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Changing Exhibits

September 1 - December 20, 2018

America's Wolves: From Tragedy to Triumph


Upcoming Events

Fri Sep 21 @ 8:00pm - 09:30pm
Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours
Wed Sep 26 @ 8:00pm - 09:30pm
Special added Ghost Tours in September!
Thu Sep 27 @ 3:30pm - 04:30pm
Tar Heel Junior Historians Introductory Meeting

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

"The Future Lies Ahead..."

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The excitement among the alumni of J.J. Jones High School, which closed its doors in 1966, was evident even before the ribbon was cut on an exhibit featuring the school at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.

The exhibit was unveiled Saturday at noon during this weekend’s bi-annual reunion, which draws Jones alumni from across the country.

The display features notable moments in the school’s history, including notes about how students devoted their time and effort to build a gymnasium for the school — the only black school in the county during its time. It also features items donated by school alumni, including displays about music, arts and sports, but it also doesn’t shy away from the region’s history, with a prominent display on the Jim Crow laws of the era.

Jones served black students locally from 1936 to 1966, when it ceased to exist due to integration.

And while the spirit of family is evident in the sense of community among former students and graduates, Saturday’s unveiling was especially important to Mount Airy resident Linwood Jones, who would have graduated from the school in 1968, and attended until its doors closed in 1966.

Jones is the grandson of John J. Jones, the school’s founder and principal for 16 years, and the son of Leonidas H. Jones, its second longest-serving principal.

“It’s really hard to put into words,” Linwood Jones said quietly when talking about what the exhibit means to him. “The exhibit shows the struggle my father and grandfather went through for our education, but everyone in the Surry County community helped make this a reality.

“For me to see this in here is like bringing back my grandfather and father for the education of our community.”

Jones’ grandfather, J.J. Jones, who was born a slave in Rockingham County, died when his son — and Jones’ father — was just 13.

“His dream was to come back home and see this high school become a reality,” he said quietly. “My family placed a high value on education, and this would be very special to them both.”

Edwards said the display was long deserved, and sprang from a close relationship the museum has with the Jones Alumni Association.

“This is something that has long been on our minds and in our plans,” he said. “The stories coming out of the Jones school era are really remarkable. They tell a story about our local history that a lot of people aren’t aware of. This is a way for us to showcase a little bit of that story for the larger community.

“During the 30 years it was in operation as a segregated school, remarkable things happened there. Like many small town high schools, it really engendered that sense of community and identity, and you can see it today through their very active alumni association.”

And as the group cut the ribbon on the exhibit a tapestry on display said it all.

“We have crossed the bay, the future lies ahead.”

Makers of musical instruments featured in 'The Luthier's Craft' exhibit

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Listen to the stories of luthiers in the Southern Appalachian and the Blue Ridge mountains, and it’s clear why the current exhibit at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is so important.

“ There’s a rich tradition of not just playing music, but of building instruments,” said Matt Edwards, executive director of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. “There are a lot of people who can make a great looking instrument. It is something (else) to make a great sounding instrument. They were constantly checking the tone. That really is where that master craftsmanship came in and the ability to combine those two together. It’s that fine attention to detail and craftsmanship.”

“ They were largely self-taught,” Edwards said, citing Albert Hash, who led a resurgence of the luthier craft. “As a kid, he wanted a fiddle. He dreamed how to do it, then he went and he made it. Through the years he refined the skills and figured out what he was doing and then he started teaching other folks.”

The exhibit, “The Luthier’s Craft: Instrument Making Traditions of the Blue Ridge” features fiddle makers Chris Testerman and the late Audrey Hash Ham, banjo maker Johnny Gentry and guitar maker Wayne Henderson, who crafted a guitar for Eric Clapton. Luthiers craft and repair string instruments.

Testerman, 27, learned how to build fiddles from Albert Hash’s daughter, Audrey Hash Ham, who died Aug. 2. She was generous with her knowledge and her materials.

“ She taught me everything I know,” Testerman said. “She was a good lady. At 64 years old, she’s done more in her life than people would in a hundred years. She had a lot of impact on a lot of people.”

He first met Ham when he attended Mount Rogers Combined School in Whitetop in Grayson County, Va. He was in the band program that Albert Hash started in 1982 just before he died, and then Ham took over teaching, passing on her father’s knowledge of music and fiddle making.

“ I was just so impressed by Albert’s work,” Testerman said. “He could make anything.”

