My Visit to Mayberry: Mount Airy in North Carolina
This month 60 years ago — Monday, October 3, 1960, to be exact — The Andy Griffith Show debuted on the CBS television network and put the fictitious bucolic town of Mayberry in the international spotlight. Easygoing Andy Taylor was the widowed sheriff; and the bumbling but lovable Barney Fife — who was played by the inimitable Don Knotts — was the deputy; and a host of unique characters rounded out the cast to create the indelible image of a place where time stood still, where the front door did not have to be locked at night, where a close-knit community of neighbors were there for each other through good times and through bad times, and where the problems of the world rarely invaded the quiet simple life of Mayberry…
My Visit to Mayberry: Mount Airy in North Carolina
…and Mayberry is thought to have been based on Mount Airy — which is the city located in Surry County in the state of North Carolina where one Andy Samuel Griffith was born on Tuesday, June 1, 1926 and raised for years. Exactly 18 years ago today — on Wednesday, October 16, 2002 at an official ceremony when United States Highway 52 was renamed Andy Griffith Parkway — Andy Griffith said, “People started saying that Mayberry was based on Mount Airy. It sure sounds like it, doesn’t it?”
You can see and hear Andy Griffith say that statement himself at the 23:47 mark in the video of the dedication of Andy Griffith Parkway.
Do not take Mount Airy for granite, for it is known as The Granite City because of the largest open-face granite quarry in the world, which can be purportedly seen from outer space. After all, The Granite City is set in stone — literally — by the Chamber of Commerce of Mount Airy.
The aforementioned Chamber of Commerce granite stone is located outside at Mount Airy Visitors Center — which is located at 200 North Main Street at the northeast corner of Moore Avenue — where you should start for a plethora of free information about Mount Airy…
…and you can easily spot the Mount Airy Visitors Center by the old town clock hanging on the outside corner of the building.
The town clock is a symbol of the city, as seen in the welcome sign in the photograph which is featured near the beginning of this article…
…as well as proudly displayed on the street signs around Mount Airy — such as this sign for Franklin Street.
This mural was commissioned by the local Coca Cola Bottling Company in Mount Airy in the early 1900s; and its restoration project was funded by the Coca Cola Company after the mural was rediscovered in July of 1987 when a building called The Canteen was removed from the site.
The mural is now part of a wall which was dedicated to the memory of Susan Pendleton Ashby by Barbara McMillian on Friday, June 19, 2015 in honor of her dedication to the improvement of downtown Mount Airy and her efforts to restore what is known as the Coca Cola Ghost Sign.
This alleyway is likely where The Canteen building was located between 175 North Main Street and 187 North Main Street. It is now a place to relax, with benches, shrubbery, and a pagoda of sorts covering a meandering brick walkway. The wall with the Coca Cola mural is on the right in the photograph.
The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is located on 301 North Main Street at the northwest corner of West Oak Street. Admission is six dollars per person — but a prearranged group tour of a minimum of ten people is five dollars per person; and children up to a maximum age of four years old are admitted free of charge. Tax is not included in the admission price.
Looking southwest from the corner of North Main Street and Oak Street shows a view of the quaintness of downtown Mount Airy. East Oak Street is on the left; and West Oak Street is on the right, as Main Street divides the east streets of the city from the west streets.
Mount Airy may not initially resemble what people remember from The Andy Griffith Show or think in their minds of what Mayberry might look like; but one can easily picture some parts of the city — such as the Bank of Mount Airy building — as belonging in Mayberry.
Many parts of Mount Airy are not so authentic, as businesses attempt to capitalize on the legendary persona and inspiration of the idyllic fictitious town Mayberry — but some parts are authentic and have even contributed to the image of Mayberry.
For example, Snappy Lunch — which is located at 125 North Main Street in Mount Airy — has been in business since 1923, which is decades before anyone even thought of the name Mayberry.
Snappy Lunch is one of the few real places of Mount Airy which was specifically mentioned by Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show — specifically, in the seventh episode of the first season titled Andy the Matchmaker, which first aired on Monday, November 14, 1960 — and Snappy Lunch is credited as the only existing business remaining in Mount Airy which was mentioned on the television program.
