North Smithfield Historic District

Smithfield Town, Johnston County, NC

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The North Smithfield Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The North Smithfield Historic District, a compact neighborhood located a few blocks north of main street (Market Street) and north of the Downtown Smithfield Historic District (National Register of Historic Places, 1993) in Smithfield, in Johnston County, possesses strong local significance as a well-preserved collection of historic buildings dating from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The majority of the land within the North Smithfield Historic District lies within the original 1777 town plan of this county seat. At the western edge of the district twists the Neuse River. Historic resources along its bank are the Town Commons, a remnant of the original town plan, as well as the stone abutment of a 1907 bridge, abandoned in the 1920s. The site of town founder John Smith's house overlooks the river across Front Street, on a high bluff. About 1885 attorney Patrick Wilson built an impressive ltalianate Revival style house here (Massey-Wilson House).

As the county seat and largest municipality in Johnston County, Smithfield has always had a high concentration of business and professional residents, and many of these built handsome homes in North Smithfield, particularly on spacious lots along Second Street and Hancock Street. Early residents Patrick Massey, an attorney, and farmer Christopher Radford owned large amounts of property in the district, and their large late nineteenth century Italianate houses are landmarks. The oldest house, the Waddell-Brenizer House at 201 N. Second Street, was built about 1850 as an elegant two-room Greek Revival style office, then enlarged into a classical style residence by attorney L.R. Waddell in the later nineteenth century. The northeast corner of the North Smithfield Historic District, close to the Smithfield Cotton Mill constructed about 1900, contains the impressive dwellings of entrepreneurs associated with the mill. Wealthy merchant and cotton broker William Marsh Sanders, primary mill founder, built one of the most significant houses in the district, the large Neoclassical Revival style Sanders-Rose House at 609 Hancock Street. John D. Ellington, mill secretary-treasurer, built a splendid Queen Anne style cottage at 603 Hancock Street.

Impressive Neoclassical Revival houses are scattered throughout the North Smithfield Historic District. Solid streetscapes of impressive Bungalows line North Third Street, and handsome Period Cottages and Colonial Revival houses from the 1920s to the 1950s comprise the majority of the remaining houses. The last lots to be developed after World War II largely contain Ranch houses.

One of two intact historic neighborhoods in Smithfield, the North Smithfield Historic District qualifies for listing in the National Register of Historic Places for its significance to the community development of Smithfield. The North Smithfield Historic District contains the well-preserved residences of Smithfield's professional and commercial middle and upper-middle classes, three-quarters of which were built between the 1880s and about 1950. The North Smithfield Historic District also qualifies for its collection of architecturally significant buildings, including the 1880s stylish residences of important Smithfield residents, and well-preserved Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Craftsman and Period Revival houses of the first half of the twentieth century.

Historical Background and Community Development Context

The original 1777 plan of the Town of Smithfield encompassed a fifteen block rectangle along the east bank of the Neuse River, extending from Front (First) Street along the river to Fourth Street, and from Church Street on the south to Hancock Street on the north. Thus the approximately six-block southwest section of the North Smithfield Historic District is part of the original town plan. However the oldest buildings still standing in the district date from about 1850. The town reacquired its 1777 Town Commons area along the Neuse River in the 1970s, and it is used for picnicking and for activities during an annual Ham-n-Yam Festival in April (Town Commons).

The absence of early buildings is understandable in light of comments by visitors from the colonial period to the Civil War. When the General Assembly met there in 1779, one delegate characterized it as "a rascally hole for such business."[1] An aide-de-camp to Union General William T. Sherman described it when he came through in 1865 as "an ancient city, but neither wealthy nor beautiful."[2] A Union chaplain from Indiana further remarked, "All the houses in the town are wooden except two — the jail and court house.... Most of the houses are now deserted. Many of them have long been. The doors are open and the window glass broken. There are several churches and school houses. But the glory of Smithfield has departed, and that, too, before the war."[3] Being the westernmost navigable point on the Neuse River, nonetheless, made the town an important shipping point for tobacco, naval stores, corn, and other products until the North Carolina Railroad came through Johnston County in 1856. The railroad bypassed Smithfield, arching to the north as it went toward Raleigh, thus condemning the town to decades of dormancy before it finally got a rail connection in 1882. The town's namesake and founder, John Smith, operated a ferry there from 1759 to 1785. A toll bridge replaced the ferry in the late 1780s. Fleeing Confederate soldiers burned this bridge during the Civil War to slow the movement of Union troops, but a covered bridge was rebuilt soon after the war which was in use until replaced by a steel structure in 1907. The bridge was abandoned in the 1920s, and only a stone abutment remains. From 1770 to the 1780s (and possibly later) a tobacco inspection warehouse was located near Smith's Ferry. Johnston County's seat of government was located there until 1797 when the courthouse moved to the corner of Market and Second streets, where it still stands.[4]