He eventually asked Ham to teach him how to craft a fiddle.

“ She said, ‘I’ll help you,’” Testerman said. “She cut me out a fiddle back; it was thick.” Then she gave him a piece of sandpaper and pocket knife. She asked if he had a fiddle and told him to go home and study his fiddle and work that piece of wood down to the arch. He doesn’t remember how much sandpaper he used on that first fiddle.

“ She didn’t think she’d see me again,” he said. “I’ve built all of mine using the very same thing that he (Albert) used. Most of it was done with not much more than a pocket knife. That’s the way she taught me.” She also taught him to focus on the sound in the beginning and to make interior graduations the right thickness.

“ I’ve been working on fiddles 10 years. I’ve talked to her every day. She’s helped me with every one I’ve made. I still use her tools to measure, calipers that Albert made. She gave me all the patterns. She was always willing to share and encouraged me to share it with people. I’m really thankful to have known her.”

He carves the scrolls on the fiddles he makes, just as Hash and Ham did. In this exhibit, he’s carved local red spruce harvested years ago from Whitetop Mountain for the top and blocks. On his exhibit fiddle, he carved an eagle’s head on the scroll, and the back has a peacock and bouquet of flowers. There are small carvings on the finger boards.

He’s learning to build banjos from Johnny Gentry, who is also featured in the exhibit.

“ If you don’t pass it on, it’ll be lost,” said Gentry, 66, who lives in Mountain Park. He has built banjos for 10 years, which seemed a logical extension of the old-time music he’s played over the years and the instruments he’s repaired for decades.

“ When I retired, I thought I’d make a banjo for something to do,” said Gentry, a retired correctional officer. “Now I can’t stop.”

“ What I go for is the sound, and everyone wants a different sound,” he said. “Some people like a real soft sound…. Some people like high-pitched…; some people like in between mellow. I kind of know what it takes to get that sound.”

He plays guitar and his wife, Nancy, a classical pianist, plays upright bass in the Mountain Park Old Time Band. He also teaches people how to play the instruments.

“ I really like to teach kids,” he said. “They just struggle and struggle. All of a sudden you can see it in their eye. Then they get excited…. It makes you feel you’ve accomplished something. It really makes a difference. I don’t know what I’d do without music.”

The idea for the exhibit started after the museum served as the first host site in North Carolina for Museum on Main Street, a project in which the N.C. Humanities Council partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to bring a traveling exhibit to small towns.

“ We saw a tremendous amount of interest in music heritage,” Edwards said, and the museum experienced an 800 percent increase in visits. “We knew our area was really rich in music heritage. There had to be a way to tap into that.”

The project was funded by a $25,000 matching grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, and Edwards said that local supporters and businesses supplied the match. Edwards and Amy Snyder, the curator of collections, did most of the research. They based their exhibit on the Smithsonian model: a turnkey operation that could be set up in a day. The Mount Airy exhibit has a modular design, which will enable small museums and historical societies to have a high-quality exhibit with tangible artifacts.

“ It’s designed so you can pick one instrument or rotate,” Edwards said. “It gives small venues a lot of versatility.”

Visitors will see handmade instruments and will learn how they were built; there are biographies that show the interconnectedness of the craftsmen who shared their knowledge among one another to carry on their tradition. In addition to music, there is archival footage of the craftspeople.

One of the tactile-learning pieces is assembling a Boucher-style banjo, which was the first mass-produced banjo and came out just after the Civil War. An Aug. 21 event is scheduled with Jayne Henderson, Wayne Henderson’s daughter, who built a ukulele for the exhibit. At a workshop Nov. 9 visitors can make and take a cigar box banjo.

The exhibit will travel for about five years, and it’s likely its first stop will be in Charlotte, Edwards said. The exhibit components eventually will become part of the Mount Airy museum’s permanent collection.

“ We wanted to do something that was going to be accessible to a lot of folks,” Edwards said. “Some of these craftsmen do this as a hobby, some of them do this as a primary way to make a living. We want to encourage folks to go out and find these people and make them part of their lives.”

Volunteers wanted at Mount Airy Museum

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Matt Edwards, the director of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, hopes the spirit that built the museum from the ground up is still alive and well in Surry County.

“This is an institution that was created by volunteers, so volunteerism is a legacy that is an important part of our history,” he said Wednesday morning. “It is something that is at the heart of this museum, both in the past and moving forward into the future.”

