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Changing Exhibits

January 6-March 24, 2018

North Carolina in the Great War




Upcoming Events

Wed Feb 21 @10:00am - 05:00pm
Museum is CLOSED today
Tue Feb 27 @ 6:00pm - 09:00pm
Beginners Genealogy Classes

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Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

museum001 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

Surry WWI general is museum talk topic

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One hundred years ago, what was then known as The Great War was raging in Europe — but many area residents might be unaware of the key role a Surry Countian played in that conflict. This will be highlighted Saturday during a presentation at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History which will focus on Henry Butner, an accomplished World War I Army general who was born and raised in Pinnacle.

The program titled “General Henry Wolfe Butner: From Farm to Military Fame” is scheduled at 2 p.m. on the third floor of the museum in downtown Mount Airy and is free and open to the public. That “fame” included Butner briefly serving as the commanding officer of Fort Bragg. During World War I, he was sent to France with the American Expeditionary Force and commanded an artillery brigade as a brigadier general. Butner was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Saturday’s program will be led by local historian Marion Venable, with the event kicking off a spring History Talks series at the museum which has been under way for more than a decade. Two other sessions are slated in March and April, including a focus on how North Carolina women aided America’s cause in World War I on March 3.

That war is being highlighted through programming this year at the local museum, which also includes its recent opening of a World War I exhibit, as part of statewide efforts celebrating the centennial of the conflict’s end in November 1918. Special programs such as the one Saturday are helping people today understand a war that in many ways has been under-represented compared to the wealth of material produced about World War II and the Civil War. But that century-old conflict has special significance, according to Sonya Laney, director of education and programs at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. “World War I was nicknamed ‘the war to end all wars,”’ Laney said, “which ended up being quite ironic.” Only about 20 years later, another world war would be getting under way which proved to be the most massive conflict in the history of mankind. Harsh conditions in Germany after 1918 fueled the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in the 1930s. Historians also consider World War I to be the first “modern” conflict. “It is really a fascinating war — the technological advances,” Laney said.

On March 3 at 2 p.m. at the museum, North Carolina Humanities Council “Road Scholar” Dr. Angela Robbins is scheduled to discuss the ways North Carolina women contributed to the World War I effort. This will include both the home front and overseas. That program is made possible by funding from the council, a statewide non-profit organization and an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Family searches yield results

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A massive search was waged this past weekend in which members of multiple families were sought. It didn’t involve rescue crews scouring the countryside for missing children or senior citizens, but an effort staged quietly Saturday within the confines of Mount Airy Museum of Regional History — though almost as intense in terms of motivation.

The Surry County Genealogical Association Ancestor Fair, held at the museum for the fourth year, attracted people searching for something reflecting a unique brand of elusiveness: information about folks from whom they are descended. Researching one’s family tree can be a tedious, challenging — and sometimes-frustrating — process filled with dead ends, wild goose chases and other pitfalls in the seemingly never-ending quest for names, dates and other facts. But Saturday’s Ancestor Fair provided a fertile ground for those wanting to connect to their roots.

The third floor of the downtown museum was abuzz with activity, including computer stations offering free and unencumbered access to online genealogy services including Ancestry.com and FamilySearch, which normally require paying fees or establishing accounts. Non-digital resources also were well-represented with tables displaying genealogy charts, tax and other public records, books on area history and information assembled to aid others interested in surnames common to this region. “People have brought their family histories to show people … scrapbooks — everything,” said President Esther Johnson of the Surry County Genealogical Association. Aside from the records aspect, members of the association were out in force to provide assistance, along with representatives of historical organizations in Patrick and Carroll counties in Virginia.

The Ancestor Fair drew folks from near and far. “I think it’s well done,” said Joyce Lee Kanter of Winston-Salem, who was attending the local genealogy event for the first time. “And the folks I’ve talked to have been very knowledgeable and very approachable,” added Kanter. “If they have any information, they’re willing to share.” The Winston-Salem resident specifically came looking for her ancestral details about Johnsons who lived in Stokes and Patrick counties, and also the Thore surname. Betty Rogers of Pilot Mountain, meanwhile, was making good use of the Ancestry.com and FamilySearch station, where she sought information about a great-grandmother named Hayes who long ago migrated from Statesville to Surry County by wagon. As is often the case with genealogy, some family lines are easier to track than others, which Rogers exemplified Saturday while holding up a copy of the Surry County Heritage Book, Volume II. It is a thick tome containing a wealth of information — but not everything. “I’ve got my story in here,” Rogers said of her basic family history, “but I don’t know much about the Hayeses.”

While ferreting out such history can be painstaking and often tests researchers’ patience, Johnson, the Genealogical Association president, said computer technology has been a tremendous boost in streamlining information collection. To a large extent, the digital indexing of birth, marriage, death and other records has eliminated the need to pore through dusty materials — which was once the only method available. “It was a slow process,” Johnson said of the time when hitting the “print” button wasn’t an option for persons retrieving vital information. “They had to write it down.”

Museum to host Ancestor Fair on Saturday 1/27

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Though its name has changed, an annual event on Saturday at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History has the same goal: helping individuals and families connect with their past.  The Surry County Genealogical Association Ancestor Fair formerly was known as the Family History and Genealogy Swap Meet.  A decision was made to drop the “swap meet” terminology, which generally refers to flea markets or venues where auto enthusiasts go to trade parts, and add ancestor fair to the title. This better reflects the historical nature of the event now in its fourth year, explained Esther Johnson, Genealogical Association president.

