Plan A Visit

The Museum is open under Phase 2.5 restrictions and 50% capacity. Hours are 10AM - 4PM Monday - Saturday and 1-4PM on Sunday. Masks will be required. We're looking forward to seeing everyone!



Changing Exhibits

Coming Soon-




Upcoming Events

Thu Oct 29 @ 3:30pm - 04:30pm
Jesse Franklin Pioneers Chapter of the Tar Heel Junior Historians
Fri Oct 30 @11:00am - 12:00pm
Storybook Museum in the Courtyard
Fri Oct 30 @ 8:00pm - 09:30pm
Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours
Sat Oct 31 @10:00am - 12:00pm
Saturday in the Courtyard: Spooky Craft

Who We Are

 

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

IMG_8201_-_Copy_606x640 Ours is an all American story - typical of how communities grew up all across our great nation. While our story takes place in the back country of northwestern North Carolina at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is likely to bear many similarities to the development of crossroads, towns, and cities throughout America.

It had taken little more than 100 years for the corridors along the coastline of this still-new continent to overflow. As tensions grew and conflicts flared, the pioneer spirit set in. Families literally packed up everything they owned and headed into the unknown-searching for the "promised land."

Mission Statement:

The Purpose of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is to  Collect, Preserve and Interpret the Natural, Historic, and Artistic Heritage of the Region

                                                                      Adopted by the Board of Directors   October 9, 1995


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Mount Airy Museum Of Regional History

Museum reopens for public

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The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History opened her doors for the first time in almost six months last weekend.

We scrambled to put spring decorations away in the gift shop; to set up hand sanitation stations; to shine up the stainless steel of the elevator doors; to make sure the exhibit spaces were fresh and dusted and presentable for our guests. We joked that we’d forgotten how to be open.

And we wondered if anyone would come. Would a history museum be on the list of places to go for the folks out and about for Labor Day?

We needn’t have worried. Come Saturday morning, as we prepared to unlock the doors, there were folks waiting in the courtyard!

This year, 2020, was to have been the beginning of an exciting renovation for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. The first major overhaul and expansion of exhibits in more than a decade.

Work began in December 2019 and we were moving ahead slowly as the New Year’s Eve Pajama Rama Party happened, followed by some birthday party rentals and a wedding. We were carefully packing artifacts away when COVID-19 arrived on American shores.

The work was just getting messy when Gov. Cooper closed museums in an abundance of caution. We hunkered down, determined to take advantage of the down time to barrel ahead with the work.

We got really messy when we had a crew cut through 110-year-old brick walls to make new pathways and doors. We’ve been frustrated the work hasn’t progressed on the original schedule but with so many businesses closed out of safety for their employees or turned to making protective equipment for medical personnel, we understood.

We were, I will admit, caught happily off-guard when Gov. Cooper announced on Sept. 1 that museums could open for the first time since March.

There are more than 35,000 active museums in the US according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Most of them are historical societies, historic houses and sites (48%) and Surry County is blessed to have several from the Gertrude Smith and William Alfred Moore houses in Mount Airy to the Edwards-Franklin House out in the county.

Of that number, though, only 7.5% are history museums.

If you’ve never been to the museum or if it’s been a while, we invite you to come back. We have four floors highlighting the stories of the women and men who built the communities in this region, took the risks to establish industries, raised tobacco and cattle, grapes and children.

Some of the earliest history here involves the Saura tribe of Native Americans who lived across the land we call Surry, Stokes, Forsyth, Wilkes, and Yadkin counties today.

Exhibits tell of the momentous industries; the granite quarry that has provided the materials for monuments, houses, and street curbs for 140 years; tobacco farming and manufacture of cigars and snuff that kept families clothed and fed; winemaking from colonial times until North Carolina was the leading producer in 1900; textiles that turned out long johns and baby onesies, socks and blankets that kept American soldiers warm through two World Wars and into Korea.

But there are exhibits here that speak of individuals, Donna’s music, Andy’s laughter, the Bunkers’ resilience. We share the stories of the men who established a much-needed fire department and of the anguish caused by the tragic Flat Rock Elementary School blaze.

We’re adding more stories as the renovation work progresses. Stories that were not as readily accessible when the museum was first conceived and for which we have precious few artifacts. But we know the stories of some of the very early families now who helped open the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia. We know the stories of some of the families who came down that road at great personal peril to carve the communities we live in today from the virgin timberland.

