Traveling the interstate through sections of the flat farmland that once dominated Johnston County, you could easily be unaware of the treasures scattered around you in small towns such as Smithfield, Clayton, Selma, and Four Oaks as well as townships and unincorporated communities. There are no large cities, but there are deep roots. The area and its people have had a huge impact on state and national history, agriculture and even Hollywood.
Make time to visit the largest Civil War battlefield in North Carolina, outside Bentonville, in Fair Oaks – to learn about the last Confederate offensive to stop General Sherman’s march through the Carolinas. Tour the Harper House, which functioned as a Union field hospital during the Battle of Bentonville (March 19-21,1865); walk the Confederate cemetery and Union earthworks trails. Details: www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi.
Visit The Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly (www.tobaccofarmlifemuseum.org), where the heritage of the Eastern North Carolina farmer is showcased. Walk through the property, which includes a restored farmstead, working blacksmith shop, and one-room school house.
Smithfield is where famed movie star Ava Gardner called home. Get your glam on at the Ava Gardner Museum (www.avagardner.org), which showcases films, wardrobe, private correspondence and other memorabilia from Gardner’s life and film career.
Like yard sales? You’ll enjoy searching for bargains and treasures along the 301 Endless Yard Sale (www.301endlessyardsale.com), which takes place the weekend of June 19-20. The route follows U.S. 301 – 100 miles, mostly through rural North Carolina, from Roanoke Rapids to Dunn – and including stops in Johnston County. Many sellers will be at established visitor sites such as the Kenly’s Tobacco Farm Life Museum and TWN Antiques in Selma, as well as downtowns, churches and schools. The quaint streets of uptown Selma offer more than 14 antiques stores.
Johnston County’s Beer, Wine & Shine Trail (at www.johnstoncounty.nc.org, click “Experience Johnston County”) includes several award-winning wineries, breweries and distilleries. At 75 acres, Hinnant Family Vineyards (www.hinnantvineyards.com) is one of the oldest muscadine vineyards in the state.
Find a rustic taproom with a modern twist at Smithfield’s Double Barley Brewing (www.doublebarleybrewing.com) which offers a variety of craft beers. Enjoy the outdoor beer garden.
You can’t go too far in Johnston County without encountering great Southern food. Try Heidi’s Two-Wheel Cafe in Smithfield. Savor Eastern N.C.-style barbecue at Holt Lake Bar-B-Que & Seafood, also in Smithfield. Treat yourself to a home-cooked country meal at Parkside Cafe in Selma. For an upscale evening, dine at Skyline’s Cafe in Clayton.
Upcoming events in Johnston County
May 2: Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival. Besides craft and food vendors featuring country ham and sweet potatoes, activities include live music, dancing, a barbecue cook-off, rubber duck race, 5K and the “What’s That Yam Thing?” contest. Free. Details: www.hamandyam.com/
301 Endless Yard Sale, June 19-20. More than 500 vendors and 5,000 shoppers are expected to participate in this roadside event, as described in this story. Details: www.301endlessyardsale.com.