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The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Stroll Around Historic Smithfield

Stroll Around Historic Smithfield

Historic Downtown Smithfield now has a walking tour that highlights historical buildings, houses, and monuments. The Johnston County Visitors Bureau has designed and printed a brochure regarding the walking tour in partnership with the Johnston County Heritage Center. The brochure includes a map of the downtown area with each stop numbered. In addition, the Heritage Center has provided notes on the historical relevancy of each site. Points of interest like parking, visitor information, dining options, and the Ava Gardner Museum are also pictured on the map.

According to Heritage Center Director Todd Johnson, “taking the Historic Smithfield Walking Tour is not only a healthy activity but will teach you about our town’s history going back to colonial times.”

Johnson mentions that Smithfield offers a wide variety of architectural styles such as Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Second Empire, Colonial Revival, and Gothic Revival. There are several buildings on the tour that have stood since the Civil War, and each one has its own story to tell.

The purpose of creating guides like this one is to showcase the stories and heritage of historical towns like Smithfield. The walking tour adds to the options of things visitors to Smithfield can do and encourages them to discover local businesses along the way like shops and restaurants.

With Fall approaching and the evenings cooling off, visitors and locals alike can explore the walking route for themselves. The walking tour offers a chance to discover something about Smithfield that wasn’t known before. For example, the portion of the Smithfield courthouse facing Market Street was constructed in 1921, but the land that it stands on has been occupied by courthouses since the late 1700s. That’s more than 3 centuries of law and order in one location.

To learn more about these fascinating places or to pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour, please drop by the Heritage Center, 241 E. Market Street, anytime between 9:00AM and 5:00PM, Monday through Saturday. You can also download an electronic version of the walking tour guide on the Johnston County Visitors Bureau website.

If you’ve got friends or family coming into town, or you’re looking for an activity to go with your next office or corporate event, you can also inquire about guided tours of the historic walking route. To schedule a guided tour, call the Johnston County Heritage Center at 919-934-2836, or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   

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As Long As There Is You and Food

As Long As There Is You and Food

In a recent article published on the Southern Foodways Alliance website, Johnston County native Emily Wallace discussed the battle between Smithfield, VA and Smithfield, NC to be Ham Capital of the World. The article, called Ham to Ham Combat is both fascinating and funny. You can read it here.

More importantly, her interview with Johnston County Hams owner Rufus Brown produced quite the interesting quote, highlighted below.

Today, Brown says, the majority of local customers buy hams just once a year for their holiday tables. Folks call relentlessly. “I tell some of the people who work here, I say, ‘Listen. Their whole house could burn down, they could lose all their presents, but if their refrigerator made it through the fire with that ham in it, that Christmas would be fine,'” says Brown. “They say, ‘Nah, you’re crazy!’ But I say, ‘Once you get through one Christmas, you’ll see.'”

As a native of Johnston County myself, I can add validity to Brown's conviction that what matters most to locals around the holidays is food. It always seemed particularly cruel to me that the Grinch not only took presents and decorations, but emptied out the contents of all the kitchens in Whoville. What sort of monster takes the Roast Beast?!

This notion stems from a deep belief I have ingrained in me as a southerner that any obstacle, hardship, or unpleasantness we face shrinks to insignificance when we gather around a table filled with food and good company. And maybe that's not strictly southern, maybe it is simply human. But, our belief that presents and decorations are secondary to the tradition of a holiday meal shared with friends and family is not the only "food tradition" that southerners hold dear.

In fact, a good look at the history of southern hospitality reveals an unwavering notion that food is how you show that you care. When a family suffers a tragedy, when a new neighbor moves in, and on every major holiday, people provide food in support and in solidarity. As we mourn together and celebrate together, Johnstonians know that the best way to say 'I love you' or even 'Merry Christmas' is through providing nourishment - pies, cakes, casseroles, pudding, and, yes, ham. Below is a picture of the coveted Johnston County Christmas ham.

Johnston County Hams
Instead of attempting to describe how amazing this ham is, I'll let Johnston County Hams do it for me, "For over 60 years and across two generations of renowned curemasters, we at Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina have hand crafted "cured" country hams inspired by the techniques used by America's early colonists."

Another family-owned Johnston County establishment catering to our obsession with food is Atkinson Milling Company. Open since 1757, no I did not type a number wrong, and owned by the Wheeler family going on three generations now.

I asked Andrew Wheeler, third generation Wheeler at Atkinson's, to share what Christmas means to his family. He said that Christmas for the Wheeler family is always celebrated on Christmas Eve at Grandma and Papa's house (that's Betty and Ray Wheeler, the first Wheelers to own Atkinson's Mill, pictured below), "Traditionally, Grandma cooked the whole spread. The foods that are Wheeler family traditions are fresh greens, Grandma's macaroni and cheese, a BIG pot of chicken pastry (Atkinson's of course) and hushpuppies (obviously Atkinson's as well!). The greens are always grown and delivered that week by Colon and Coy Batten, longtime Wheeler family friends."

Ray and Betty Wheeler
But he can't just list the food, because, as I have pointed out, food means more than something to eat, it means heritage and home, "Papa loves Grandma's homemade macaroni and cheese, so it is a staple. And Grandma always made the best pastry. It was perfectly seasoned and never stuck together. The hushpuppies are significant to our family because our Atkinson's Regular Hushpuppy Mix was Grandma's own personal recipe and the very first product our company ever made after plain cornmeal."

"After everyone eats, all 34 of us (yes there are 34 of us, hence the BIG pot of pastry) pile into the living room to open gifts. In recent years Papa has taken over the gifting from Grandma and it is always a lot of fun to see what he picked out for everyone. He gets all the grandchildren a gas card and a funny gift. For example, last year my wife received a bottle of aftershave and I got a can of soup.  It is always a treat to laugh at everyone's crazy gifts and his unique spellings of all our names (Papa is known for his inventive spelling). While all the gifting is going on some of the children and grandchildren have a little wrapping paper fight. Grandma scolds everyone saying that she is going to take a switch to us all. In my 26 years she never has; we're all starting to think she's not entirely serious."