“This is the swap meet we have been having,” Johnson added in assuring that the gathering held each winter will feature the same attractions for genealogy buffs. “We’re pretty much sticking to the same things this year.” Also as in the past, everyone interested in genealogy is invited to the ancestor fair and admission is free, except for a small fee to copy records using a machine to be available Saturday.

Roots resources

A variety of resources will be highlighted during the event scheduled Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the third floor of the museum on North Main Street. “We will have someone there who can help you look up your family on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch,” Johnson mentioned in reference to one attraction, access to online services that normally require paying fees or establishing accounts. “Also, we can go on our computers,” she said of ones to be brought by Genealogical Association members. Laptops are welcome Saturday. An array of family history information, such as genealogy charts and records for various lines, tends to be on display at the fair. “Bring your genealogy and history on your family,” Johnson urged participants, “old pictures, scrapbooks, family group sheets.” One never knows what might be encountered at the event, which sometimes includes stumbling onto previously elusive information that can provide a genealogical breakthrough. “This is a good time to find people who are doing research on your family,” Johnson commented regarding the presence of a clearinghouse for an array of records. Those connected with a history or genealogy group also are invited to set up at the fair, where they can advertise their group and sell its items such as books and maps free of charge. And authors may offer their books for sale.

DNA attraction

A recent rage in the genealogy world is DNA testing, which offers an alternative to tracing one’s family tree rather than relying strictly on written or oral records. It allows genealogists and family researchers to benefit from established scientific methods to confirm ancestry and relationships. “Everybody wants to have their DNA done,” Johnson said of the popularity of testing, which she will be available to explain Saturday to ancestor fair attendees. “I’ve had my DNA done and I can show them what it looks like,” Johnson said of the breakdown that results.

Classes offered

While Saturday’s fair will be of special interest to students of a beginners genealogy class sponsored by the museum and taught by Johnson, it also is a prelude for the next round of classes. The five sessions are scheduled on Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., beginning on Feb. 6 and ending on March 6. The first two are to be held in the second-floor classroom of the museum, the third and fourth at locations in Dobson and the fifth back at the museum. Fee and other information is available on the museum’s website. In addition, the Surry County Genealogical Association meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the Teaching Auditorium at Surry Community College in Dobson.

Museum event honors King’s legacy

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With temperatures in the 20s and a stiff north wind, Saturday night offered less-than-optimum conditions for a community gathering — but this didn’t stop more than 125 people from honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “When you see people come out when it’s cold — the weather is not inviting — I think it shows people value what’s important,” said Cheryl “Yellow Fawn” Scott, co-director of a 13th-annual King tribute event.

The program, “In the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — Surry Countians Continuing the Dream,” was held at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, playing to a packed house. “It is always a tremendous honor to see this many folks come out for this program,” museum Executive Director Matt Edwards said of what is one of the facility’s more well-attended events each year. “It is a testament to Dr. King’s legacy and the work of our local volunteers.”

The ensuing program highlighted the fact that while he was felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, King’s dream of equality for all continues to live on in the hearts of folks here and elsewhere. This was accomplished Saturday night through musical selections such as “This Little Light of Mind,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Never Have to be Alone” and others; prayer; creative interpretations; candle lightings in Dr. King’s memory; and special remarks about the impression his incredible life made on America.

King entered the Baptist ministry in the late 1940s and was caught up in the civil rights struggle of the 1950s, becoming the most-visible activist and leader in the movement while relying on tactics of non-violence and civil disobedience. He campaigned against inequality throughout the South, including leading the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. One of the key moments of his civil rights icon’s career came in 1963 when he helped organize a march on Washington, where he delivered his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech.

Terri Ingalls, a local storyteller who was one of the speakers on Saturday night’s program, recalled that historic event that occurred while she was coming of age in a nearby state. “I was deeply aware of segregation — I grew up in South Carolina,” Ingalls told the audience. “I saw it daily, and I knew it was wrong.” Ingalls watched televised coverage of the Washington event, admittedly because folk music performers she wanted to see were there, including Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. But Ingalls found herself captivated by King’s words during his historic speech, when he outlined his “dream” of people of all colors living in harmony. Also, King expressed the hope that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” “And in the end I sat stunned,” Ingalls said of hearing King’s message. “I was surprised to find my face awash with tears when it was done.”

Another profound segment of Saturday night’s program occurred when Scott detailed the history of martyrs in the civil rights struggle, both black and white, who fell victim to bombings and other acts of violence during the turbulent era. The weapon of love eventually overcame those of hate, such as bombs and guns, Scott said.

A key goal of Saturday’s event involved emphasizing how the lessons espoused by King continue to be exemplified by the lives of folks in Surry County. Special recognition was given to two local families illustrating the value of religion and education, the Posey and Betty Reynolds family, which included 17 children, five of whom survive today, and that of Luther and Willie Rawley. Members of those families have made a mark in such fields as industry, business, engineering, criminal justice and others.

Local youths also were recognized Saturday and two adults were announced as Dr. Martin King Jr. honorees, James Dalton and Col. Don Belle. While he received that special honor Saturday night, Belle said he regularly attends the King tribute events at the museum for one basic reason: “We love this country and we love the many things that Dr. King and the people who were with him have accomplished — black and white.”

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