Ava Gardner Museum, Smithfield

#1 of 18 in Things to do in Johnston County
Must see · History Museum · Hidden Gem · Specialty Museum
Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield, North Carolina, and holds an extensive collection of artifacts from Ava Gardner's career and private life.

The original collection was started in 1941 by a fan, Tom Banks, who at age 12 met Ava on the campus of Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), where she was studying to become a secretary. When she did not return to school the next year, he saw a photograph of Gardner in a newspaper and learned that she had been signed to a movie contract with MGM.

The Banks family devoted most of their lives to collecting memorabilia from every source possible. In the early 1980s, Dr. Banks purchased the Brogden Teacherage, the house where Ava lived from age 2 to 13, and operated his own Ava Gardner Museum during the summers for nine years. Dr. Banks (he was a psychologist) suffered a stroke at the museum in August 1989 and died a few days later. Gardner died 5 months later on January 25, 1990. In the summer of 1990, Mrs. Banks donated the collection to the Town of Smithfield, being assured that a permanent museum would be maintained in Johnston County, Gardner's birthplace and final resting place. Lorraine died a year and three days later on January 28, 1991, of complications of an asthma attack.
The Ava Gardner Museum was incorporated in 1996 as a 501(c)3 organization to manage and care for the Museum's collection of personal items and movie memorabilia given to the Town of Smithfield by Tom and Lorraine Banks. Since that time, the Ava Gardner Museum Foundation has continued to acquire artifacts related to Gardner's life and is committed to preserving these items and displaying them in an educational manner.

In August 1999, the Museum’s Board of Directors made an investment in downtown Smithfield by purchasing and renovating a 6,400-square-foot (590 m2) building that became the permanent home for the Museum’s collection. In October 2000, the new Ava Gardner Museum opened its doors and has continued to draw approximately 12,000 visitors annually.
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172 reviews
  • Stayed the night in Smithfield and had some extra time. We saw an add and decided to visit. Quite a surprise in this small town. Lots of artifacts and history on Eva. I knew she was an attractive...  more »
  • Located in historic Smithfield, the Ava Gardner Museum provides an 18 minute film that shares her early childhood and rise to fame in Hollywood. It is fascinating to see her rise from rural North...  more »
  • This well tended museum is a warm tribute to their hometown girl. It's obvious what pride the staff have in sharing Ava's life with visitors. The exhibits are beautifully and advantageously presented in the modest space. They include artifacts, clothing and jewelry as well as photographs. A film is shown in a separate space. Gift items to purchase. I was as impressed with the museum's intention to honor Ava as with the excellent displays. We made a rest stop in this town driving up to D.C. from Florida because of the well placed sign on Route 95. Street Parking.
  • Wonderful museum! Original home movies of Ava Gardeners life. A very interesting place that gave you a sense of the life she led from her birth,how she was raised by her family as a country girl, & her steps to stardom as well as the interesting lifestyle she led till her death! I would highly recommend stopping by & checking it out especially if you love the movie stars of that era! You will be sorry if you miss it! Great Place!

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