Plan A Visit

**With the health and safety of our community, volunteers and staff in mind the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History will be closing to the public at 5:00PM, Tuesday March 17 and will remain closed until further notice.  During this time the museum’s staff will be on site working during regular operating hours and can be reached by phone or email. As we work our way through this situation we’ll be launching some new web-based programming and activities so please follow our social media feeds for more information on those offerings as they develop. Our apologies for any inconvenience and thanks for your understanding and support.**

All of the information you, or your group will need to plan a visit to the museum, including our schedule, hours, rates & more!

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Changing Exhibits

Coming Soon-  Spirited: Prohibition in America

Upcoming Events

Fri Jul 10 @ 8:00pm - 09:30pm
Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours
Mon Jul 13 @ 9:00am - 01:00pm
Animal Discovery Camp
Mon Jul 27 @ 1:00pm - 05:00pm
Detective Camp!

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

Creating Functional Art: Cigar Box Guitar Workshop Set

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A workshop set for November offers the chance to help preserve the musical heritage of the region.

The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is set to host its first-ever cigar box guitar workshop, and attendees will leave with their very own hand-crafted instrument, Matt Edwards, director of the museum, said.

The workshop is scheduled for Nov. 9, from 10 a.m., until 4 p.m.

Edwards said the workshop is designed to complement the museum’s ongoing Luthier’s Craft exhibit, which launched in May.

“The exhibit deals with the string instrument traditions of the Blue Ridge mountain region, and in putting it together, we worked with local craftsmen who make fiddles, banjos and guitars to bring it to life,” he said. “From a programming standpoint, we’ve tried to put together things that directly relate to the exhibit, whether it is a concert, educational program or a hands-on workshop like the cigar box guitar event.”

Participants at the day-long workshop will actually build a working cigar box guitar, Edwards said.

“We will also offer them instruction on how to play the instrument they build,” he said.

The cigar box guitar came about out of necessity, according to the museum director.

“The cigar box instrument is a fairly old tradition,” he said. “People who couldn’t afford to purchase commercially-made instruments actually went out and made their own, and the cigar box made an easy conduit to build the body of these instruments. It was a ready-made component that many people had around.”

Edwards called the cigar box guitar a “gateway instrument.”

“Many of the luthiers we worked with for the exhibit actually started by building cigar box instruments,” he said. “This is a pretty common gateway craft that leads to the more refined instruments they’re building now as professionals.”

And in today’s breakneck world, many craftsmen are returning to their roots.

“Today, there has been a revival of interest in cigar box instrument making, and there are blues musicians out there who are playing them,” he said. “They’re really fascinating pieces of functional art.

“Cigar box guitars can even be fitted with pick-ups that will allow them to be played both electronic and acoustically,” Edwards said. “And one of the great things about them is they’re made with a minimal number of specialty parts. Other than the tuning keys and corner braces, pretty much everything you need to build one is readily available at the local hardware store.”

The workshop will be conducted by Mike Lowe, whom Edwards describes as a “local folklorist, musician and artist.”

The cost to attend is $60 for museum members and $80 for non-members.

“This includes all material and instruction,” Edwards said.

Limited space is available, so Edwards said advance registration is encouraged.

For more information call the museum at 336-786-4478.


Community Gets Its Bond On - Hundreds turn out for 3rd Annual Casino Royale night

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In keeping with the theme of the evening, a bright red Dodge Viper and a red carpet greeted attendees as they arrived for what has become the premier fund raising effort for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History —the museum’s third annual Casino Royale night. The event drew a record crowd Friday night to Cross Creek Country Club, with more than 230 people signed up to participate. Looking over the crowd, museum Director Edwards said he was pleased with the event. “It’s been great so far,” he said. “We’ve had just a tremendous turnout, with more people attending this year than last.” Edwards said it looked like attendees, decked out in tuxedos and evening gowns, were getting into the spirit of the event. “That’s the great thing about this fund raiser,” he said. “We tried to make this a fun evening for those who attend, from the great food and great ambience to the casino-style gambling where they can win bragging rights.” He said that while the numbers haven’t been tallied, the event was on track to surpass last year’s $25,000 take. "That money is critical to help with our annual operations and programming throughout the year,” he said. And for attendee Tom Webb, who was decked out in a tuxedo and sipping on a glass of wine, the evening was less about gambling and more about helping support the local museum. “We wanted to come out and support such a worthy cause,” he said. “The museum is very important to the community, and we need to have such a first-class facility in Mount Airy.” But Webb noted that there’s nothing wrong with having a good time while supporting a worthy cause. “It’s also a chance to have a little bit of fun,” he said. “There’s good food, good fellowship and a chance to share some good wine.” Gaming for the evening featured craps, roulette and blackjack, and attendees also had the opportunity to purchase a draw-down ticket with the chance to win a $6,000 prize. And those in attendance also had the chance to bid on multiple donations at the silent auction, with prizes ranging from vacation packages to consumer electronics like an iPad. Looking over the crowd laughing and trying to beat the odds, Edwards said he was indebted to the committee that put the event together. “I owe all the credit to them,” he said. “Without their volunteer efforts, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

"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.”

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