Edwards said he has a pool of about 100 volunteers, but he needs more.

And don’t think there isn’t something for any city resident to do. From working the telephone from home to scanning historic photos to helping archive and preserve the museum’s donated collections, Edwards said if someone wants to give a little of their time he can find the niche for the would-be volunteer.

“We have volunteers working in capacities that range from working the front desk to conducting tours to working in our collections,” he said, sweaty from building a hands-on exhibit in the children’s section. “My goal is to find a position that is exciting for every volunteer. If we can make it fun and exciting, they will want to come back.”

Grant funding from the New York-based Bay and Paul foundations have given Edwards the chance to get back to archiving and preserving the museum’s many collections.

“That’s something that in recent years has been lacking here at the museum due to tight budgets, because unfortunately when money gets tight preservation and archiving is one of the first things cut,” he said. “This grant of $5,000 has afforded us the opportunity to add at least a portion of it back into our budget. So now we need volunteers to re-house collections not stored in archival conditions.”

It is an opportunity to get hands-on with rare historical objects, something that summer volunteer Susanna Pyatt gets excited about.

Pyatt, a history and anthropology major at the University of Oklahoma, is currently working in the dusty storage area, helping archive and store various collections.

“I just love it,” she said. “This is something I want to do for a career, so the chance to get my hands dirty is exciting for me.”

Edwards said such work is “part of what we do.”

“It may not sound like the most exciting kind of job for many people, but it’s at the heart of our mission here: to collect, preserve and interpret our area’s history,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things our job is to preserve these objects in perpetuity, allowing us months or years down the road to be sure they’re in good condition.”

Work is also under way to digitize more than 10,000 historic photos, making them available online.

“It’s not very cumbersome or difficult, but it’s a time-consuming process and we need volunteers to help in the effort,” he said.

The bottom line?

“I’m not saying we’re dying for volunteers, but we need to expand our volunteer pool,” he said. “For anyone who is interested, we have a position for them and we’ll make sure it’s something they enjoy.”

Anyone interested in volunteering at the museum can call Edwards or Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Davis at 786-4478.

Ghost guide: some former residents have not left

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Several local residents and visitors learned on Friday that any possibility of paranormal activity in the downtown area is likely related to tragic events.

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History ghost tour guide Vicky Town told those on the tour that while some might consider these haunting entities ghosts, she respectfully calls them “permanent residents who never left.”

Town, a traveling storyteller by trade, brought accounts of former residents’ lives to life during a balmy night amidst downtown lights and music on Friday.

At each street turn, the audience latched onto her words.

With each stop, Town both forcefully and delicately relayed accounts of painful and tragic local occurrences.

The events often happened in the same areas where folks today still enjoy family, food, beverage and entertainment.

In response to the stories, some on the tour grimaced, others asked questions, some kept curiously quiet, but alert, others shed a tear or two.

A few relayed confirmation about their own personal experiences. A communication Town called valuable to the story telling tradition.

“Each tour, I keep collecting information.” Then, Town said she prays a lot once she gets home, often in response to the intensity of the tours.

Author of the ghost tour script, Mark Brown said, “I wrote in a down-home style.” He said a flickering lantern has been part of the script from the beginning.

Brown said through experience he has learned when a story warrants a second look.

“Things happen that you know just doesn’t feel right,” said Brown.

As a result, scripts change and are flexible. Each variation depends on which professional story telling guide leads the tour, said Brown.

Museum Guest Administrator Nancy Davis said tour feedback has been “very good.” Some patrons send in photos of their personal experience after the tour, said Davis.

The Regional History Museum Ghost tour is in its third season. The museum is said to be haunted by some, including staff. This year’s tour added the fire engine room.

A local resident for more than 40 years, Dr. Steve Yokeley confirmed after the tour that he believes some of the paranormal accounts. In particular those spoken about at the Old North State Winery ring truest to him, he said.

“I have heard several people say they have seen ghosts here before,” said Yokeley.

Before the tour started the Yokeleys expressed an interest in hearing for themselves about the possibility of any supernatural cultural influences. Their guests from Asheboro said they were also interested and looking forward to the tour.

Residents and visitors alike stated afterwards that they enjoyed the historical framework and learning about the “local” supernatural activity.

The tour is based on a 75-25 ratio percentage of history and ghost phenomenon.

Town “did a great job” and is “a great storyteller,” said several patrons upon the tour conclusion on Friday.

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