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Chartered in 1889, Four Oaks, North Carolina is located in Johnston County, on I-95 and US 301 just about exactly halfway between New York City and Miami.
The town has retained a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere that is rooted in a rich, rural, Southern heritage. Friendly merchants, a historic downtown, and a strong community spirit have made this town of 1,800 residents a very desirable "home town".
Four Oaks developed, like many towns in this area, as the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad was being built. In fact, the town got its name from the railroad which chose this particular site as a supply depot for construction materials because of a unique landmark located about fifty feet off of the rail bed.
The landmark was an unusual oak which had four trunks growing out of one base. The four oaks were easily recognized by suppliers. Legend has it that the unusual tree was the result of a hunting outing in which a local fellow treed an opossum in the top of an oak sapling. Intent on his prey, he chopped down the tree and retrieved his prize. Four shoots sprouted out from the stump and developed into full oak trees - and there you have it.
Johnston County was created from Craven County on June 28, 1746, and named in honor of Gabriel Johnston, North Carolina’s colonial governor at the time. The following counties were subsequently derived from all or part of original Johnston: Orange, now Durham (1752); Dobbs, later divided into Wayne, Greene, Lenior (1758); Wake (1771); and Wilson (1855).Ranking 10th in size among North Carolina’s 100 counties, Johnston’s land area is about 792 square miles. As the fastest growing county in the state, Johnston’s population is 165,000.
Johnston figured prominently in the early affairs of North Carolina during its transition from colony to state. Much groundwork was laid for the colony’s role in the American Revolution when the 13-member Provincial Council held its first two sessions in 1755 at Johnston Court House (chartered as Smithfield in 1777). Smithfield was also the site of the General Assembly’s 1779 session. Between 1779 and 1788, Johnston’s county seat was several times a contender for the location of the state capitol.
In the antibellum times of the 1840's, the most vociferous advocates of inland waterway transportation were reluctant to yield their enthusiasm to the burgeoning railroad industry, but popular interest in rails overshadowed interest in river transportation during the two decades immediately preceding the Civil War. The first railroad built across Johnston County - the 223-mile state-controlled North Carolina Railroad from Goldsboro to Charlotte (via Raleigh and Greensboro) - was completed in 1856. It bypassed Smithfield some four miles to the north, following a beeline between Goldsboro and Raleigh. Smithfield passengers boarded the train at a station originally called "Smithfield Depot," located just west of what is now Selma, where Buffalo Road crosses the present-day Southern Railway. The depot later became known as "Mitchener's Station."
Smithfield travelers and merchants were hardly pleased by the location of the North Carolina Railroad, since Smithfield Depot was almost an hour's drive from the heart of Smithfield by wagon or hack. Tradition, still persistent in the latter half of the twentieth century, has asserted that Smithfield residents opposed locating the railroad through the town, that they did not want noisy trains disturbing their peace nor steam engines polluting their clean air with smoke. Succeeding generations have been told that a "Smithfield man" voted against locating the railroad through Smithfield, and that the town lost the railroad "by one vote." Two Johnston County members of the Legislature did vote against the legislation that incorporated the North Carolina Railroad in 1849, and a single vote ultimately decided whether the railroad was to be approved. But legislative records do not support the legend preserved by spoken words.