While "Church Street" was in the town's original plan, Smithfield had no church until 1832 when North Carolina's newly formed Baptist State Convention spearheaded one. The Methodists soon followed in 1839, and these two churches were the town's only religious institutions until 1875. A fragment of the ca.1850 Methodist parish hall, of Greek Revival style, and the ca.1900 Methodist parsonage, still stand, although much-altered.[5] Smithfield Academy and Fellowship Masonic Lodge both predated these first churches. The lodge's two-story building, a stylish Greek Revival frame edifice still standing at 115 North 2nd Street, was constructed in 1854. Until about 1917 it sat at 401 N. 2nd Street.[6]

As the courthouse town and Johnston's largest municipality (in fact, its only one until 1861), Smithfield has always had a higher concentration of business and professional residents, particularly lawyers, than the rest of the county. Attorney L.R. Waddell, a University of North Carolina graduate, came to Smithfield about 1855 and set up practice in the two-room Greek Revival style office that had formerly belonged to Dr. John R. Thompson (Thompson-Waddell-Brenizer House at 201 N. 2nd Street). Waddell was known as a kind and scholarly gentleman who could recite lengthy passages from Pope, Scott, or Burns. After the war he and his wife converted the office into a dwelling. Waddell was a state senator and clerk of the superior court after the war. Other attorneys settling in the area now encompassed by the North Smithfield Historic District in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included Elmer J. Wellons, Sr. (315 Hancock Street and 308 N. 3rd Street), F.H. Brooks (509 Hancock Street), G.A. Martin (207 N. 2nd Street), L.H. Allred (307 N. 2nd Street), Congressman E.W. Pou (307 N. 2nd Street), Norman C. Shepard (401 N. 2nd Street), James A. Wellons (307 N. 2nd Street), A.M. Noble (309 N. 2nd Street), John A. Narron (215 N. 2nd Street) and Winfield H. Lyon (304 N. 3rd Street).[7]

The coming of the railroad to Smithfield in 1882 spurred several town leaders to turn the economic tide in this long dormant county seat town. In 1882 three partners established a newspaper, the Smithfield Herald. The next goal was to have a more reputable school to improve educational opportunities of local children and, at the same time, attract new families who would insure the town's growth and prosperity. While efforts to raise taxes for a public graded school failed in 1885, local leaders still did not give up on the idea. A local newspaper correspondent reported that "the spirit of improvement...continues in Smithfield, notwithstanding the defeat of the Graded School...." The same writer related a month later, "A plan is on foot to secure cooperation on the part of property owners, and bring all the vacant lots in Smithfield and some of the farm lands around and near town, into market and offer inducements to capitalist[s] and strangers to settle here."[8] Alas, the railroad, which had never gathered sufficient funding to extend the tracks across the Neuse River into the Piedmont, failed in 1885 due to financial difficulties.

Patrick T. Massey, a native of the eastern Johnston town of Princeton and member of one of the county's leading Republican families, was one property owner who responded to the call for growth inducements. He built a number of tenant houses on formerly vacant lots in the southeastern part of town in the mid 1880s. In 1885 he built for his family an impressive Italianate home on the site of town founder John Smith's home (Massey-Wilson House, 105 Bridge Street). Soon thereafter he built a companion house next door for his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Turner Barnes (Massey-Grady House, 111 Bridge Street). After serving as clerk of court in the 1870s, Massey acquired a license to practice law and won appointment as a federal revenue agent, a job that required him to close down numerous liquor stills across rural Johnston County in the 1890s.[9]

