The Towne of Smithville has a lot of interesting history and backstory. The first fact is that it was never actually a town…
In 1952, a local couple purchased an old stagecoach stop and seven acres. They restored the building and opened it as an antique shop. This eventually evolved into a 42-seat restaurant called The Smithville Inn. As the years went by, the restaurant was very successful, and plans were made to expand the experience for diners looking for a historic flavor when they visited the Inn. Soon, several historic homes and other buildings from southern New Jersey’s past were brought to the Town of Historic Smithville. They were restored with attention to detail and reopened to the public as shops and eateries. The local couple was Fred and Ethel Noyes.
Fred Noyes was born in Philadelphia in 1905, the son of a textile designer. As a young man, Fred pursued his love of painting, and he attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on scholarship. Unfortunately, his studies there were cut short when he refused to adapt to the abstract style that was popular at the time. Fred was then invited to join the Barnes Foundation where he was able to refine his talents.
World War II interrupted this education, when Fred joined the army and was sent to France. While he was there he nearly lost his leg and spent 6 months in an Army hospital. He returned from the war on crutches with a Purple Heart in his hand. He then met his future wife, Ethel.
Ethel Marie Lingelbach was raised on an old New Jersey farm. She had a lot of pride in her Native American background, and through her father’s teachings, she learned the folklore of the region. At a very early age, she began her first collection of primitive American folk art.
The Noyes’ moved into a log cabin in Absecon, NJ and went into the antique business. This was just the first of many business ventures they would take over the years. The business consisted of the couple going from house to house asking if they could sell or buy anything.
In 1952, Fred and Ethel Noyes purchased the old stagecoach stop, and its surrounding seven acres of land, for $3,500. This was the beginning of the historic Towne of Smithville. They turned the old building into an antique shop. Business was good, and soon after they began serving food to please their customers. Fred was overheard telling of how his first bar was a card table and a bucket of ice on the floor. Other services were quickly added, and it wasn’t long before the Smithville Inn became a popular eatery and meeting place for locals and visitors alike.
By 1974, when Fred and Ethel sold the property to the American Broadcasting Company for a reported $7 million. The complex covered 2,300 acres and included three inns, a number of early American village shops, restored buildings, and a small hotel. Ethel Noyes was named one of the 10 Top Business Women in New Jersey by the New Jersey Manufactures Association, and in 1969 she was inducted into the Atlantic County Woman’s Hall of Fame. Fred Noyes finished the project that he and his wife had begun together after her passing and opened the Noyes museum. Today, more than 200 of Noyes’ paintings are in the Museum’s permanent collection as well as over 300 decoys from his private collection. His art continues to inspire a growing number of admirers and collectors, and his decoy collection exhibits some of the best folk art examples from New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic region.