The history of Smithville has been established and influenced by the Little Platte River.
The tribe of Missouri Indians camped here before Smithville existed because of the water, fishing and hunting, the river provided. As time passed, the Missouri tribe was challenged by the Osage and other tribes for this prime location. There is no record of the number of Indians killed in these altercations, but there are Indian mounds down the river that are believed to be burial mounds.
Humphrey "Yankee" Smith came to this area in 1822. He saw the advantages offered by the waterpower of the river, and it was here he built the first mill north of the Missouri River in Platte Purchase. His first mill was for corn but was later enlarged to mill wheat into flour. In 1853 the mill was washed away by the flooding river, which was at the time called "Smith's Fork". The mill was rebuilt and operated under different ownership through the years. In 1867 Smithville was incorporated, became Smithville rather than "Smith's Mill". Churches, schools and businesses were built, and the town became a busy farm community. The biggest, and certainly most persistent problem Smithville had was the Little Platte River. It flooded the town frequently, sometimes doing minimal damage and sometimes a distressing and destructive amount of damage.
In 1965 Smithville suffered the worst flood in its history. Fifteen feet of water and terrific currents rushed through the center of town, washing away businesses and homes that had been there for years. That was the end of an era for the self-supporting rural farm community. People continued to live here, but they worked elsewhere. These were hard years for Smithville, but the citizens pulled together to help the town survive. They went to Washington to get a flood control dam and lake to change the erratic river back into an asset to our community, rather than an unleashed force of destruction. Smithville Lake opened in 1982, and Smithville is now a thriving, growing community of some 5,000 people with a very good quality of life.
The river still flows through the center of town and through our memories. Tourists travel here to enjoy all the Lake activities, and now only the "old timers" become just a little apprehensive when it rains too much, too hard or too long. The Little Platte River is our heritage, both good and bad. It is why we are here with a past worth remembering and a future to celebrate.
The Lake that now protects the town from flooding is also a celebrated tourist destination, attracting 1.9 million visitors a year. The 7,000-acre lake provides beautiful scenery as well as opportunities for great fishing, boating, and sailing and other water sports. With camping facilities and hunting areas, the lake is a one-stop shop for outdoors lovers.
The Smithville Heritage District Merchants Association invites you to downtown Smithville, where you will enjoy several destination-eating establishments, The Main Street Mill Historic Tea Room and The Brick House Cafe' or try a chocolate coke at the old fashioned Soda Fountain at Justus Drug Store on Main, as well as quality antiques and gift shopping at Jean's Flowers & Gifts, That Bloomin' Basket, The Shepherds Home, Trudy's Antiques or Annie's Antiques. Built around the downtown courtyard, you are encouraged to schedule your next day trip to include a walk-about in the Heritage District.
Today Smithville is protected from disastrous floods from the Little Platte River. The city has attracted new residences, businesses, has good parks, an excellent public school system, and Saint Luke's Northland Hospital - Smithville Campus. The Smithville Heritage District Merchants Association (SHDMA) is active in the preservation of the community's vibrant past while allowing Smithville to develop as a thriving, GROWING community reflecting quality of life for citizens and visitors alike.