The Johnston County Heritage Center and Heritage Commission will unveil five historical markers in various Johnston County locations during June and July. Each unveiling ceremony will feature special speakers, historical drama, music, and refreshments. The public is invited.   

The first unveiling will be held Wednesday, June 19, 10 am, at First Missionary Baptist Church, located at the corner of Fourth and Caswell Streets in Smithfield near the original location of a two-room Freedmen’s Schoolhouse, built 1868-69. Refreshments will be served in the church fellowship hall following the ceremony.

“According to the staff of the North Carolina historic preservation office, this is the only freedmen’s schoolhouse known to be left standing in the state,” says Heritage Center Director Todd Johnson. “It is thought to be one of only five or so left in the nation, making it an extremely rare piece of history,” he adds.

James Plantation School House Historic Photo

Other marker unveilings are scheduled as follows:

Friday, June 21, 11 am, Atkinson’s Mill, 95 Atkinson Mill Road, Selma. A barbecue lunch, complete with Atkinson’s hush puppies, will be served after the ceremony.

Friday, June 28, 10 am, Hinton’s Quarter Courthouse site, near the East Front Street Roundabout, Clayton. A reception hosted by the Clayton Historical Association will be held in the clubhouse of Arbors at East Village, 56 Bent Branch Loop, Clayton.

Saturday, July 6, 10 am, Governor Benjamin Williams birthplace site, 3390 Grabtown Road, Smithfield. A reception at the site will be hosted by the Smith-Bryan Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. Camp Flintlock will provide 18th century entertainment. Update: Due to the weather forecast, the Gov. Benjamin Williams historical marker unveiling has been moved indoors. It will be at Fellowship Masonic Lodge, 913 S. Brightleaf Blvd.

Saturday, July 20, 10 am, Catch-Me-Eye Explosion site, near the intersection of US Highways 70 and 301, Selma.

These historical markers have been made possible by a matching grant from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau and by gifts from the Clayton Historical Association and the Smith-Bryan Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.  

For more information call 919-934-2836 or send an email to

Update: The first 2 of the marker unveilings took place this week on June 19th and 21st. Photos from the unveilings of the historical markers can be seen below.

Freedmen Historical Marker

The Freedmen's School Marker reads: Under the auspices of the American Missionary Association, an abolitionist organization based in New York, the federal Freedmen's Bureau built a two-room schoolhouse on this lot in 1868-1869. The building was also used by the Baptist church until it was moved to an adjacent lot in 1887. It served as a school for African Americans from 1869 to 1912.

Atkinson Mill Historical Marker
The Atkinson Mill Marker reads: Thomas Holliman Sr. built a grist mill here prior to May 1757 on land granted to Robert Bryant Esq. Later owners were William Hackney, Joseph Richardson, Lunsford Richardson, and Thomas H. and Pattie Richardson Atkinson. In the late 19th century the site included a blacksmith shop, sawmill, cotton gin, general store, and post office. Atkinson Milling Company was formed in 1951 by the Atkinson heirs.