Atkinson offers a wide range of cornmeals, biscuit mixes, breaders, and grits. The best product for the holidays, in my opinion, is the Atkinson's Cinnamon Flake Biscuit Mix. Try using it to make the cinnamon roll recipe on our website here. You can get more Johnston County Christmas recipes here.

No matter your holiday tradition, favorite foods, or family recipes, I hope that you, like the Wheelers, are gathering together with those closest to you. Merry Christmas from Johnston County! May your new year be filled with more nourishment then a slice of Johnston County Ham on top of a warm, buttery Atkinson Milling Company biscuit.

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Unveiling of New Exhibit at the Ava Gardner Museum

Unveiling of New Exhibit at the Ava Gardner Museum


The Ava Gardner Museum will be unveiling a new exhibit including artifacts and information associated with Ava's friend and costar Omar Sharif, who sadly passed away this year. The exhibit will also include a tribute to her husband Frank Sinatra in honor of his 100th birthday this year, and a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Ava's death.

The museum’s Executive Director, Deanna Brandenberger, explains that this year is particularly significant in commemorating Ava’s role in Hollywood history and that the new exhibit as a three-part tribute will be a first for the museum, “the new exhibit’s design will be different from any we have done before. Our main gallery case will be split into three sections, giving each commemoration their space."

The grand opening of the exhibit will be on Saturday, October 3rd at 9 AM in conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Ava Gardner Museum in its current location. There will not be an Ava Gardner Festival this year, but the museum invites Ava fans to come view the new exhibit and celebrate Ava, Frank, and Omar. Light refreshments will be served throughout the day.

Ava's Contemporaries

Mayerling - Ava with Omar Sharif
Omar Sharif, a widely-respected Egyptian actor, is mainly known for his epic roles in the blockbuster classics Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Ava first starred with Sharif in the 1968 film Mayerling, in which she played his mother, the Empress of Austria. Ironically, almost two decades later in 1986 she played his wife in Harem. Harem was also one of the last movies Ava ever made before she retired from the spotlight for health reasons. The new exhibit will include artifacts, photos, and information from both movies as a tribute to Ava's friendship with Sharif.

In Mearene Jordan's book Living with Miss G she says that Miss G (Ava) and Omar Sharif became fast friends while filming Mayerling, "Sharif immediately captivated us with his sense of humor, his charm, his immense knowledge about practically everything, and the fact that he was completely on Miss G's wave length." On both sides however, the friendship remained platonic.

According to BrandeAva and Franknberger, "Sharif once described Ava as one of his dearest friends up till her death and that he considered her to be the ‘most beautiful woman in all of the world.’ Omar’s passing was a major loss for the industry and its history and we wish to highlight his role in Ava’s life as we have done with other friends, such as Lena Horne. Ava’s husband and friend Frank Sinatra also held a similar view of Ava and they were a large part of each other’s lives for five decades. "

And so, another tribute within the new exhibit will be to Ava's third husband and love of her life, Frank Sinatra. Though their marriage did not last very long, Frank and Ava were life-long friends who loved each other passionately and forever. Even post divorce Mearene said that Frank and Ava's love affair was still in high gear, "...there were daily phone calls. If they couldn't reach each other by phone there was an unending stream of loving cablegrams reinforcing their undying devotion to each other."

This year would have been Frank's 100th birthday. His son, Frank Sinatra Jr., is currently touring the country performing his tribute show - Sinatra Sings Sinatra, which features his discussion of his father’s life as well as a concert of the songs for which his father is known. He will be performing at the Carolina Theatre in Durham on November 18th.


All of Ava

The final tribute within the new exhibit will be in honor of Ava herself. Since this year marks the 25th anniversary of her death, Ava will also be receiving a historical marker to be placed near Sunset Memorial Park, the cemetery in Smithfield where she is buried. While the new exhibit will premiere in October, the plaque dedication is slated for sometime in November with details to be announced soon.

Brandenberger says that this is a wonderful time to focus in on who Ava was as a person, "the 25th anniversary of Ava’s death is a time for us to draw attention to Ava the woman, and give a eulogy to her personally as well as professionally. When people visit the museum, they will discover the dichotomy of the movie star and the country girl she always remained. Essentially, we hope to represent Ava as those close to her remember her: as a true Barefoot Contessa.”  

In Ava's own words, "no one believes me, but I've always been a country girl at heart with a country girl's values." The museum is excited to continue to bring you new and exciting parts of Ava and her contemporaries.  

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield at 325 E. and admission is $8 per person. The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday, 2pm-5pm. Information is available on www.avagardner.org or by calling 919-934-5830. 

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A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate     

People tell me it's a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring
She was born in spring, but I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate.
-Bob Dylan

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, blame it on a simple twist of fate. Nathan and Colleen Roby named their little-restaurant-that-could Simple Twist. And so it seems that the providence of that namesake has carried them into the present with not one, but two thriving locations.

The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work and long hours. But Colleen credits their success to the locals for the passion they have shown for Simple Twist through their patronage, "we opened the first location in Garner in June 2014 and community support helped to make it an instant success."Simple Twist Burger

Both excellent service and fresh, unique cuisine choices help to set Simple Twist apart. Colleen and Nate - who runs the kitchen and sets the menu - have developed partnerships with local producers, "we have close relationships with farmers in the area that have brought us all kinds of locally grown produce. We only serve Certified Angus Beef, the best kind of beef you can get. We use high quality ingredients to create delicious meals."

It's this same dedication to sourcing that carries over into the quality of the food. Colleen stated that the restaurant also works hard to keep menu items homemade, "Everything is made from scratch, there is hardly anything in the freezer." She points out, "In fact, we converted a large 2 door freezer into a cooler when we first opened since we did not need the space for freezing product." Cool.