There is still a lot of history to learn and tell and we hope you’ll help us do that. If you have items that tell the stories of this region, the families and businesses, we’d love a chance to scan and record them, to add them to our collection if you are so inclined. Come on out and visit us. We’re so very glad to be open to you all again.

for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with 22 years in journalism before joining the museum staff. She and her family moved to Mount Airy in 2005 from Pennsylvania where she was also involved with museums and history tours. She can be reached at KRSmith@NorthCarolinaMuseum.org or by calling 336-786-4478 x228

Junior Historians unearth honors despite virus

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A group of local students is proving that the study and celebration of history is not a lost art, even when facing a pandemic of historic proportions.

This has been evidenced by members of the Jesse Franklin Pioneers club at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History capturing top honors in an annual statewide competition of the Tar Heel Junior Historians.

Along with history, local students kept alive a 10-year tradition of such achievements by their group, formed in 2006.

The Jesse Franklin Pioneers chapter of the Tar Heel Junior Historians has 18 members this year, in grades 4-8, with the competition involving all those youths digging into various aspects of North Carolina’s heritage for the past eight months.

They then created literary, artwork, scrapbook, video or photographic entries with well-documented research to enter in the state contest.

Despite stumbling blocks posed by the coronavirus, the judging process recently was completed and those with winning entries announced, including local students:

• Andrew Edwards, a fifth grader at Millennium Charter Academy (MCA), who took first place in the Video Documentary category, Elementary Division, on the topic “Wilmington Film Industry.”

Andrew created a video exploring the storied history of the industry in that eastern North Carolina city and the films produced there.

• Seven other students won first place in Group Video Documentary competition for their subject, “Blue Ridge Inn,” focusing on a legendary hotel that stood in downtown Mount Airy for decades.

Included were Parker Rector, fourth grade, Millennium Charter Academy; Laney Robertson, Grayson Hubbard and Andrew Edwards, fifth graders at MCA; Ciara Valentine, a fourth grader at Franklin Elementary School; and Sadie Lovill and Daisy Tate, fifth graders at Franklin Elementary.

Their entry involved working together to research the history of the Blue Ridge Inn and creating a video exploring the daily life there.

• Two other local students were winners in the Artifact Search category, which involves students choosing any item, photographing it and researching its history, composition, use and significance. As is the case with all entries, an annotated bibliography must be included.

Laney Robertson, a fifth grader at Millennium Charter Academy, focused on the role of the handwoven basket, exploring her family’s genealogy and the history of creating baskets from local natural materials.

James Caudill, an eighth grader who is home-schooled, chose to examine a historic cabin, which included researching the origin and architecture of a building located behind Cousin Emma’s Bed and Breakfast on South Main Street.

The winning entries will be on display in the state museum for the next year.

COVID-19 disruption

The emergence of the coronavirus did curtail an event normally associated with the award process which is one of the most exciting activities for the Jesse Franklin Pioneers: an annual trip to Raleigh for the Tar Heel Junior Historians Conference.

During that occasion, the local youths are able to meet other students from across the state, participate in various activities, tour the state history museum and hear contest winners announced — but not this year.

“For the first time that we know of, the meeting in Raleigh was cancelled due to COVID-19,” explained Justyn Kissam, director of programs and education at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. She works with the Jesse Franklin Pioneers and provided information about their latest honors.

“The in-person conference was cancelled, but the projects submitted from all of the chapters across the state were still reviewed and judged,” Kissam added. Thousands of students in grades 4-12 participate in the Junior Historians program among nearly 200 clubs in 65 counties.

The Tar Heel Junior Historian Association released a video acknowledging the winners for 2020, and the local museum shared this video on its Facebook page. “Through it all their hard work shone bright,” Kissam observed in light of the COVID-19 impact.

While it derailed the statewide gathering along with many other events, she said the coronavirus has not diminished the interest of the Jesse Franklin Pioneers in local history — which remains as healthy as ever.

Kissam said Tuesday that along with young people exhibiting a thirst for historical knowledge in the video game era, it’s rewarding to witness the innocent wonderment appearing on their faces upon discovering some interesting fact for the first time.

“Seeing their eyes light up when they learn something about their community, honestly it’s amazing.” This was the case with the youths’ studies of the Blue Ridge Inn, Kissam said.

In being part of the statewide Tar Heel Junior Historians organization created by the state Legislature in 1953, the Jesse Franklin Pioneers chapter — named for a former North Carolina governor from Surry County — is aiding its overall purpose. That is to promote youth interest and involvement in state and local history.

The program is run by the state history museum, which hosts about 350 students at the conference each year. The local club has won multiple awards in its 15-year existence, including chapter of the year, advisor of the year and many group and individual accolades, according to information supplied by Kissam.

Chick-fil-A in Mount Airy has been the chapter’s business sponsor for several years.