In 1889 fire destroyed some fifty-five buildings along Second, Third, and Market streets; including the newspaper office and the entire business district. The destroyed buildings, all wooden, were described as some of the town's finest structures. Merchants and professionals subsequently began abandoning Second Street for Third Street near its intersection with Market, where they built a new commercial row of fireproof, brick structures. A depression in the early 1890s, followed by the racial and political upheaval of the Populist and Fusionist movements, further interrupted the town's economic progress. By 1898, however, Smithfield was once again poised to move forward as tobacco and textile investments transformed the town.[10]

Warehouses were built for marketing bright leaf tobacco, heralded as the economic salvation of eastern North Carolina. The tobacco trade brought many newcomers, such as L.G. Patterson of Oxford who came in 1899 as an auctioneer for the Banner Warehouse. He soon built a residence for his family (L.G. Patterson House, 506 Hancock Street).[11] Until the Great Depression, cotton production actually surpassed tobacco by far in Johnston County. However, it was only with the opening of the tobacco market and the establishment of the county's first bank in Smithfield in 1898 that a cotton market of any consequence developed.

One of the earliest cotton buyers was William Marsh Sanders, a member of one of the county's wealthiest planter families who came to town during the short-lived railroad boom of the 1880s. By the turn of the century he had become the town's leading merchant, dealing in mules, horses, carriages, buggies, wagons, farming implements and supplies, shoes, building materials, and produce. His cotton brokerage business allowed him to accept the white fleecy staple from farmers in exchange for the many goods he sold. He was a founder of the Bank of Smithfield in 1898 and founding vice-president of Smithfield Cotton Mill in 1900.[12]

Sanders' turn-of-the-century business successes allowed him in 1903 to build an impressive Neoclassical style residence (Sanders-Rose House, 609 Hancock Street), a short distance from the cotton mill. In 1905 he bought Whiteoak plantation in Cleveland Township from his brother-in-law, Will Long, and the Sanders family used it as a summer home for a number of years. The Longs then moved to Smithfield where Mr. Long engaged in the livery stable business and built an elegant Classical Revival dwelling (William R. Long House, 216 N. 2nd Street).

Other members of the Sanders family who built homes in Smithfield were W.M. Sanders's brother, Alfred M. Sanders, who built a home about 1905 (Alfred M. Sanders House, 501 Hancock Street); his daughter Lillian, who married George Ross Pou (later state treasurer), for whom Sanders built a house (Sanders-Smith House, 608 Hancock Street); son W.M., Jr., who inherited an automobile dealership from his father about 1924 and built a house (Sanders-Stalling House, 412 N. Third Street); and daughter Ruth, who married Dr. A.H. Rose in 1915 (Dr. A.H. Rose House; 416 N. Third Street).[13]

Two important developments at the turn of the twentieth century brought many families to town. The main line of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad was realigned at this time and came along the eastern edge of town. Smithfield Cotton Mill (later renamed Ivanhoe) was built on the Atlantic Coast Line tracks, east of Tenth Street. Clayton area native John D. Ellington and Wayne County native Frank K. Broadhurst both lived at the Ellington-Broadhurst-Holt House, 603 Hancock Street at different times. Both served successively in the first decade of the twentieth century as secretary-treasurer of the mill. Broadhurst distinguished himself as the first man in town to own an automobile. He also owned an interest in a general merchandising business and in later years served as comptroller for First Citizens Bank.[14]

A 1911 bond issue of $55,000 which town voters passed for water works, a sewerage system, and an electric light plant was a major boon to the town's growth. The issue funded the construction of the brick water and electricity plant (former Smithfield Water Power Plant), on the Neuse River at the north end of Front Street in 1913. E.R. Patterson recalled what a spectacle the strange men and machines made as they brought these new improvements to his sleepy and dark southern town. Describing the night the lights first came on in 1913, he wrote: "The electricity...traveled 186,000 miles per second to Raleigh and thence to a substation in Selma and from there to our substation at the end of Caswell Street. There somebody pushed a lever and the whole length of all the streets in Smithfield became bright paths. We stood on the porches for a few seconds in awed silence. Then there was a spontaneous cheer from the people standing on the porches.... We rushed to the intersections and danced among the insects which were already fluttering around the lights."[15]

