Virginia Vacation Smithfield, VA
by Helen Ferguson 1997

On a recent vacation in Smithfield, Virgina, Helen Ferguson found that while one can go home again, one can't always expect perfect access.

I grew up in Smithfield, Virginia and love that part of the country, but unfortunately, they do not seem to realize what "accessible" means. This beautiful, old town, located in the southeastern part of the state, is renovating its 18th and 19th century houses to attract tourists.

Disabled tourists will find some curb cuts on a few of the sidewalks, but not throughout the town. Most of the restaurants have ramps in order to enter, but access to anything above the first floor is unavailable.

In spite of what a I was told, The Isle of Wight Inn is not accessible. There is a room at the Econolodge at Benns Church, but it has only one bed, which is low to the floor.

I drove to this area in my minivan, which is equipped with a lift for the electric scooter, and stayed at Hampton's Fairfield Inn. The Fairfield Inn is located at:1905 Coliseum Dr., Hampton, Va. 23666. The Fax and phone numbers are given as the same number - 804-827-7400. It's only a short commute to Smithfield. There is no public transportation in Smithfield. Hampton, where I stayed, has a bus system, but I did not use it.

The Fairfield Inn has more than one accessible room and it was a pleasure to stay there. The room rate was $51.98 per night and included the Continental breakfast. There is also an outdoor swimming pool included in the price. The rooms are large, as are the baths. There are several grab bars for the tub, and the floor is non-skid and the commode is raised. There are fire warning lights for those who are hearing impaired, as well as regular alarms. Coat racks are low enough to be reached by those in wheelchairs. (I have suggested that they add another rack that is higher from the floor so that dresses can be hung without touching the floor). The doors are difficult to open for someone in a wheelchair, who is traveling alone, but the staff was pleasant.

There are several good restaurants close to the Fairfield Inn: Bennigans, Chi-Chi's, Dennys, Red Lobster, Steak and Ale, Golden Corral. I ate at The Olive Garden, which was accessible and where the staff were pleasant and helpful.

The closest large cities are Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton and Suffolk. There are commercial airlines in Norfolk and Newport News.

Smithfield is located on the Pagan Creek and some of the homes and at least one restaurant face the water. The town was settled in the 1600s so there is a lot of history there. Some of the older properties date back to the 1700s still stand and the town, itself, has many examples of Victorian houses. John Smith was the first Englishman to explore in this area and much of the land was settled by members of his family. Fort Boykin, which is north of Smithfield, has a long history. It was used to defend that part of the James River from the British during the Revolutionary War. It changed hands over the years but was given to the State of Virginia by descendants of the original owners. I have not been to Fort Boykin in many years but believe that it would be accessible, for the most part. It was formed mostly of earthen berms and was basically on level ground except for the berms themselves.

There are a number of attractions within easy driving distance: The Virginia Air and Space Center is four miles; Colonial Williamsburg is 24 miles; Virginia Beach is 30 miles; Busch Gardens 22 miles. Again, since I was visiting family, I did not go to these places and cannot report on accessibility.

Virginia Tourism Corporation is currently offering a free copy of "The Virginia Travel Guide for Persons with Disabilities." The 209-page, large-print guide describes the accessibility features of attractions, lodging and dining establishments throughout Virginia. For a free copy of the guide, do one of the following: Call toll-free (800) 742-3935, TTD (804) 371-0327 or write the Virginia Tourism Corporation, 901 E. Byrd St., Richmond, VA 23219.

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