The group will spend the summer working on service projects and teaching visitors old-time games, with its meetings to resume in September.

Meetings are held every Thursday afternoon during the school year for students in fourth grade and above. More information is available from Justyn Kissam at 336-786-4478 x 228 or jnkissam@northcarolinamuseum.org

Local Youth Take History Awards

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For the ninth year in a row, local students brought home awards from the state Tar Heel Junior Historians Conference in Raleigh.

The Jesse Franklin Pioneers Tar Heel Junior Historians Club at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History traveled to the North Carolina State Museum of History recently for the competition. They participated in workshops on topics from the Freedom Riders to quilt-making and learned the outcome of the state-wide competitions.

In the end, Alexavier Pell, Walker York, and Kieran Slate, all sixth graders, and Brooks Harold, James Caudill and Tucker Keck, seventh graders, won the Group Exhibit Contest for their age division. Ava Thomason, sixth grade, Cora Branch, Ellie Edwards, and Savannah Allan, all seventh graders, took second place for Group Literary Contest for their division as well.

Individual awards were won by Ryan Harris, Evan Boyd, Ava Thomason, Cora Branch, James Caudill, and Savannah Allen.

Eighteen students, fourth- seventh grade, dug into various aspects of North Carolina History for the past eight months and created literary, artwork, scrapbook, video, or photographic entries with well-documented research on topics ranging from family links to the Surry tradition of “Breaking Up Christmas,” to the mystery of the Roanoke Colony to the colorful artistry of North Carolina painter Minnie Evans.

The winning entries will be on display in the state museum for the next year.

The club, begun in 2006, is part of the state-wide organization created by the state legislature in 1953 to promote youth interest and involvement in state and local history. Thousands of fourth-twelfth graders participate in nearly 200 clubs in 65 counties. The program is run by the state history museum which hosts about 350 students at the conference each year.

The local club has won multiple awards in its 14-year existence including chapter of the year, advisor of the year, and many group and individual accolades. The Mount Airy franchise of Chick-fil-A has been the club’s business sponsor for several years.

The club will spend the summer working on service projects and teaching visitors old-time games. They’ll begin meeting again in September. Call Kate Rauhauser-Smith, Guest Services Manager at the museum for information. (336) 786-4478.

Winning Entries

Jesse Franklin Pioneers, Intermediate (grades 6-8) Division boys, Alex Pell and Walker York, both sixth grade, Brooks Harold, seventh grade all at Millennium Charter Academy, and James Caudill and Tucker Keck, seventh grade homeschool students. First Place, Exhibit Contest – “Music Goes Civil: The 26th NC Regimental Band”

The group created a museum-style exhibit exploring the many ways music was used by Civil War infantry units and the specific involvement of the Moravian men from Salem’s brass band who became the regimental band for the NC 26th.

The band’s music books, filled with standards of the day as well as original compositions, are the only complete collection of any Confederate unit’s music. It is held by the Moravian Archives in Old Salem. The boys were struck by the use of popular music in the war but came to the conclusion that “hearing music from home might make them feel close to family, even while they were far away.”

Group Intermediate Division girls, Ava Thomason, sixth grade, and Cora Branch, Ellie Edwards, and Savannah Allen, seventh grade all from Millennium Charter Academy. Second Place, Literary Contest – “The Great War”

The girls researched different aspects of World War I and put together a magazine with advertisements, pictures and articles. From the light-hearted zig-zag “Bedazzled” camouflage on battleships to the disturbing effects of trench foot, they brought information together about the war that brought America to the international stage.

Cora Branch, seventh grade, Millennium Charter Academy – First Place, Video Documentary Contest, Intermediate Division – “A Salem Girl”

Written, filmed, produced, and performed by Cora, the 4-minute video shows her packing to go to Salem College in 1913 as we hear the voice-over of a letter she’s written to her dear friend, Bessie Smith. She discusses not only the history of the school, which was the first educational institution for women in America, but the costs and challenges she’d face once there.

This is the fourth year in a row Cora has won first-place with her entry.

Ryan Harris, fifth grade, Franklin Elementary – First Place, Exhibit/Art Context, Elementary Division (grades 4-5) – “Scottish Highlander”

Ryan crafted an 18-inch-tall clay-on-wire sculpture of man dressed in traditional Scots Highland garb, a léine shirt and great kilt. As detailed in his research, Highland Scots made up a significant portion of early North Carolina immigrants settling in the Cape Fear region and filling in the mountain regions after the failed Scottish uprising.

