The Johnston County Heritage Center is a local history and genealogy library and museum thirty minutes east of Raleigh in the heart of Historic Smithfield, North Carolina. The Center’s research collection began in 1967 in the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield’s Johnston County Room under the direction of the late Margaret McLemore Lee, who served as Curator until 1991 and as Curator Emeritus until her death in 2007 at age 96. Researchers from across the nation who availed themselves of the library’s ever-growing collection also enjoyed the benefit of Mrs. Lee’s vast knowledge of families in Johnston and surrounding counties.
Despite predictions in the 1970s that interest in genealogy would be a passing fad, community support for the Johnston County Room and its mission to connect people with their family’s past continued to grow. Following Johnston County’s 250th anniversary celebration in 1996, the Board of Commissioners created a Heritage Commission and a separate agency to oversee the retrofitting of the former home office of First Citizens Bank to house a Heritage Center, a project that came to fruition when the library’s acclaimed collections were moved there in 2000.
Chief Genealogist Rebecca Smith Owens assumed from Mrs. Lee the mantle of resident expert on area families and can usually be found in the Heritage Center’s Margaret McLemore Lee Reading Room on the third floor on Mondays and Tuesdays. Regardless of when one visits, friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful staff are on hand. The Center, located at 241 E. Market Street, is open Monday through Saturday, 9-5 (closed on Sundays).