February 28, 2019

in its heyday

This colorized postcard from the 1940s shows Holt Lake's recreational facilities before the large bath house of the 1950s was built. There are several diving platforms in the middle of the lake in addition to the dance hall and other structures in place on the shore at the time.

Mokie Stancil recalls Ava Gardner's visits

Here's the transcript of Gary Ridout's interview with long-time Smithfield resident M.W. (Mokie) Stancil, conducted in December 2005:

My memory of Holt Lake begins when I was three or four years old. My mother carried me to the lake and they let me go in the lake with my brothers. I am the youngest of nine children. I remember my brothers and sister surrounding me while I was in the water to keep me safe.

In 1935 the lake froze over. We had a very cold winter. A boy in town who was about seventeen was ice skating on the lake when suddenly the ice broke and he fell in the water. No one was nearby to save him and he drowned. That was a sad note for Smithfield and Holt Lake. His name was Sam Honeycutt Jr. He was very popular in Smithfield.

This photo of Ava at age 13 was sent with a letter to a friend. (reproduced from Doris Cannon's book Grabtown Girl)
Fred Gardner brought his cousin, Ava Gardner, to Holt Lake Pavilion in 1936. She was thirteen years old. When she walked into the pavilion, the boys stopped dancing just to look at her. Then they started lining up to dance with her.

In 1938 I was seventeen and Ava Gardner was fifteen. Each summer Ava would come to Smithfield to visit her relatives. She asked me to tell her which boys were the "wolves" and which were acceptable to date. I had a friend, his name was Bennett Creech, and he was consistently asking me to get him a date with Ava. Ava consented to go out with him but only if we double dated. We went to Holt Lake to the dance pavilion and Bennett and Ava said they would be in in a little while. They were sitting in a car in the Holt Lake Pavilion parking lot. I assumed they were getting to know each other a little better but after an hour I went back and they were just sitting there not talking. They didn't go out together anymore.

The one time I got in a fight with my girlfriend was at Holt Lake. I was in a row boat with Ava Gardner and fifty years later this former girlfriend said she was still mad about me rowing with Ava!

In 1940 I would go out to Holt Lake and there were quite a few soldiers on "R&R." They had heard about Holt Lake and drove up from maneuvers in Pinehurst.

In the early 1950s motorboats became very popular on Holt Lake. At that time you could rent stalls near the pavilion for boats. In 1951 I had a 19-foot motorboat at a rented stall.

In the 1930s cottages began to be built around Holt Lake. William Sanders, a leading citizen of Smithfield, had a seven-room cottage near the Holt Lake bath house. Other cottages were the Gillette cottage and the R.J. Reynolds cottage.

In 1934 R.J. Reynolds Jr. built a home on the point across the lake from the country club. This is where Joe Berry Skinner lives now. My brother, Lawrence Stancil, was good friend with R.J. Reynolds Jr. and R.J. loved to come to Smithfield and boat on Holt Lake. This is why he wanted to build a house in this area. My brother was killed in April 1935 and after that (R.J.) told Frank Skinner he would sell (the house) to him for a very good price. He wanted to go back and live in Winston-Salem.

Want to see movies of Holt Lake in action in 1937?
The Johnston County Heritage Center has copies of films Henry L. Waters made of people and places in Smithfield and other towns that year and shown to audiences in local movie theaters. Holt Lake scenes are included in his Smithfield footage.
What's more, you can now access these films online through Duke University's archives by following this link>