Smithfield has sat at a crossroads for its 200-year history. Transportation systems determined much of its success. First came a ferryboat and public house, then the railroad, and finally an interstate highway. Tobacco and cotton fueled the economy at one time, but as they declined, successful pork and sweet potato industries replaced them. The town's attractions include a new museum dedicated to the late movie star Ava Gardner, who grew up there; a reviving Neuse River waterfront; and shopping destinations along Interstate 95, including Carolina Premium Outlets.