The Smithfield area has several sites any true Ava fan would want to visit. Several are open to the public, so please enjoy. However, the birthplace and the Brogden Teacherage are private residences, and we ask that all visitors respect the owners' privacy and property. The Ava Gardner Heritage Trail was a project funded by the Winston-Salem Foundation, to tell more of Ava Gardner's story through sites important to her life in NC.
Ava Gardner’s Birthplace
740 Avenue Road, Smithfield, NC
Ava Gardner was born December 24, 1922, in this house her father built in about 1910 in a farming community known as Grabtown. As a toddler, she climbed out onto the porch roof and had to be coaxed back into the house with the promise of a bowl of peaches. It is now a private residence.
On a visit home from Hollywood, Ava was photographed here for a magazine article.
Former Brogden Teacherage
7209 Brogden Road, Smithfield, NC
This house is referred to as the Teacherage. In the 1920s and 30s it served as a boarding house for teachers at the Brogden School next door. The Gardner family moved here in 1925. Their bedrooms were on the left side of the house, and teachers had bedrooms on the right side. In the center were the living room, dining room and kitchen. It is a private residence.
In the early 1980s Dr. Tom Banks of Pompano Beach, Florida, saved the Teacherage from being demolished and operated the first Ava Gardner Museum here during the summer months until his death in 1989.
Near NC Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 3783 U.S. 301 S., Smithfield, NC
As a teenager, Ava attended dances at the Pavilion at Holt Lake near Smithfield. At the age of fourteen, she was breathtaking and caught the eye of many young men when she came to visit family during the summer months. Today the name Holt Lake is associated with a popular barbecue and seafood restaurant.
The Howell Theatre
141 S. Third Street, Smithfield, NC
When Ava was a child, she came to Smithfield to watch movies with her mother and the teachers who boarded with them. It was probably the Sanders Theater which C. E. Howell ran in the 100 block of E. Market Street (site of present Triangle East Surgery) where Ava first saw Red Dust (1932), starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, and vowed someday to act in a movie with him. The Howell was built on Third Street in 1935, a year after the Gardners moved away. Ava is believed to have watched movies here when she returned home for visits.
Former In & Out Grill
831 N. Brightleaf Boulevard, Smithfield, NC
Ava’s brother Jack Gardner and partner Conrad Schmidt took over this popular restaurant in 1957, calling it Circle Drive-In to complement Schmidt’s Circle Motor Court across the road. The building was brick-veneered and renovated in 1968, reopening as the In & Out Grill. Gardner and his wife Rose decided on the unique name because they had both inside service and outside curb service. The business catered to young people and specialized in short orders, including pizza. Among the grill’s employees was Elsie Gardner Creech, cashier, and patrons were fascinated to pay their bill to Ava’s sister. Lee Sellers, the cook for lunch and supper, was famous for her buttermilk and chocolate fudge pies (recipe included in the Ava Gardner Museum Cookbook). On rare occasions during visits home, Ava could be seen flipping burgers at the grill or chatting with customers.
Little Brown Jug
101 W. Market Street, Smithfield, NC
This quaint pub was a Pure Oil gas station when Jack and Rose Gardner acquired it in 1959. Pure Oil Company adopted the English Cottage style for its gas stations in 1927 to offer motorists a “homey” appearance, and buildings resembling this one, with its high-pitched gable roof and end chimney, were built on main thoroughfares across the United States over the next decade. The station was originally white with dark blue trim—the trademark Pure Oil colors—and was brick-veneered in the 1960s. Beer sales, outlawed since prohibition days, finally became legal again in Smithfield in the late 1960s, and a private, members-only bar was opened in the back. Since the gas station closed in the 1970s it has been operated exclusively as a bar.
Ava Gardner’s Gravesite
Intersection of Highway 210 and Highway 70, Smithfield, NC
Ava Gardner died in her apartment in London on January 25, 1990. It was her wish to be buried in Smithfield with the rest of her family. A simple graveside service was conducted for her on January 29, 1990, here in Sunset Memorial Park.
Atlantic Christian College (now named Barton College)
700 Vance Street NE, Wilson, NC
Ava’s mother insisted that Ava continue her education, rather than working to help support the family, so after her graduation from Rock Ridge High School (near Wilson, North Carolina) in 1939 she attended Atlantic Christian College, concentrating on shorthand and typing. Ava’s brother Jack paid her tuition expenses, and she caught a ride each day with a girlfriend who lived nearby.
Rock Ridge School
6605 Rock Ridge School Road, Wilson, NC
The old Rock Ridge High School where Ava graduated in 1939 and the adjacent Teacherage where she lived 1938-1941 are no longer standing, but there is still a school on the site. The baseball field where her graduation took place is still in use by the local athletic association.