Customers can taste the love and passion that goes into every bite and they showed their appreciation by showing up. A lot. In June 2015 Simple Twist opened a second location here in Smithfield to keep up with demand. Smithfield's residents and workforce couldn't be happier.

And the restaurant's business keeps growing. Nathan and Colleen just recently decided to extend their hours at the Smithfield location, "we plan to open Sundays starting August 30th. We will have Bloody Marys and Mimosas served with our regular menu, and will be open from 11AM-4PM." Simple Twist is also working with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau on initiatives that will bring visitors into Johnston County and into Simple Twist. You can read about the Girlfriends Getaway Hotel Package here.

One thing I suggest you don't leave up to a simple twist of fate is a visit to this restaurant. Click here to print a coupon for your first visit. I absolutely love the twisted guacamole. It includes three of my favorite things - avocados, bacon, and bleu cheese. Yum! Click on the video below to watch Chef Nathan Roby whip up this amazing appetizer.

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Jewel's Formals - An Accessory to Confidence

Jewel's Formals - An Accessory to Confidence

Jewel's Formals - An Accessory to Confidence

For as long as I can remember, Jewel's has been a beacon of cloth and color on the corner of Market and Third in downtown Smithfield.  Through rain and sun and snow, the dazzling dresses in the window stand out to pedestrians and motorists like brightly wrapped presents. And without telling my age, the length of my memory is about how long this sophisticated shop has been around. Jewel's Formals has been in the formal business for 25 years. And they dress each client with a confidence born from over two decades of experience.
dress rackGuarding over the racks of dresses, a canvas mounted on a wall towards the back of the shop says, "without question the most important thing a girl wears is her confidence". With the same thought, Kim Johnson, owner of Jewel's, would tell you that it is not their service, their dresses, or their hard work that make a dress shine brighter than the rest, it is the woman wearing it. A winning dress does not create beauty, it enhances it.

But Jewel's certainly has winning dresses, or just perhaps winning clients. For the last 2 years in a row, but not for the first time, Jewel's has dressed both Miss North Carolina and Miss Teen North Carolina. In fact, a staggering estimated 30 girls in this year's Miss North Carolina pageant wore a Jewel's dress in the competition, out of 79 contestants. In addition, out of the top 5 Miss Teen North Carolina contestants, 4 of them were wearing a Jewel's dress in the competition.

The Crown(ed) Jewel

What exactly does this mean? Well, it means that Jewel's is a great place to purchase dresses for pageantry. In fact, it is a large part of their business. The second being prom. However, it does not mean that the particular Jewel's dress worn for the state pageants will also be worn in the Miss America competition. Kim explains that at the national level girls are provided with dress options from pre-selected pageant sponsors. So, Miss North Carolina 2015, Kate Peacock, will not be wearing her winning Jewel's dress at the Miss America Pageant. But, she may be wearing Jewel's attire to appearances and other functions.

What is important to remember though is that the girl chooses the dress. She selects the shop, the designer, the cut, and the color. Jewel's has a huge pageant business because an overwhelming number of contestants choose to purchase their dress at Jewel's. They have a reputation for fashion. A reputation that precedes them. Well-earned over time. And with time comes knowledge of the dress industry and the pageant industry.

Formal and Formidable

Jewel's carries around 25 designer labels at any given time, purchased from different fashion markets twice a kate peacockyear. The shop purchases upcoming fall fashion in the spring and upcoming spring fashion in the fall. Pageant season runs all year long with preliminaries starting in August and competitions running through May. A contestant could come into the shop at any time of the year looking for "the" dress. Though Jewel's is not a bridal boutique, they do offer prom, homecoming, military balls, and tuxedo rental expertise.

As for pageant knowledge, I learned that Miss North Carolina contestants often go with a safer, more conservative dress - nothing too revealing - and teen contestants have historically stayed away from the colors black and red. However, Kim acknowledged that there is proof in the winner's circle that this un-written rule seems to be shifting.

You can benefit from all this knowledge, plus professional and friendly service at Jewel's. Even if you aren't in the market for a pageant dress, Jewel's will make you feel like a beauty queen for any occasion. And while Kim insists that it isn't the dress that makes the girl, a Jewel's dress does certainly make the perfect accessory to any girl's confidence. Just ask future Miss America (we hope) Kate Peacock!

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Heritage Center To Unveil Civil War Exhibit

Heritage Center To Unveil Civil War Exhibit

An exhibit entitled, "American vs. American: Our Most Cruel War,” will open in the Holding-Richardson Exhibit Hall of the Johnston County Heritage Center on Saturday, March 7, at 2 pm.

As we prepared for the Bentonville 150th Event we found there are some amazing stories from this period in our history that had not been told, so area committees have been planning additional events coming up this March and April. The formal opening of the Heritage Center exhibit will include an appearance by Rev. Henry McNeal Turner (portrayed by Rev. Abdue Knox of Bethel AME Church near Selma), a famous U.S. Colored Troops chaplain who came through Smithfield in 1865. He will discuss two fascinating Smithfield accounts published in a Philadelphia newspaper during the war. 

What exhibits will be on display

Heritage Center Exhibit PanelThe displays will feature artifacts such as a Confederate infantry officer’s sword and hand-painted canteen, a rifle made at the Fayetteville Arsenal in 1864, a bugle played by a local soldier at Appomattox, wallet from a soldier with a girl’s tintype photograph still inside, Confederate currency, a saddle from a Union cavalryman’s horse, uniform buttons and other items unearthed by local citizens, a bayonet found in a tree near Bentonville, and church records bearing poignant messages from Union soldiers. There are also photographs from the war period, including a rare collection of tintype photos of U.S. Colored Troops.