A division of the estate of Christopher Radford following his death in 1908 opened up much of the property in the northeastern section of town along Caswell, Bridge, Seventh and Eighth streets. Radford's impressive Italianate style I-house stands at the eastern edge of the North Smithfield Historic District (Radford-Creech House, 118 North Seventh Street). Radford heirs Mr. and Mrs. J.D. Underwood donated a lot from their inheritance to a group of local Catholics who had been holding services in the courthouse. There a small chapel was built in 1916 and named St. Peter's. During the Depression years, a parish priest was able to secure funds for a new building from an aged priest in Boston, with the stipulation that the church would be named St. Ann's. The new, shingled, chapel, St. Ann's Catholic Church at 113 N. 7th Street, was built and dedicated in 1935.[16]

As automobiles and North Carolina's good roads campaign began to revolutionize transportation following World War I, a number of car dealers set up shop in Johnston's county seat. In addition to the Sanders family, who were Ford dealers, North Smithfield was home to later Ford dealer Brack Wilson (Brack Wilson House, 416 N. 5th Street), Chevrolet dealer M.T. Baggett (M.T. Baggett House, 405 N. 5th Street), and Chrysler dealer Jesse Stanley (Jesse Stanley House, 408 Hancock Street). Stanley's 1939 Tudor Revival house and Wilson's 1940s Period Cottage style house illustrate up-to-date residential architecture of the era.

Smithfield can boast a number of firsts in Johnston County, among which were having the first civic clubs and scout troops in the 1910s and 1920s. The Women's Club, whose 1932 brick meeting hall is still standing on N. Second Street, first organized about 1910 as the Woman's Betterment Association. Their main goals were to beautify the town and improve school facilities. They also helped to start the county's first public library.[17] Scout troops for boys and girls were started in the 1920s. In 1940 local Boy Scouts joined forces with builder J.P. Rogers and several local carpenters and in one day built a rustic board-and-batten meeting place, called the "Scout Hut," on the river bank.[18]

Throughout the twentieth century, Smithfield continued to thrive as a county seat, tobacco market, and cotton mill town, experiencing steady growth despite post-World War II population declines in the county's rural areas. The town grew from a small hamlet of about 800 in 1900 to a bustling town of 2,000 in 1920, increasing to over 5,500 by 1950.

Today, Smithfield benefits from the population boom in Johnston County, located within commuting distance of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area. Although much of the residential growth is occurring in rural areas, Smithfield attracts new residents who appreciate the town's historical character. Current town population is estimated at 12,000. In the town center, the Smithfield Downtown Development Corporation provides leadership to business owners seeking to revitalize commercial buildings; and is one of the sponsors of the North Smithfield Historic District nomination. Numerous houses in the North Smithfield Historic District have been purchased in recent years by people drawn to the neighborhood's architecture.

Historic Architecture Context

The North Smithfield Historic District includes the eighteenth century home site of the town's founder, John Smith (105 Bridge Street), on the bluff overlooking the Neuse River, and the site of the Town Commons established in 1777 when the village was designated as the county seat. The stately 1885 Italianate style house of an important town leader now occupies the home site, and an early 1900s stone bridge pier stands on the riverbank, while the commons has been preserved as a town park. The environs still convey the special character of one of the most historic landscapes in Johnston County. Other remnants of Smithfield's antebellum heritage also hide among the building fabric — a Greek Revival law office and Methodist Church parish hall from the 1850s along N. Second Street.

Beginning in the mid-1880s, during Smithfield's first economic boom when the railroad and tobacco cultivation stimulated growth beyond the village stage, the streetscapes of North Smithfield evolved as a mirror image of development in the Brooklyn Historic District on the south side of the commercial district. The 1885 Massey-Wilson House is a somewhat larger counterpart of the Hood-Strickland House. Along Hancock Street, lined with large lots with leafy glades, stylish Queen Anne cottages such as that for Alfred M. Sanders and that for John Ellington, associated with the Smithfield Cotton Mill, arose at the turn-of-the-century. Ellington's large, ornate cottage, built in 1899, is probably the finest example of the decorative style in Smithfield. Testaments of the new confidence of Smithfield with the arrival of the railroad and the town's new tobacco warehouses and cotton mill are the Neoclassical Revival mansions of cotton mill owner William Marsh Sanders on Hancock Street, and lawyer L.H Allred on N. Second Street, both possibly designed by prominent Rocky Mount architect John C. Stout, who was in town building the Methodist Church and the Bank of Smithfield about the same time. Stout definitely designed the elegant Classical Revival cottage for William R. Long on N. Second Street in 1912.