Although he never ate one of their world-famous pork chop sandwiches, Andy Griffith did recall in the aforementioned video at the 23:02 mark when he was given a quarter by his mother; and after going to the movies for a dime, he would spend it on a hot dog for a dime and a bottle of pop at the lunch counter of the legendary eatery, which is still open for business today — but only for when it is opened for breakfast at 5:45 in the morning and for lunch; so it closes in the afternoon at either 1:15 on Thursdays and Saturdays, and at 1:45 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Snappy Lunch is closed all day on Sundays and Mondays.
Along with the authentic Snappy Lunch, this block of North Main Street also consists of Floyd’s City Barber Shop and Opie’s Candy Store, from left to right.
Floyd’s City Barber Shop was first opened in 1929, with most of its original contents intact which were purchased when they were brand new. According to this statement attributed to Bill Hiatt — who is the son of the late Russell Hiatt, who was known as the real-life Floyd and died on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at the age of 92 — “City Barber Shop opened in 1929. In 1980 Russell Hiatt took over and added Floyd’s to the name. He cut Andy’s hair from 1947 thru 1952 after which Andy went to New York starting his career. Dad took over 60,000 pics of tourists from 1980-1995. The chairs, etc are original from 1929. It is a tourist shop with two part-time barbers. Come by and sit in Andy’s chair and get your pic taken!”
The character Floyd Lawson was portrayed by the late Howard McNear, who was forced to leave the television program due to health issues — but the original actor who played the character was Walter Baldwin in episode number 12 of The Andy Griffith Show called Stranger in Town.
Opie’s Candy Store — where you can “experience sweet Mayberry” — was inspired by a little boy named Opie Taylor, who was the son of Andy Taylor. He was portrayed by a young Ronny Howard, who is better known today as veteran actor and director Ron Howard.
Barney’s Café — which is located at 206 North Main Street next to the Mount Airy Visitors Center and offers the Barney Burger — is named for the deputy named Barney Fife, who was memorably played by Don Knotts.
The misspelled Aunt Bea’s Candy Kitchen is named after the character Aunt Bee, who was the aunt of Andy Taylor and replaced the housekeeper — who left to get married — in the very first episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Frances Bavier was the actress who played Aunt Bee.
Then there are the retail establishments which lend an ode of sorts to the familiarity of Mayberry itself — such as Mayberry Market & Souvenirs at 182 North Main Street…
…and Mayberry Trading Post at 100 North Main Street.
Aside from those who want to evoke the memory of Mayberry, plenty of businesses do not hitch themselves to the legend of the fictitious town — but rather exist on their own merits.
For example, the Earle Theatre — which is located at 142 North Main Street — was built in 1938; and patrons were not happy about having to pay a whole dollar to see the movie Gone With The Wind. According to the official Internet web site of the theatre, “The EARLE theatre was chosen as a site for the premiere of ‘Gone With the Wind’ simultaneously with the showing in Atlanta, Georgia. The $1 ticket ruffled more local feathers than Clark Gable’s parting words. Tickets returned to a more reasonable range, 9-11 cents for children’s matinees, and 13-17 cents for others.”
The historic theatre has a total capacity of 424 seats — which comprise of 242 reserved seats and 182 balcony seats — and tours of the building are offered, as well as many different types of events and showings. Self-guided audio tours are available, where artifacts and portraits of the old-time music icons of Surry County reside. Admission is five dollars per person; and the old-time exhibits are open daily as follows:
- Monday through Friday from 11:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon
- Saturday from 9:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon
- Sunday from 1:00 until 3:30 in the afternoon
The Earle Theatre is also known as the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, according to the sign which is affixed over the front entrance of the building.
Leon’s Burger Express at 407 North Main Street has been around for at least 30 years; but the vintage look of the neon sign caused me to wonder what was there before and was the name of the establishment Leon’s as well.
