The Smithville Mansion has a long history. It began with Jacob Parker investing in a 37 acre mill area, which he purchased from Solomon Southwick in October of 1776. With his property he built a dam, a grist and saw mill, and a house. The mill was then sold and resold until it was purchased in 1831 by two brothers, Jonathan E. and Samuel Shreve, from Mansfield Township. Their purpose was to develop the land into a cotton cloth manufacturing center. By 1850, their property grew with an enlarged mill pond, a canal to Mount Holly for transportation and shipping, and two industrial complexes. The village was soon named Shreveville. It included the mansion, a three-story hipped-roof structure with a one-story wing to the west, and a few separate out-buildings behind.(1) When both brothers died the property was again sold in 1858 to the sheriff. Benjamin Shreve purchased his brother's debts from the Sheriff, therefore obtaining the property to protect his $100,000 personal investment.
Hezekiah Bradley Smith visited Burlington County in 1865 looking for a new location for his business. Shreveville's location was rural yet convenient to Philadelphia and New York, so he bought the town for $23,000. Re-named for its new owner, the town has remained Smithville for almost one hundred years, quaint, peaceful, and unhurried, fostering a spirit of progress in manufacture, and forever attesting to the ingenuity of three generations of Smiths.(2) Hezekiah brought with him Agnes Gilkerson, a young female worker in his old mill. She later became the editor of the weekly journal, the New Jersey Mechanic. It was published at Smithville and distributed nationally. Agnes was known to all as Madam Smith. Later, Hezekiah served a term in the New Jersey Senate from 1883 to 1885.(3) Of course, the financial health of Smithville was damaged by the Great Depression but the Smith Machine Company continuted to operate into the 1990's. The village dwellings were slowly emptied during the 1960's and 70's.
A boarding house was added to Smithville, including a dining room, a reading room, and a large theater. Hezekiah Smith also modified the Mansion to his own style of living. The annex included a game room, a billiard room with a vaulted ceiling, and a bowling alley. The mansion has beautiful gardens and an art gallery. Descendants of the Smith family continued to occupy the mansion until 1962, when Mr. and Mrs. Louis Thomas converted parts of the annex into apartments and renovated the mansion and grounds. In 1975 the land was acquired by the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders for the purpose of its development as the County's first park. The Mansion, the annex, and the village, all of which are listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, are currently under development for use by county residents as a cultural and heritage center. (Stephanie Schatzle)