The exhibit’s title panel shows Private William Lee of Johnston County wearing a U.S. Army uniform. Lee was one of the first men to volunteer in the Confederate Army in 1861, but for unknown reasons he later walked to federally occupied New Bern and volunteered to fight against his old comrades.
Johnston County was decidedly pro-Union throughout the war. Local voters sent Unionist delegates to the secession convention in Raleigh even after President Abraham Lincoln called for North Carolina to furnish troops for the U.S. Army.  The boys and men who fought in the war made up one tenth of the county’s population of about 15,000. Around 500 died from wounds or disease.

While deserters were hiding out in local forests and swamps to avoid capture by state militia in the spring of 1865, over 80,000 soldiers from North and South converged at Bentonville, leaving a path of destruction in their wake . Union soldiers burned several finer plantation houses in eastern Johnston County, although their superiors had not given such orders. The most well known incident was the Thomas Atkinson mansion on Brogden Road near the Wayne County line.

Johnston County Heritage Center is located at 241 E. Market Street, Smithfield, NC and for more information call 919-934-2836 or visit the center’s website, www.jcheritagecenter.org

Bentonville Reenactment150th Bentonville Battlefield Re-enactment

Later in the month of March, on the 21st and 22nd, the Friends of Bentonville Battlefield will host the largest Civil War battle re-enactment in North Carolina as one of the final 150th events in the state. 

Tickets purchased before March 15 are $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 9-12. Buying in advance also allows the purchase of a combination ticket for both days, March 21-22. That ticket is $20 for adults and $10 for children.

After March 15, remaining tickets will be sold at the gate for $15 for adults and $10 for children. Combination tickets will not be available. Children ages 8 and younger attend free.

The battle scenarios on Saturday and Sunday are the only events that require tickets. All other anniversary events – lectures, house tours, demonstrations and more – are free to the public. For complete information on the event, including ticket sales, visit www.150thBentonville.com 




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Carolina Premium Outlets is "Extra Festive" This Thanksgiving Weekend

Carolina Premium Outlets is "Extra Festive" This Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks, spending time with friends and family, good food, and football (and lots of it, food, family and football!)  It has also become a holiday where, not long after leftovers are put away, people search for great deals on their Christmas shopping list. On Thanksgiving Day, November 27th, thousands of diehard shoppers will travel to Smithfield for “deals on top of deals” offered at Carolina Premium Outlets, which has stores opening their doors at 6pm this year.

It's quite the sight to see, lines in front of stores, waiting to get the best deal on items like Coach bags. We love that visitors travel here from all over the state and beyond making a weekend trip to Smithfield.  We wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving and that they get a great deal at Carolina Premium Outlets.

If you are coming shopping - here are the details!

Carolina Premium OutletsThe Extra Festive Weekend Sale featuring extended shopping hours are 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 27, 2014, through 10 p.m. on “Black Friday,” November 28, 2014.  On Saturday, November 29, the Center will open at 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m., and will open on Sunday, November 30, at 10 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Carolina Premium Outlets is offering extra holiday hours to meet their customers’ needs - from the person looking for the latest fashion and styles of the season, to the family hunting for great deals, to the last-minute shopper in search of the perfect gift....with an impressive collection of fashion labels at savings of 25 to 65 percent every day for our shoppers during the holiday season.

Shoppers will enjoy exceptional holiday savings and extended shopping hours, plus, they will experience the biggest shopping event of the year.  Shopper appreciation programs will take place throughout the holiday season and include: random acts of gifting, holiday gift cards, holiday entertainment, and complimentary treats at Guest Services.

For the most up-to-date information, to check on store openings and special offers, visit the center’s website: www.premiumoutlets.com/carolina.  For hotel deals and places to rejuvenate and have a bite to eat, visit the official visitor website for Smithfield, www.visitsmithfield.org.



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Ava Gardner Festival -- opens "Ava's Closet"

Ava Gardner Festival -- opens "Ava's Closet"

Join us in historic downtown Smithfield for the 10th Annual Ava Gardner Festival, October 3-5.  Ava went to Hollywood in 1941, a beauty from North Carolina with her college threads and saddle oxford shoes, but just a few years later she graced hundreds of magazine covers, played on-screen sirens, and was coined one of the world’s most beautiful women.

Schedule of Events for the Ava Gardner Festival

Ava Gardner FestivalFriday, October 3

Ava’s Closet Exhibit opens with a Fashion Fling reception with Sinatra-style entertainment by the Carolina Crooner, hors d’ oeuvres and beverages will provide the “fling” for the evening.  Ticket prices are $25.00 per person and the event is the museum’s annual fundraiser.

Saturday, October 4

Festival goers will enjoy the new exhibits, Heritage Tours, and FREE movie screenings of  The Killers and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean showing at 10am and 2pm respectively.  This year’s movies are a tribute to John Huston, Ava’s dear friend and famed director. All day admission is $8 for all ages.

Justin LeBlancMeet special guest, Justin LeBlanc, season 12 Project Runway finalist and local designer from Raleigh who will speak about 3D print design and fashion with visitors to the museum.  Justin will be at the museum Saturday, Oct. 4 from 9-11am.

Heritage tours on Saturday October 4th will be held throughout the day beginning at 9am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm. The guided tour will take visitors to Ava’s birthplace, to the Brogden Teacherage where she grew up, and to her gravesite at Sunset Memorial Park. Tours are $15.00 per person.


Clayton Piano FestivalOn Saturday, Oct. 4, the museum has partnered with the Clayton Piano Festival whose theme this year is classical music from the movies. The festival organizers are working with renowned artist and Clayton native, Jonathan Levin to pay tribute to Ava Gardner with a song from Show Boat and a selection of other musical influenced by Ava's love of flamenco music. The festival will be held at The Clayton Center and begins at 7pm. Coffee and desserts will be served after the concert with a meet and greet with Azamat Sydakov, the featured pianist. Tickets are $20.00 per person plus fees/taxes and are available online at www.theclaytoncenter.com.

 Sunday, October 5

Another tribute to John Huston, The African Queen will run on Sunday at 3pm.