Despite their similarities, differences in overall architectural and landscape character distinguish the North Smithfield Historic District from the Brooklyn Historic District. The west end along the Neuse River retains vestiges of its eighteenth century character, and several mid-nineteenth century buildings still survive in the south section of the district. Lots in North Smithfield tend to be slightly larger, probably the reason that this section contains more large houses than does Brooklyn. The spacious dwellings of lawyers and textile manufacturers give North Smithfield Historic District a more distinctly upper-class character than that of Brooklyn Historic District.

During the more modest Bungalow era of the 1920s and 1930s, North Smithfield's blocks were filled in with substantial Craftsman style houses of similar character to the Craftsman dwellings being erected in the Brooklyn section south of downtown. The decades of the 1930s and 1940s also saw Period Cottages (especially Tudor Revival), and Colonial Revival houses of frame and brick completing the development of both North Smithfield and Brooklyn. Finally, the few lots not yet developed after World War II received dwellings from the late 1940s to the 1970s. A group of handsome two-story brick Colonial Revival style houses appeared along N. Second Street during this period, as well as several distinguished Ranch houses. North Smithfield, like Brooklyn, is a microcosm of residential architectural development in the South from the 1880s to the 1950s.


  1. Clark, State Records of North Carolina, v. 14, 1.
  2. Wharton, Smithfield As Seen by Sherman's Soldiers, 11.
  3. Wharton, Smithfield As Seen by Sherman's Soldiers, 7.
  4. "Smithfield's 200 Years, 1777-1977," Bicentennial supplement to Smithfield Herald, April 15, 1977; "History of Smithfield," vertical flies, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield: Shoemaker, Inventory of Historic Architecture, 2.
  5. "Smithfield's 200 Years," 9-10.
  6. "Organizations-Fellowship Masonic Lodge," vertical file, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
  7. Surname files, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield; Shoemaker, Inventory of Historic Architecture, 7, 11, 16, 27, 103.
  8. Clayton Bud, Clayton, N.C., May 20 and June 17, 1885.
  9. "Massey family" file, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
  10. "Smithfield History" file, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
  11. "Tobacco" file, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
  12. "Sanders family" file, Johnston County Room Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Shoemaker, Inventory of Historic Architecture, 4: "Broadhurst family" file, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
  15. Smithfield Herald, June 11, 1985.
  16. "Radford family," "St. Ann's Church," files, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
  17. Heritage of Johnston County, 54-55.
  18. "Boy Scouts" file, Johnston County Room. Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.


Clark, Walter; ed. State Records of North Carolina. Vol.14. Winston-Salem, N.C.: M.I. & J.C. Stewart, 1896.

Clayton Bud, Clayton, N.C. 1885.

Heritage Book Committee, Heritage of Johnston County. Winston-Salem: Hunter Publishing Company, 1985.

Interviews by the authors: Lee, Margaret, Smithfield> April 1999 and Taylor, Ellen, Smithfield, July 1999.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Smithfield: 1901, 1915, 1924. On file at the Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.

Shoemaker, Mary M. An Inventory of Historical Architecture in the Town of Smithfield. N.C. Department of Cultural Resources and Town of Smithfield, 1977.

Smithfield Herald, Smithfield, 1886-1985. Harvest Edition, 1950.

"Smithfield's 200 Years, 1777-1977," Bicentennial Supplement to The Smithfield Herald, April 15, 1977.

Vertical Files, Johnston County Room, Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.

Wharton, Don. Smithfield As Seen by Sherman's Soldiers. Smithfield: Smithfield Herald Publishing Company, 1977.

‡ M. Ruth Little, Michelle Kullen and Todd Jonson, Longleaf Historic Resoruces and Johnston County Public Library, North Smithfield Historic District, Johnston County, NC, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
2nd Street North • 3rd Street North • 5th Street North • 6th Street North • 7th Street North • Bridge Street • Caswell Street • Front Street • Hancock Street

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