Like so many locales within the borders of what is considered the Sandhills, Johnston County — for all its technological advances in enterprise, farming and social interaction — remains a time capsule of sorts.
With Raleigh’s blossoming “Silicon Valley of the South” aspirations and Wilmington, a famed destination for Hollywood film crews, in close proximity, Johnston’s predominately rural expanse peppered with small towns like Benson, Four Oaks, Meadow and Selma help keep the state connected to its farming roots.
The area was an easy pick then, for the latest release in the popular “Images of America” series from South Carolina-based Arcadia Publishing. The books focus on towns and counties across the United States — identifiable by their sepia tone covers featuring photography from a bygone era.
Johnston County’s entry into the series features hundreds of photographs — all predating 1970 — each with a paragraph explaining their origin and subject. Executive Director of the Johnston County Heritage Center Todd Johnson and Heritage Center volunteer Windy Thompson — both Johnston County natives — provided the text and much of the research for the book.
The two scoured local museums and the collections of area families to assemble the volume that Mr. Thompson said began “writing itself over 100 years ago.”
In Mr. Johnson’s introduction, he includes an excerpt from the September 1956 issue of State magazine that describes the “typical Johnstonian.”
“He is mostly rural and either farming or connected with a related enterprise,” the magazine concludes. “Slow to embrace change, yet proud of his progress…He loves to attend meetings and travel, visit and fish.”
“Politics is a serious matter and often revolves around the schools,” the introduction continues. “He is religious — his rural and small town churches are numerous and flourishing.”
Even with immense changes in the area in the last half-century, one would be hard-pressed to argue with that assessment. Flipping through the pages feels like unearthing a long lost photo album from 1856 or 1925 or 1947 or 1953 — a young North Carolina infantryman stares out from a tintype, a shop owner in Smithfield organizes a display of soup cans, a mother leads her son across the street to the bank in Benson and, of course, the countless group shots of various schoolhouses and ball teams.
From the days of the Atlantic Coastline railroad that roared through Kenly, Micro, Benson and Four Oaks to the struggles and boons of the industrial era, Johnston County’s Images of America book is a treasure trove for history buffs and locals looking to trigger a few memories alike.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words,” writes Mr. Johnson. “This little volume of photographs should amount to several dissertations.”
“Images of America: Johnston County Revisited” is available at area bookstores, independent retailers and online retailers or through Arcadia Publishing.