Get a deal with the Ava's Closet Festival Package

Ava Gardner Festival Package includes admission to all events for the weekend, and is available for $75.00 online, CLICK HERE to purchase.

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Chick-Fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon - A Big Draw to Smithfield

We have heard from visitors that traveled to Smithfield to run in the 3 Little Pigs Triathlon, traveling here from all over the state and beyond -- "We just had to see what a "3 Little Pigs" race was all about".  Sometimes in event planning....the name is the most important thing of all.

The Chick-Fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon will be held in Smithfield, on Saturday, June 14, 2014. The event will begin at 7:30am and include a 250-yard pool swim, 14-mile bike race, and 3.1 mile run.  The event will begin at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center (SRAC) at 600 Booker Dairy Road. The swim will take place at the SRAC pool; the bike course will be from the SRAC parking lot into rural Johnston County on a scenic but mostly flat course; and the run course is an out-and-back course around Smithfield’s community park, and down and back on the new Buffalo Creek Greenway which runs along the Neuse River.

Family activities will also be available including the SRAC splash pool, a misting tent, face painting and the playground at the finish line.  Chick-Fil-A of Smithfield is the title sponsor for the event and proceeds will benefit the Friends of the Park and The Rotary Club of Central Johnston County.

Organizers are excited about the response for the 3 Little Pigs Triathlon as they expect more than 500 participants.  The event is family oriented providing activities for children at the Aquatic Center as family members complete the race.  Last year over $17,000 was raised and funds go directly back into the community through Friends of the Park and the Rotary Club of Central Johnston County. It’s a great time for the participants and their families.  Participants receive a t-shirt and a Chick-Fil-A chicken wrap as part of the event.

Registration information may be found here:

    • The last day to register online for the 3 Little Pigs Sprint Triathlon is Tuesday, June 10, 2014. On-site registration may be available if this event is not full, but your best bet is to register online.
    • Until May 4, cost is $45 for individuals; $80 for relays.




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Food Takes Center Stage at 30th Annual Ham & Yam Festival

countryham+biscuitOne big change is coming to the 2014 Ham & Yam Festival, scheduled for May 2 and 3 as food will take center stage.  In an effort to return to the agricultural roots of the festival, all food vendors will offer an item that features either country ham or yams.

“For the 30th annual Ham & Yam Festival, we wanted to return to the roots of the festival, and celebrate the fact that ham and sweet potato producers are still thriving here in Johnston County,” states Sarah Edwards, festival organizer and Interim Director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation.

In addition to the Kiwanis Club’s ever popular Stevens Sausage country ham biscuits, food vendors will offer sweet potato funnel cakes, sweet potato pie, sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato desserts, sweet potato fries, sweet potato chips, sweet potato smoothies, sweet potato muffins, and baked sweet potatoes.

The Kiwanis Club’s annual Ham & Yam supper, scheduled for Tuesday, April 29, will feature Stevens Sausage country ham, yams, cabbage, and corn bread.  The supper is from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church, located at 140 E. Market Street in Downtown Smithfield; tickets are $7.00, and will be available at the door.

In addition to the food, a full schedule of events on Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3 will attract more than 25,000 thousand people to Downtown Smithfield, where the festival occupies several blocks.  Craft and commercial vendors line the streets, local entertainers perform on two stages, and there are activities for the entire family.  The festival features free concerts on Friday and Saturday nights; The Breakfast Club, America’s favorite 80s tribute band will take the stage at 8:00 p.m. on Friday after Girlz Girlz Girlz opens at 6:00 p.m.  Neon Radio will open the free Saturday night concert at 6:00 p.m., with Who’s Bad: the Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band taking the stage at 8:00 p.m.

The Ham & Yam Festival is organized by the nonprofit Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation.  To learn more about the Ham & Yam Festival, please visit www.hamandyam.com, or call Sarah Edwards at 919-934-0887.

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Ham and Yam Festival Throws Back to the 80s

2014 Ham and Yam Logo Even our logo for 2014 has some 80's style - sunglasses and punk hair!

The Ham and Yam Festival began in 1985 as a challenge from Johnston County ham producers to the ham producers of Smithfield, Virginia.  No longer is there a competition between ham producers, but a weekend of great food, fun, and music.  Johnston County is recognized as a top producer of North Carolina's sweet potato crop, so it is fitting for the festival to honor the agricultural heritage of the area...and ham and yams go so good together!!

What started as a food festival has expanded to offer a barbecue cook-off attracting great cooks from throughout the area to compete for cash prizes. Attendees will also find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue plates from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, sweet potato fries, funnel cakes, ice cream, and desserts. YUM!

The festival hosts the “What’s That Yam Thing?” contest, a favorite for school-aged children given the opportunity to turn sweet potatoes into works of art. Visitors wander through the festival area filled with hundreds of booths occupied by face painters, local non-profit organizations, and vendors selling items including garden flags, handbags, pottery, handmade jewelry and many other arts and crafts. The family event keeps crowds entertained with performances on three stages, children’s games, carnival rides, and the very popular pig races.

We’re throwing back to the 80s... at the 2014 Ham & Yam Festival!

Face painting at the Ham & Yam FesitvalFor the 30th Annual Ham & Yam Festival, we’re returning to our roots and celebrating hams, yams, and the 1980s. For the first time ever, all food vendors will offer an item featuring country ham or yams. In addition to the food, attendees will be treated to entertainment, activities, and vendors lining the streets on Saturday. Free concerts will be held at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights at the Stevens Sausage Pavilion at the Neuse River Amphitheater. The Breakfast Club will bring real hair, real 1980s clothes, real vocals, and real musical talent when they take us back on May 2. The audience will be singing, dancing, and moonwalking along when the festival closes May 3 with an 8:00 concert featuring Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band.

Learn more at www.hamandyam.com or call 919-934-0887 and follow on FACEBOOK.