The other four winners were in the Artifact Search category which asks students to choose any item, photograph it, and research its history, composition, use, and significance. As with all entries, it must include an annotated bibliography.

Ava Thomason, sixth grade, Millennium Charter Academy – Family Geography Text Book, 1835

The small geography text has been in her family 185 years and belonged to her great-great-grandfather, Robert Joshua Morris. “My ancestors believed in having a good education …I will pass that belief to future generations.”

Evan Boyd, fourth grade, Jones Elementary – Dale Earnhardt Autograph for Car #15, 1982

This cherished family treasure belongs to Evan’s grandmother, Kaye Davis, matriarch of a family of NASCAR fans. Earnhardt is generally known for his association with the #3 Goodwrench car but this artifact came “during the 2 seasons he drove the #15 Wrangler Jeans car.”

Evan’s entry was chosen by the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame organization for the special Sports History Award.

James Caudill, seventh grade, homeschool – Biltmore Dairy Porch Milk Box

The squat, insulated metal box held home-delivered bottles of milk for his father grandparents, the Andrews of Sparta, North Carolina. His research involved not only his own family’s memories but the closing of the Biltmore Dairy which is now the estate winery.

Savannah Allen, seventh grade, Millennium Charter Academy – Harris Wrench by the Mount Airy Wrench Company, circa 1935

Patented by Mount Airy native Jason Harris in 1932, the adjustable pipe wrench was sold in Ohio and Canada at least. Savannah researched the business’ correspondence in the museum archives. Few are known to exist. The museum has one in collections. She and her family value it for its connection to Mount Airy.

Remember those who gave all

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Our History is a regular column submitted by Kate Rauhauser-Smith, visitor services manager at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, examining the region’s history and some related displays at the museum.

“It is with deep personal concern that I officially inform you that your son, Captain James H. Jones, has been missing in South Viet Nam since 17 Jun 1967.”

The letter every military family dreads was delivered by an officer to Buster and Myrtle Jones on Monday, June 19, 1967. Their son, an Air Force dentist, was one of 56 people aboard a turboprop C130 transport aircraft attempting a takeoff from the An Khê Army Airfield. It crashed at the end of the runway.

“Rescue personnel are on the scene and are checking names of survivors against the passenger manifest. Pending further information your son will be listed officially as missing …,” Major General G.B. Greene.

On Wednesday June 21 their worst fears were realized when they were told their son was among the 34 dead. He was the first Surry County fatality of the Vietnam War.

Born in Surry County, Dr. Jones was an honor graduate from each JJ Jones High School, A&T College, and Howard University. A member of the ROTC, he was commissioned an officer upon enlistment in 1964. At the time of the crash he was just a month shy of his 28th birthday. He left his wife, Gloria Jean Reynolds from Westfield, and their 4-year-old daughter, Icca Vonja, as well as his parents, a brother (Dallas), and several grandparents.

His father created a carefully maintained notebook of clippings, official paperwork, and his letters home. Letters filled with the mundane things that make life normal and connect families. “Jean (who lived near the New Jersey base from which he was deployed) said she was having a little trouble getting the car started.”

He worked with other military dentists and doctors, providing care to service members and South Vietnamese civilians. “How are you all doing? As for myself I am fine. It’s kind of hard to keep up with the days because we work from 7:30-4:30 seven days a week.”

He signed each letter the same way, “Love James.”

This region has a long tradition of military service from the earliest settlements here and it is as strong today as ever with local residents in all branches of the military.

We thank those people willing to stand guard at the door, today and in the past, protecting the interests of America and her allies but Memorial Day is not their day.

Memorial Day is, and has always been, specifically to remember the sacrifice made by those who have died in military service and to contemplate the cost of our freedoms.

The history of Memorial Day is tangled with ceremonies beginning across the country just after the American Civil War. Generally organized by women’s organizations they were solemn occasions with processions of veterans and community members to a cemetery or church where religious services were held and speeches given before wreaths and flowers were laid on graves.

The holiday, which might be held any time in May or early June, was as often called Decoration Day. Elkin tended to hold their observances the first or second weekend in May while Mount Airy’s was generally held in the first week of June.

WWI cost more than 100,000 American military lives. It was only natural for a new generation to became part of the already-established ceremonies. It was an official state holiday in every state by 1890. It wouldn’t be a national holiday until 1968 when it was declared to be the last Monday in May.

And so, tomorrow all Americans will pause in our busy lives as one nation to remember all those who have fallen in service to this country’s military, as is fitting and appropriate. We will remember, for at least a moment, that brave men and women have purchased our freedoms at great personal sacrifice.

The staff and volunteers of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History offer our undying gratitude to them all.

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