads stories in her Christmas Cottage.
A special highlight is the orchestrated sound and light show on the lake from Dec. 2 through Jan. 2. Over 100 Christmas trees seem to float magically on the lake and they light up to music. It takes place throughout December, on Thursdays through Sundays, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Even without the holidays and special events, visitors are delighted with Smithville, whether they are first-timers or old-timers who bring their grandchildren.
“We see different generations enjoying Smithville together, with the grandparents reminiscing about when they were children and came here,” says Laura Bushar of Gladwynne, a grandmother herself.
Smithville is definitely a family affair for the Bushars and Coppolas, just as it is for the Fitzgeralds. Tony Coppola, Jr is the General Manager of the Smithville Inn and Fred & Ethel’s Lantern Light Tavern. And Stephanie Bushar is the comptroller.
Even after more than a decade, Laura Bushar never tires of seeing the enthusiasm of those who discover — or rediscover — Smithville. Quite often, older visitors will seek out the owners to thank them personally for bringing Smithville back to life.
“It’s good to know we’re bringing pleasure to so many people,” says Laura Bushar. “This village deserved a second chance. We’ve always believed it’s a magical place.”