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JoCo Breweries Participate in NC Beer Month

Deep River Brewing Co. In just one short year, Johnston County has entered the craft beer industry with two breweries opening in 2013.  Deep River Brewing in Clayton, opened their doors in April 2013 and Double Barley Brewing opened in September.  As our new breweries build awareness, expand distribution and gain new customers, they have the opportunity for the first time to be part of the NC Beer Month, April 1-30.

The NC Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development is celebrating "all things beer" across the state from Asheville to Wilmington in 26 communities.  North Carolina now has over 100 breweries and this industry continues to grow like the wineries around the state.  The month-long list of activities includes festivals, sweepstakes, hotel packages, food parings in area restaurants and much, much more.  You can follow activities on Twitter, Google+ or use #NCBeerMonth to keep connected.

In our area of the Triangle (only 30 minutes east of Raleigh), Deep River will be hosting a First Year Anniversary Party on April 4-6 with new brews, food, music and a whole lot of fun.  We have enjoyed getting to know Paul and Lynn Auclair this year, working together to expand our Wine Trail to include breweries and to promote their events.  Likewise with Larry and Cheryl Lane of Clayton, we have found brew masters are fun, creative, hard-working folks and we think the world of both couples....and we thank them for choosing Johnston County to open their businesses.  Double Barley Brewing's Lounge-like Tap Room also offers a variety of appetizers.

  Double Barley Brewing
As a marketing organization...we want to bring more visitors to Johnston County, and by working closely with our breweries and hotels, we have several special rate offers for NC Beer Month on our website.  Visitors will enjoy hotel discounts, as well as, coupon offers from the breweries upon check-in.

For the full list of special events at the breweries for live music, food trucks, and other happenings, visit their website calendars for details.  And for an in-depth look at each business, visit our landing page, www.johnstoncountync.org/jocobreweries  ... we know you will love their unique brews and getting to know Paul, Lynn, Larry and Cheryl.

Happy NC BEER MONTH...let us know what local brews are your favorites!  Post up your picture with your favorite brew on our Facebook page and receive a set of JoCo Postcards!


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Ava Makes the Cover of Our State Magazine

Ava Gardner appears on the cover of the March 2014, Our State Magazine. Ava Gardner appears on the cover of the March 2014, Our State Magazine.

Ava Gardner, a native of Johnston County would appear on hundreds of magazine covers during her career as one of Hollywood's elite.  With extensive research, we are confident in saying she was the first and only North Carolina woman to be on both Time and Newsweek Magazines covers.

Now, Ava is honored again as Our State Magazine, has chosen a portrait by Dutch artist Bert Pffeifer which is owned by the Ava Gardner Museum, as the cover of their March issue.  Our State Magazine is North Carolina's premiere travel and life-style magazine on the state and has frequently featured Johnston County attractions, festivals, and businesses.

It goes without saying we are thrilled they chose Ava Gardner to grace their cover and the article inside features the fashion of Ava and the museum's exhibits that showcase her life and career from her humble beginnings as a farmer's daughter in the Brogden community til her death in London in 1990.  This feature will spark new interest in the museum and no doubt bring new and repeat visitors to Smithfield.

We hope our readers will be inspired to visit us soon!
Time MagazineIn September 1951, Gardner appeared on the cover of Time magazine, featured in a story titled “The Farmer’s Daughter,” which also  covered the history and importance of the female star in Hollywood.  Time, in its piece on Gardner, added some caveats, noting that she was not “the most beautiful babe” in Hollywood, nor was she the best actress.  However, she exuded an allure and mysterious qualities, that sent the glamor meters clicking...she just might be the one new star who could bring glamor back to Hollywood.





Newsweek Magazine [United States] (24 November 1952)By November 1952, Ava would be featured on the cover of Newsweek, not only for her popularity in Hollywood, but she was now Mrs. Frank Sinatra and causing a media storm wherever she went.

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Ava’s “Kissing Kin” Meet in Smithfield for Seminar

Ava Gardner Age 4 Ava Gardner, (picture of Ava at four-years-old) was born in the rural community of Brogden, seven miles east of Smithfield.

Comments we hear often at the museum are... "I am related to Ava", "I went to school with Ava", or "I dated Ava"...visitors to the museum are eager to make a connection to the local Hollywood star born in Johnston County.

Now family and interested fans can meet Ava's kin and learn more about genealogy methods at the same time.  The Ava Gardner Museum and the Johnston County Genealogical and Historical Society will hold a genealogy seminar, “Ava Gardner’s Kissing Kin,” on April 12 in Historic Downtown Smithfield.

“This event is for those who claim kin with our hometown Hollywood star and also for anyone who wants to learn more about the revolutionary use of DNA in genealogical research,” says Museum Director Todd Johnson. The event, taking place 8:30 am to 1 pm, will begin with registration and a tour of the Ava Gardner Museum and will continue in the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.

Cynthia Wells of Cabarrus County, a noted speaker on the topic of genetic genealogy, will present “Exploring the Mysteries, Exploding the Myths: Expanding Your Family History Using DNA,” a lecture she delivered during the 2013 annual meeting of the International Society of Genetic Genealogists in Dublin, Ireland. Information about DNA projects involving the Gardner and related families will be included.

Presentations on Ava Gardner’s ancestry will follow, including a Show-and-Tell segment. “We suspect many of Ava’s relatives across eastern North Carolina have lots of information, family stories, heirlooms, and photographs, and we would love to have some of them share with our audience,” Johnson adds.

Research to date indicates Gardner’s ancestors carried the following surnames: Baker, Barnes, Batts, Cherry, Cobb, Dilday, Duke, Ellis, Forbes, Gardner, Gray, Harrell, Jordan, Vickers, and Webb. Most of her family lines can be traced to pioneer settlers of the Virginia and Carolina Tidewater region in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The cost for the event is $10 per person, and advance registration is recommended. For more information call 919-934-5830, or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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"Mountains to Coast" Ride Rests in Johnston County

Cycle NC LogoThe 15th Annual "Mountains to Coast" ride will be held on Sept 28th - Oct 5th, 2013.  This year's route will go from Spruce Pine to Atlantic Beach, with overnight stops in Morganton, Troutman, Asheboro, Holly Springs, Goldsboro and New Bern along the way.

