Long before Europeans arrived along the Rancocas Creek, Native Americans lived in a settlement called Alumhatta – now Historic Smithville Park – and used the water to transport goods by canoe and irrigate crops in the rich soil.
In the 19th century, runaway slaves traveled the same waterways from Philadelphia, through New Jersey and on to freedom in Canada.
The first colonists “set up saw and grist mills to harness the Rancocas Creek’s natural power in cultivating the area’s bounty of arable croplands and hardwood forests,” according to a Burlington County Division of Parks brochure.
“Typical of the small mills which lined the banks of the Rancocas, these mills employed a limited group of tradesmen and laborers supporting the owner of the mill.”
The area was known as Shreveville and had a population of 400 people by the 1850s. In 1860, Hezekiah Smith “found in the formal industrial town the ideal site for the production of his patent woodworking machinery, a rural site with abundant natural resources.”
H.B. Smith designed and created his Model Industrial Village, developed to maximize the site’s natural resources for both business and enjoyment. Workers’ houses had views of the public park, the Rancocas Creek and the Smithville Lake.
Last Thursday, hundreds of people came out to experience the park’s beauty, learn about Smithville’s history and find out who won the scarecrow contest during the Autumn Lands Festival. They visited the Underground Railroad Museum, heard live music and walked the scenic grounds, including the “spooky” gardens around the Smithville mansion, where visitors heard paranormal investigators tell their favorite ghost stories.
There were plenty of activities for children in Magic Land, with magicians Lindsey Noel and Francis Menotti, Meadow Perry’s Bubble Magic Show and the Mystique Family Magic Show.
Artisans created chainsaw sculptures in Carve Land; the Gypsy Fund Squad played live music from around the world at Boho Land; and artists, basket makers and blacksmiths demonstrated and exhibited their work.
“Leaves are changing colors, pumpkin spice lattes are back, the spooky fun of Halloween is just around the corner and Burlington County is celebrating it all with the Autumn Lands Festival,” said county Commissioner Allison Eckel, liaison to the Department of Resource Conservation and Parks.
“It’s a great new addition to our Burlington County Parks events calendar,” she added. “It is the ultimate fall festival and a great way to experience all the beauty and history in Historic Smithville, our first county park and the crown jewel of our outstanding parks system.”