Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted

SPORTS & RECREATION: Photos from "Three Little Pigs"

FEATURE PAGE: Library director's 16 years here
OPINIONS: How much higher is your tax bill? Do the math

It's official arrival time

is 11:54 a.m. on Friday

That's the precise moment of Summer Solstice, when the Sun reaches its highest position in the Northern Hemisphere's sky, producing the year's longest day and shortest night. Actually, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, sunrise and sunset for us remains at 5:58 a.m. and 8:32 p.m. for three days --- this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

County budget adopted with a 2-cent

reduction in the property-tax rate

Johnston's County Commissioners adopted the county's 2019-20 budget Monday evening with a 2-cent reduction in the property-tax rate --- from 78 cents to 76 cents per $100 valuation.

It's the first rate reduction in 16 years but it means higher property-tax bills for most Johnstonians because of this year's upward revaluation of taxable real estate for most homeowners and businesses.

Before approval by unanimous vote, commissioners increased the coming year's appropriation to Johnston County Public Schools by $3 million above a $2.5-million increase that had been recommended by County Manager Rick Hester. Still, that's well short of a $20.5-million increase requested by Johnston's Board of Education.


"Trusted by families since 1977"

It's said to be the only Freedmen's Bureau schoolhouse still standing in North Carolina

And it's right here in Smithfield --- on North Fourth Street near First Missionary Baptist Church.

An historical marker telling the story was unveiled Wednesday morning at a ceremony inside the church sanctuary (shown on the right by church leaders Robert Stanley and Nathaniel Sanders).

Todd Johnston, director of the Johnston County Heritage Center, said the original Freedmen's Bureau school for Smithfield's African-Americans was likely a "drafty log house"
built in 1865 at the Town Commons on Front Street.

In 1867 educators raised $50 to purchase the lot where First Missionary now stands for construction of the present-day structure (pictured here), which was opened to students in April 1869, Mr. Johnson said.

The structure was later moved to a lot to the north so First Missionary could build its church at the corner of Fourth and Caswell streets. The schoolhouse remained in service there until 1912.

A couple of years ago the Historic Smithfield Foundation was established as a charitable, non-profit organization to raise funds for restoring the schoolhouse as an historic site open to visitors. So far, the property has been purchased from the church. An estimated $190,000 is being sought to undertake the restoration (for more information about that effort, e-mail

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau funded the Freedmen's School historical marker and four others throughout Johnston to be erected this summer: at Atkinson's Mill north of Selma this Friday; at the Hinton's Quarter Courthouse site at Clayton June 28; at the Governor Benjamin Willilams birthplace site east of Smithfield on July 6; at the Catch-Me-Eye explosion site in Selma July 20.

The federal Freedmen's Bureau was established by Congress in 1865 to help former black slaves as well as poor whites in the South following the Civil War.

212 E. Church Street  •  919-934-1121  •

A life-long librarian will call it a day

Margaret Marshall, director of the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield for 16 years, is retiring at the end of June.

She has worked as a librarian most of her adult life, in both academic and community settings.

READ MORE about her and what our libary has been doing to improve its services during her time here>



All told, 309 individuals and 19 teams finished Saturday's 9th annual Three Little Pigs Triathlon. Pictured at the start of the race inside the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center are swimmers and spectators with hands over hearts as the National Anthem is played. After swimming 250 yards in the pool, the athletes completed a 14-mile bicycle ride mostly on Buffalo Road, followed by a 5K (3.1-mile) run/jog/walk through Community Park onto the Buffalo Creek Greenway and back.

MORE on today's SPORTS & RECREATION page>

The "Creature of Spring Branch": what is it?

Several weeks ago Kelley Garris sent me this photo, taken by her husband Greg, of a not-so-small mammal near Spring Branch not far from their residence on South Third Street.

Then, earlier this month, I saw what appeared to be the same creature beside the same stream at the Community Garden when no one else was around.

I sent the Garris photo to Ruffin Johnson, long-time observer of wildlife in and around Smithfield, and he says it's a groundhog --- a species not seen in these parts in years gone by, but lately finding its way into our Eastern N.C. habitat.

So, if you see it and are able to photograph it, please share and tell us where and when you encountered the "Creature of Spring Branch."
--- Wingate Lassiter

7th Street Marketplace & The Chicken Barn

  Market Street (US 70 Business) at 7th Street, Downtown Smithfield

A rundown of upcoming civic and cultural opportunities in our community
that we've been told about or seen publicized in other media:

DOWNTOWN SMITHFIELD "RHYTHM & BREWS" this Friday (June 21) from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. on South Third Street featuring the Peak City Band. Free admission. Beer will be sold.

JUNIOR LEAGUE GALA this Saturday (June 22) to benefit the Smithfield Rescue Mission's "Blessing Baskets" program for needy families. The event begins at 7 p.m. at The Farm at 95. Tickets are $65 each and include an open beer and wine bar. For more information and to purchase tickets, go here>

continues next Wednesday (June 26) at 12:15 p.m. at Smithfield's First Presbyterian Church with a performance by pianist Ella Ann Holding of Smithfield. View the full series schedule>

DOWNTOWN SMITHFIELD INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATION Sunday, June 30 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on South Third Street with music, food trucks, and fireworks.

MY KID'S CLUB SUMMER CAMP July 8-19 at South Smithfield Elementary School. It's open to the first 50 kids ages 6-12 who submit an application from a child's teacher, the office at South Smithfield School, or by contacting Mamie Moore, director of operations for My Kid's Club: e-mail or telephone 919-351-1559.