The owners of this ice cream store and bakery seem bent on distancing themselves from Mayberry as much as possible — the ice cream store even offers “New York Ices” — although they do sell ice cream and pies with real moonshine in them, which both Andy Taylor and Barney Fife might have had an issue, as moonshine was illegal in Mayberry…
…but the building in which the seemingly rebellious Hillbilly Bakeshop and Miss Angels Heavenly Pies, Incorporated — which are respectively located at 155 North Main Street and 153 North Main Street — tends more to evoke that feeling of Mayberry.
The Old City Jail of Mount Airy is located at 215 City Hall Street. Recognized by both All-American Landmarks and Hampton Hotels Save-A-Landmark program — the URL of www.hamptonlandmarks.com appears to be either broken or no longer operable at the time this article was written — as a site worth saving, It served as a real jail for the city for years before it became a re-creation of the courthouse from The Andy Griffith Show.
The Old City Jail — and the tours for it, which cost three dollars each — was closed when I was there; and from what I understand, it has been permanently closed at the time this article was written.
At times, downtown Mount Airy appears to be a thriving hustling and bustling town, where life is simultaneously simple and easy-going…
…but unfortunately, some businesses in Mount Airy have seen better days. This store at 300 North Main Street closed and was advertised as being for rent when I visited. I cannot imagine what the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic has done to the city of Mount Airy.
A man walks west southwest along the south side of Franklin Street past the Palace Barber Shop just west of North Main Street.
This view is looking west southwest along the south side of Franklin Street just west of North Main Street.
According to the official Internet web site of the Mount Airy Visitors Center, “Mount Airy is the quintessential small town located in the upper Yadkin Valley near the Virginia state line, surrounded by views of both the Sauratown and Blue Ridge Mountains. A former stagecoach stop along the Ararat River, this designated ‘Friendly City’ is thought to have inspired Mayberry, the fictional North Carolina town where The Andy Griffith Show was set. The town was incorporated in 1885 and was once among the state’s largest producers of tobacco, furniture, and textiles.”
The Home of Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith grew up in a modest house, which is located at 711 East Haymore Street in Mount Airy — just east of Rockford Street on the south side of East Haymore Street.
Reservations to stay in this house are placed through the Hampton Inn Mount Airy hotel property — and although you cannot earn Hilton Honors points for staying at this house, you will find the typical amenities found in the bathroom of a Hampton Inn hotel property.
At the time I was at this house — no, I did not stay in it, nor did I have any desire to do so — the flat base rate was $175.00, with the total cost for one night at $197.75.
This house was the home of Andy Griffith from 1935 through 1966 — meaning that he was either eight or nine years old when he moved into this house. Andy Griffith did recall in the aforementioned video at the 4:10 mark about when he stayed a night at his former house in 2012 — as well as imparted some of the history of living in that house.
Whenever a guest is staying at this house, a sign with “Guests Are Occupying Andy’s House Please Respect Their Privacy” printed on it is displayed.
A wooden porch swing for two people is available outside of the house.
A huge water tower — which welcomes visitors to Mount Airy — is located directly across the street from the house; so if you have trouble finding it for some reason, just look for the water tower, which is visible from many parts of the city.
This view is looking west across Rockford Street towards West Haymore Street. The aforementioned water tower is located out of the photograph on the right side of the nearest corner on the right.
These views are looking east on East Haymore Street.
Hampton Inn Mount Airy
Speaking of the Hampton Inn Mount Airy, that is the hotel property at which I stayed for the night when I was in Mount Airy.
I entered the room through the door from the hallway. The door to the bathroom was immediately to my right, followed by a closet with a sliding mirrored door. An area of the room was equipped with a desk, chair, desk lamp, mirror, note pad, pen, and a receptacle for trash. The desk had no drawers.
Inside of the closet was an iron, an ironing board, a plastic laundry bag, wooden hangers, and an extra blanket…
…although a jacket and pair of pants can be hung on the wall as well.
Two queen sized beds were in the room; and each bed had four pillows.
The bed nearest to the window — on which I slept — was quite comfortable.
The nightstand between the beds had two electrical outlets, two USB ports, a drawer, a telephone, and an alarm clock.