But between Holly Springs and Goldsboro, this year's route will travel through Johnston County on Thursday, October 3rd.  The Johnston County Visitors Bureau has worked with Cycle NC to create a fun stop at the Lazy O Farm in Smithfield and lunch break at Howell Woods, east of Four Oaks.

Lazy O Farm will be the first rest stop, offering cyclists a 12 minute tour of the working farm, honey samples and entertainment.  At Howell Woods, riders will be offered lunch, local food samples and entertainment.  Cyclists enjoy each and every stop and are on the lookout for future trips for cycling or just to visit again.

We were an overnight host for this event about five years ago and we hope to do the same again in the near future...it's quite a site to welcome around 1,000 bike riders to the community and a whole lot of fun too!

All registration fees will increase up to $50 after August 21. Online registration will close Friday, September 20.

You can click Register Now to sign up today!

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What will the next generation of bluegrass music sound like?

Johnston County has a rich musical heritage with bluegrass music, especially well-known is Al Batten & The Bluegrass Reunion who have been playing together for over 40 years.

Al Batten Al Batten and the Bluegrass Reunion, local Johnston County bluegrass band.

Al Batten has proven true the concept that time, practice, and dedication are what it takes to master the 5-string banjo. The "3-T's" are his staples: Taste, Timing, and Tone. Following his initiation to the instrument in his teens, Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Bill Emerson, Walter Hensley, and Billy Edwards heavily influenced him. And by combining these influences, Al developed a unique style of his own. In addition, his lead singing is second to none. For just as soon as he sings the first note, you can immediately tell it comes straight from the heart!

By carrying on his family tradition in agriculture (farmer, leader in the local FFA, former Boy Scout leader, and retired agriculture teacher), Al has learned to keep things down to earth, not only in his music, but in life as a whole. His quick wit and down-home demeanor only add to his outgoing personality and his good-hearted nature. These traits have become the standard for the Bluegrass Reunion, not only in the music business, but in his home, church, and community, as well

But how is the music evolving and staying relevant for today's younger generation?

GENERATION BLUEGRASS is a video project introducing some of the most talented up and coming young bluegrass musicians in the country. It was produced, directed, and edited by 17 year old bluegrass guitarist Corey Smith, with the help of Zeb Snyder (17) of the Snyder Family Band.  Its purpose is to promote bluegrass music to the younger generation and honor the older generation that gave us such a rich musical heritage.  If you want an insight into the youth in bluegrass scene, and the talent level of young bluegrass musicians, this is a must see video.  If nothing else, this film will communicate the blessing of great heritage music and will make a strong statement that the uniquely American form of music known as Bluegrass will continue on.

Generation Bluegrass members include, Zeb and Samantha Snyder (Snyder Family Band); The Church Sisters; The Moore Brothers; Shane and Alex Edwards; and The Smith Family. You will not only be entertained and amazed by the talent of these young musicians, but you will be encouraged by the character of these performers. The future of bluegrass music is indeed in good hands.

The Paul A. Johnston Auditorium is hosting Generation Bluegrass on September 21st on the campus of Johnston Community College.  Tickets are $12.50 and $10.00.

CLICK HERE for video.

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John Huston Stuck By Ava Gardner—His Choice for “Maxine Faulk”

Ava Gardner John Huston stayed with his first choice actress, Ava Gardner to star in "The Night of the Iguana"

In 1963 Ava Gardner was happy living in Madrid, away from Hollywood where paparazzi would not leave her alone. But film director John Huston convinced her to leave Spain to play Maxine Faulk in Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana in spite of the playwright’s objections.  Williams thought Ava was too beautiful for the part and wanted to cast a “beaten up old dame” like Bette Davis, who played Maxine on Broadway. Huston replied, “Ava Gardner is a Tar Heel from North Carolina, someone that sticks to his position in the battle line…. Ava can belt it out.… You’ll see a very fine actress at work.”

“Many critics consider Ava’s role as Maxine to be one of her finest performances,” states Todd Johnson, Director of the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC. Ava was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role and went on to win two international awards, the Best Foreign Actress Film Award (BAFTA) and Best Actress at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

This year’s Ava Gardner Festival, October 4-6, will showcase this highly publicized film project, which took place in the little known town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  Ava would dub the location, “Hollywood on the Rocks.”  Director John Huston wanted actors to truly experience the hardships portrayed in the film by insisting they be on set for the entire production, living together under harsh conditions.  Publicity intensified with the presence of Elizabeth Taylor, who was making international news concerning rumors of her marriage to cast member Richard Burton.

Festival visitors can enjoy new exhibits, a Heritage Tour, and a FREE movie screening.  Heritage tours on Saturday, October 5th will be held throughout the day beginning at 9am. The guided tour will take visitors to Ava’s birthplace, to the Brogden Teacherage where she grew up, and to her gravesite at Sunset Memorial Park. All-day admission to the Ava Gardner Museum is $7, and heritage tour tickets are $13. In addition, the museum plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the filming of The Night of the Iguana  by showing the movie on Saturday, October 5th, and Sunday afternoon, October 6th, in the museum’s theatre.

Several area hotels in Smithfield have partnered with the museum in offering an “Ava Festival Package” that includes discounted room rates and a gift bag from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. For more information on hotel accommodations, visit the website: www.visitsmithfield.org

This year’s festival is presented by Smithfield’s Chicken N’ BBQ, a popular restaurant chain which started out in Smithfield in 1964. The restaurant’s owners have a love for vintage movies, and each of the 33 restaurants has an Ava Gardner photo wall as a tribute to Smithfield’s native daughter.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield at 325 E. Market Street. Information on these events and advance ticket purchases is available on the museum website, www.avagardner.org or by calling 919-934-5830.  The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm. There will be extended hours during the Festival: Saturday, 9am-6pm, and Sunday, 1-6pm.



