Smithville was.

Smithville is.

Smithville will be.


The Town of Cornelius, North Carolina is home to the Smithville community. This is the largest intact historical African American community in Mecklenburg County. It is nestled on the east side of Highway 77 which divides the Town of Cornelius. Smithville was founded in 1910 and is one of the oldest communities and the largest concentration of African Americans in Cornelius, with roots dating back to the 1880s. Originally called Lemley by freed slaves around 1869, it was renamed Smithville in honor of Jacob L. Smith. Jacob Smith was a local landowner and cotton farmer drawn by the opening of the Cornelius Cotton Mill in 1880. Many of the men in the neighborhood worked as laborers and sharecroppers for Smith. In 1908 Jacob Smith began to parcel out his land to black families, hoping they would create a community where families could live together. 

Following the passage of segregation laws, African Americans were limited and segregated where they could live and build homes. The Smithville community built and developed a place of their own.  Smithville was still segregated during urban renewal; it was an outlier. The community did not have their own sewer and the men in the community dug the trenches to get water to the Smithville residents. The sewer system came after the 1968 Civil Rights Act passed. 

Before being annexed, Smithville had been denied annexation due to a lack of a tax base, however, after the damming of the Catawba River to create Lake Norman, development came to Cornelius that encouraged the annexation of Smithville in 1972. Throughout its history and currently, Smithville has suffered the impact of segregation and federal housing policies that have limited the appreciation of housing and real estate. 

The Smithville community did not have a choice of where to build, they created a thriving community in Smithville because they had no other choices. Justice is a critical piece in the Smithville narrative. By the second generation of Smithville residents, the community does not know the Smithville history and it ends up in jeopardy of being eliminated.

1908 Original Plat Map