Johnston County was formed in 1746 from Craven County. It is named for Gabriel Johnston, royal governor of North Carolina from 1734 to 1752.
Johnston County, North Carolina offers great connections to history, entertainment, dining, lodging, and outlet shopping, along with a generous helping of true southern hospitality. Located midway between New York and Florida on I-95 and at the cross-roads of I-95 and I-40, Johnston County connects the nation's North and South with East and West. Its location places it only a two-hour drive from Atlantic Coast Beaches and a four-hour drive from the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Statistics, Population, and other useful information.
Johnston County is home to eleven towns, listed in order of size: Smithfield (county seat since 1771), Clayton, Selma, Benson, Archer Lodge, Kenly, Four Oaks, Pine Level, Princeton, Wilson's Mills, and Micro.
The Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site is the location of the last major battle of the Civil War and the largest military engagement ever fought on North Carolina soil. Atkinson's Mill is a working gristmill dating back 240 years. The Tobacco Farm Life Museum preserves an authentic slice of eastern North Carolina's rural heritage. The Ava Gardner Museum celebrates the career of the film legend who was born and raised near Smithfield. The Johnston County Heritage Center preserves the history and material culture of Johnston County with an exceptional collection of materials that includes 2,000 books, 800 reels of microfilm, 300 maps and atlases, 50,000 photographic images, 400 private collections of books and papers, and vertical files on genealogy, biography, and local history. Shoppers far and wide visit the 75 discount outlets and shops at Factory Stores of America in Smithfield. For more information about what to see and do in Johnston County, see the Johnston County Visitors Bureau web site.
Operating under the philosophy that every child can learn when a school system respects the individuality of each learner, Johnston County Schools structures their curriculum, programs, and staff to foster a flame for learning within every child that will last a lifetime. In the elementary schools, children learn by hands-on observation, a literature-based reading program, and a process-oriented writing program. In the middles, core academic teacher teams, teacher-based guidance programs, and exploratory curriculum courses strive to make use of the best features of both elementary and high school programs to serve this unique age group.
Since 1969 Johnston Community College has been providing an affordable higher education alternative that has helped thousands of the region's adult population become better equipped for the job market, while also providing a means for local citizens to earn high school diplomas and learn special skills to improve their quality of life. The college transfer program helps many young people cut the often insurmountable costs of a college education and at the same time ease the transition from high school to a four-year college.
The communities of Johnston County have many things in common--a relaxed atmosphere and friendly people. From community festivals to sporting events, Johnston County is a kaleidoscope of unique sights, sounds, ideas and experiences complemented by a colorful array of rural and small-town history and culture.
For more information on Johnston County Government, contact:
Rick Hester, County Manager
P.O. Box 1049
Smithfield, NC 27577
From time immemorial to the eighteenth century, there were Indian villages and Indian trails in the upper Neuse River region of North Carolina that became the land of Johnston County. Early English explorers and settlers who penetrated this region in the middle 1700’s or earlier moved along Indian trails even as they were guided by the course of the Neuse River in traveling west from New Bern.
Johnston County was formed in 1746 from the northwestern part of Craven County, which at that time embraced a large part of the Coastal Plains area of North Carolina. Some of the old writers believe Johnston County originally extended “to the mountains and beyond.”
Wake County was formed from western Johnston County in 1771. Other portions later were taken to form Dobbs, Wilson and Harnett counties. Today, Johnston County covers 795 square miles, the state’s eleventh largest.
The county was named for Gabriel Johnston, Royal Governor of North Carolina from 1734 to 1752. Johnston County was originally inhabited by Tuscarora Indians, a tribe of great size and strength. Early settlers were Scotch with the English coming in later.
In the early days of colonization of North Carolina, Johnston County played an important part. Many of the county citizens of that time were leaders of the colony. A riverside courthouse was built in Smithfield in 1771 and served as the seat of county government until 1786 when the court ordered a new one built at Second and Market Streets. The North Carolina legislature met in the new courthouse on May 3-5, 1779.
In the antebellum times of the 1840's, the most vociferous advocates of inland waterway transportation were reluctant to yield their enthusiasm to the burgeoning railroad industry, but popular interest in rails overshadowed interest in river transportation during the two decades immediately preceding the Civil War. The first railroad built across Johnston County - the 223-mile state-controlled North Carolina Railroad from Goldsboro to Charlotte (via Raleigh and Greensboro)- was completed in 1856. It bypassed Smithfield some four miles to the north, following a beeline between Goldsboro and Raleigh. Smithfield passengers boarded the train at a station originally called "Smithfield Depot," located just west of what is now Selma, where Buffalo Road crosses the present-day Southern Railway. The depot later became known as "Mitchener's Station."
Smithfield travelers and merchants were hardly pleased by the location of the North Carolina Railroad, since Smithfield Depot was almost an hour's drive from the heart of Smithfield by wagon or hack. Tradition, still persistent in the latter half of the twentieth century, has asserted that Smithfield residents opposed locating the railroad through the town, that they did not want noisy trains disturbing their peace nor steam engines polluting their clean air with smoke. Succeeding generations have been told that a "Smithfield man" voted against locating the railroad through Smithfield, and that the town lost the railroad "by one vote." Two Johnston County members of the Legislature did vote against the legislation that incorporated the North Carolina Railroad in 1849, and a single vote ultimately decided whether the railroad was to be approved. But legislative records do not support the legend preserved by spoken words.
Representative Andrew J. Leach of Johnston voted against the railroad bill on all readings, and Johnston's Senator William H. Watson voted against it on the final reading. Apparently both legislators voted as they did because they lacked assurance that the surveyors would lay out the railroad's route through or at the edge of Smithfield's corporate limits. Senator Watson, who supported the bill on first and second reading, offered an amendment requiring the railroad to serve Smithfield directly and not bypass it some miles away. When the amendment was rejected, he withdrew his support of the railroad charter. His shift to the opposition deadlocked the Senate, and the presiding officer was compelled to break the tie. He voted "aye."
The coming of the North Carolina Railroad to Johnston County was the immpetus that (after 1860) gave rise to the towns of Princeton (originally chartered as Boon Hill), Pine Level, Selma, Wilson's Mills and Clayton (earlier Stallings Station), just as a north-south railroad, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad forerunner of the Atlantic Coast Line in the late 1880's would bring into being the towns of Kenly, Micro, Four Oaks and Benson.
Although the North Carolina Railroad was not completed all the way between Goldsboro and Charlotte until 1856 when opposite ends of the line were joined near Greensboro, service began shortly after rails were laid across the county in 1854. The coming of railroads would make a difference in the economic and geographical complexion of the county. They also would open the outside world to residents of Smithfield and the rest of the county who had not been able to afford travel by stagecoach. Before railroad service came to Johnston, one-way travel by stage from Goldsboro to Charlotte cost $23 (more than the monthly income of a school teacher in the 1850's). The original train fare from Goldsboro to Charlotte, one way, was only $5.
(Taken from "A Short History of Johnston County: 1746-1890," by Thomas J. Lassiter. "The Heritage of Johnston County North Carolina," Volume I, 1984.)