SMITHFIELD – The former Smithfield Town Hall building, originally the Hotel Gabriel Johnston, at the corner of S. Fourth and Johnston Streets in Downtown Smithfield has been sold. According to tax records, Noviomagus, LLC purchased the property December 30, 2022 from the current owner, Fourth Street Associates, LLC.
The building and adjacent parking lot, including 27 dedicated parking spaces, had been listed for sale by Perry Harris with eXp Realty for $450,000. According to public records, the property sold for $250,000.
Reached by telephone Monday afternoon, Frans VanBeurden with Noviomagus, LLC said the company is still working with an architect before announcing the final plans for the property, but he anticipates it being a mixed use of commercial space and upscale apartments.
In July 2020, paperwork with signed with an unnamed local business owner to purchase the property but the deal later fell through.
Fourth Street Associates LLC purchased the property from the Town of Smithfield in April 1999 for $165,477.50 after Smithfield opened and dedicated their new town hall on June 14, 1998.
History Of The Building
Construction on Hotel Gabriel Johnston began in 1936 when a group of men, including W.N. Holt and J.E. Tharrington, began talking about the need for a hotel and constructing it as “fire-proof” and “steam-heated.”
It was completed the following year and formally opened on Dec. 23, 1937 with 32 guests rooms, full bathrooms and telephones. The hotel had a restaurant, dining room for parties and a coffee shop. The hotel cost $75,000 and was funded by 99 stockholders. It included $21,000 in capital stock, $20,000 in second mortgage bonds and a $32,500 loan from Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company.
The Smithfield Herald helped the owners with a promotion to suggest a name. Charles Batten of Micro, Mrs. T.J. Lassiter of Smithfield and T.R. Crocker of Chicago, formerly of Smithfield, all suggested the hotel be named in memory of Gabriel Johnston, the royal governor of North Carolina when Johnston County was formed in 1746. The hotel was a popular destination for northern motorists headed south for the winter then north for the warmer months.
At the time it was completed in 1937, the population of the Town of Smithfield was about 3,500 residents.
According to the Dec. 21, 1937 edition of The Smithfield Herald, the Gabriel Johnston hosted a opening night gala banquet with 75 guests and a dance to the Big Band music of the Bill Joe Austin Orchestra. It was one of three locally funded properties built in Smithfield during the Depression. The others were the Smithfield Woman’s Club on N. Second Street and the Howell Theatre. The old American Legion Hut on Front Street was also built during the era but it was a Works Progress Administration Project.
According to old newspaper articles, several wealthy bachelors made their homes in Hotel Gabriel Johnston, which was just off a new north-south route called US 301 (opened in 1935 in Smithfield) which was a block away on Third Street. Highway 301 later moved to the Truck Lane (Brightleaf Boulevard).
On February 15, 1962 the hotel was sold to the Town of Smithfield for the price of $108,500, financed over a period of 15 years. The former hotel was converted into town offices. A portion of the building was also used at one time for chamber of commerce office space.