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“Mad About Ava” Tapped as a County-wide Cocktail Party

"Mad About Ava" Cocktail Party for 2013 Ava Gardner Festival Ava Gardner as Maxine in "The Night of the Iguana"

The television series Mad Men is hot right now -- and Ava Gardner as Maxine Faulk in Tennessee Williams',  The Night of the Iguana was steamy back in the day.  This year's Ava Gardner Festival is channeling the culture of the 60s fashions, cocktails, and hosting a "Mad About Ava" Cocktail Party to open the festival, October 4th.

Ava Gardner loved North Carolina and came home whenever possible to visit her family in Smithfield, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Several tourism related partners from across Johnston County are opening their doors on Friday, October 4, as part of a countywide “Mad About Ava” Cocktail Party. The event will feature a 1960s Mad Men dress-up contest and patrons can enjoy specialty martinis named for Ava, craft beers, and wine cocktails, as well as food and entertainment.  At all locations patrons may enter the 60s fashion costume contest on for cash prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, as well as door prizes at the museum.

Festivities begin with a "Wine Down Friday" happy hour at the wineries and custom craft beers at the breweries. Participating locations are the Deer River Brewing Co. in Clayton, Double Barley Brewing in Wilson’s Mills, Hinnant Family Vineyards and Winery in Pine Level, Adams Vineyards in Willow Spring, and Gregory Vineyards near McGee’s Crossroads. Other restaurants and bars along the “Cocktail Party” trail are The Little Brown Jug and Bistro on Third in Smithfield and The FlipSide in Clayton.  The new Broadslab Distillery in Benson will be offering specially blended cocktails at the Bistro on Third.

Activities at the museum on Friday night include heavy hors d' oeuvres, specialty drinks, new exhibits based on The Night of the Iguana, and entertainment by Columbian-American guitar player Carlos Castilla.  This year’s Grand Prize Drawing will be for a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The trip is an all-inclusive package for two, including three nights at the beautiful Vamar Vallarta Marina and Beach Resort (Memorial Day to Labor Day), roundtrip airfare from the continental US, meals, beverages, taxes, hotel fees, and gratuities. Raffle tickets for the trip to Mexico are $25.00 each and may be purchased at participating locations on the Mad About Ava Cocktail Party trail or directly through the museum. The ticketed event held in the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield begins at 7pm and tickets are $25 each.

Several area hotels in Smithfield have partnered with the museum in offering an “Ava Festival Package” that includes discounted room rates and a gift bag from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. For more information on hotel accommodations, visit the website:  http://www.visitsmithfield.org

This year’s festival is presented by Smithfield’s Chicken N’ BBQ, a popular restaurant chain which started out in Smithfield in 1964. The restaurant’s owners have a love for vintage movies, and each of the 33 restaurants has an Ava Gardner photo wall as a tribute to Smithfield’s native daughter.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield at 325 E. Market Street. Information on these events and advance ticket purchases is available on the museum website, www.avagardner.org or by calling 919-934-5830.  The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm. There will be extended hours during the Festival: Saturday, 9am-6pm, and Sunday, 1-6pm.

Don't forget to rummage through  your closet (or your Mom's) for a 60s Cocktail Dress -- you might just win a prize!

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Independent Film Chooses Johnston County Courthouse for Shoot

Walk Through the Valley Movie Production Movie production, "Walk Through the Valley" on location in Smithfield, August 24-25

For over 15 years, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has been trying to gain the eye of the NC Film Office to promote Johnston County when they pitch producers on filming in North Carolina.  Truth be told it's been an uphill battle against the popularity of  "Hollywood East" in Wilmington, the commercial filming in large cities, and having a Film Office in the Triangle to coordinate with on leads for film scouting.

But one Friday afternoon, Debbie Ivanrie walked in our office, as a friend of hers had been in Smithfield on court business and told her about our courthouse.  She had met with Will Crocker and loved the feel of the courtroom for her legal drama, "Walk Through the Valley."  Meetings were held with the powers that be, additional locations were found for lawyer's homes and offices, for hospital and airport scenes and the production dates were set.

Just like a conference, sports tournament or major festival, a film production brings economic development or visitor spending to a community, and that's why the visitors bureau pursues this market segment.  We don't have stars in our eyes that we will capture the big Hollywood blockbuster, but last year we pitched some locations for "Iron Man 3", and the film "Bad Grandpa" selected some locations in Selma for the film which will be released October 25th.

This is Debbie's first production which she will pitch to the major film festivals like Sundance in Utah, but after that round of introductions, we have invited her back to Smithfield for a film screening here.  We hope this is just the first of  such productions we help bring to Johnston County.
So for now we work on building our locations database, working with the new Triangle Regional Film Commission, and preparing our communities to be "Production Ready", which is a program offered by the Triangle Film Commission.  We have a Hollywood legacy with the fame of Ava Gardner, but today it's all about tourism spending and promoting our destination --  let's be ready for our close-up!


Debbie Ivanrie King

Eirnavie Entertainment Inc, is based in Cary, North Carolina with a goal to shoot feature films across the globe. With an inspiration of its founder Debbie Ivanrie to start a production company that focuses on casting mature actors.  Follow the film's progress on Facebook,  click here!

Synopsis of  the film:  A woman of high respectability is suddenly faced with the fight of her life; the struggle of trying to save her name, reputation and her liberty. To compound the emotional grief that has virtually extinguished her sense of self-worth, she is barely surviving the tragedy that may haunt her for the rest of her life if she is not exonerated. This is a courtroom drama.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.


Meeting Planners

meeting venue with presentation screen

Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?


Group Tour Operators

girl with camera in travel group

Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.


Hotel Packages

hotel bed and pillow with johnston county logo

We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.


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