Across from the beds were two moveable ottomans — or would that be ottomen? — with handles, a flat-screen television, an ice bucket, and a coffee station stocked with a coffee maker, coffee, sugar, and powdered creamer.
The doors of the cabinet open to reveal a miniature refrigerator, and three wire shelves which can be pulled out.
The bathroom was equipped with a sink, a large mirror, a hair dryer which is stored in a bag with drawstrings, an extra roll of toilet paper, a box of tissues, plenty of towels, a hook on which to hang clothing — and, of course, a toilet with toilet paper. Lighting in the room was adequately bright.
The bathroom also had a bath tub, a shower curtain on a shower rod which curves outward for more room while bathing or showering so that it does not stick to you, an adjustable shower head, and a light which automatically illuminates when the bathroom becomes dark.
Amenities in the bathroom included body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, a bar of bath soap, and a smaller bar of soap.
Breakfast in the morning was available in the common area adjacent to the lobby of the hotel property, with plenty of chairs and tables at which to eat or relax.
A coffee station with condiments, cups, and napkins — as well as a microwave oven — was located adjacent to the common area and the lobby.
A variety of different food items were available that were consistent to most other Hampton Inn hotel properties.
Adjacent to the assortment of breads and baked goods was a device to toast or heat them — but please do not put the pastries in the toaster.
Two waffle irons were available with which you could heat up the batter into fresh hot waffles within a couple of minutes — and you could top your waffles with whipped cream, syrup, and other flavored toppings.
Fresh bananas and apples wrapped in cellophane — as well as a mixed fruit station — were available, with this message on a cute sign paying homage to Robert Palmer: “You might as well FACE IT You’re ADDICTED to FRUIT”.
Omelets and French toast were the hot food items offered that day — as well as shredded cheese and other assorted toppings and condiments.
Hot oatmeal, assorted flavors of yogurt, milk, water, hard boiled eggs, orange juice and other assorted beverages, and three varieties of cold breakfast cereal were available — with this message on a cute sign paying homage to George Alan O’Dowd, who is more popularly known as lead singer Boy George of the musical group Culture Club: “Juice it up, before you GO GO”.
The view from the room was neither the best or worst I had ever seen, as I had a view of Rockford Street and the parking lot…
…as well as plenty of business establishments and more parking lots.
…but in the distance was the aforementioned water tower near the boyhood home of Andy Griffith.
Mount Airy is located in northern North Carolina fewer than four miles from the border which the state shares with Virginia. Although United States Highway 52 — which is also known as Andy Griffith Parkway — is the main highway which serves Mount Airy, Interstate 74 and Interstate 77 pass nearby the city.
I am not exactly a fan of The Andy Griffith Show; but I do not mind watching the venerable television show either if it happens to be on — and since I happened to be driving from the greater District of Columbia metropolitan area towards the Atlanta area anyway, I was curious and thought I would stop by Mount Airy, as it was on my way…
…but if you really enjoyed watching The Andy Griffith Show, then you can spend at least a couple of days in Mount Airy if you decide to partake in what was already mentioned in this article — as well as such things as the Andy Griffith Museum; or a statue of Andy Taylor and his son Opie Taylor which was erected thanks to the TV Land television network as only two of many other options.
You can take a tour of Mount Airy in a replica police car similar to the ones seen on The Andy Griffith Show with Mayberry Squad Car Tours which cost $40.00 per full car of up to a maximum of five passengers. The tour covers many of the popular attractions of Mount Airy — such as the Mayberry Replica Courthouse and the antique vehicles at Wally’s Service Station — and takes between 30 minutes and 45 minutes.
As for the Hampton Inn Mount Airy hotel property, the room in which I stayed was quite clean and comfortable — but it is still typical for a Hampton Inn hotel property; so do not expect anything extraordinary or unusual. It is located only approximately 1.5 miles or so south southwest from downtown Mount Airy; and almost a mile from the boyhood home of Andy Griffith.
Hampton Inn Mount Airy
2029 Rockford Street
Mount Airy, North Carolina 27030
All photographs ©2018 by Brian Cohen.