Andy Griffith Fan or Not, Every Southerner Should Pay a Visit to Mount Airy, North Carolina
If you watch binge watch enough episodes of The Andy Griffith Show you may find yourself wondering about moving to Mayberry—or at least vacationing there. After all, it’s the quintessential Southern small town with a soda fountain for sipping malts, the Snappy lunch counter for grabbing a pork chop sandwich, and Floyd’s Barbershop for catching up on the local gossip (not that a nice Southerner would gossip, but sometimes you just can’t help but overhear). Before you start searching for B&Bs in Mayberry, there’s something you should know—it doesn’t exist. Not exactly anyway. Instead of Mayberry, you’ll have to head to Mount Airy, North Carolina, instead. It’s the birthplace of Andy Griffith, reportedly served as the inspiration for Mayberry, and a charming Southern city in its own right that is well worth a trip whether you’re a fan of the show or not.
Mount Airy was founded as a former stagecoach stop in the 1700s, and as the local granite (it’s home to the largest open-faced granite quarry in the world), lumber, and farming business grew, so did the town. Learn more about the town’s history at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, which is housed in a former mercantile store on Main Street. It tells the story of how “the hollow”, as the region is known, came to be the city it is today.
Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mount Airy and Surry County became a popular stopping point for musicians bringing their banjos and fiddles to play for the locals. The Earle Theatre opened in 1938 as a venue for bluegrass shows, theatrical productions, and then eventually a movie house. Now, the theatre still hosts live music, and is the home of the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, which works to preserve, promote, and protect Surry County old-time Music.
Mount Airy has a vibrant theater scene, too, thanks to two venues: The Andy Griffith Playhouse sits in Griffith’s old elementary school. It was named for the TV star in the early 1970s and now hosts plays, musicals, and dance performances. Alternatively, head to the Blackmon Amphitheatre—made from Mount Airy granite, of course—which hosts music and performances throughout the year.
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Fans of the old sideshow circuit may also want to swing by the grave of the famed Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker whose final resting place is in the White Plains Baptist Church Cemetery. Many of their many, many descendants (they married sisters and had a shocking 21 children between them) still live in the Mount Airy area.
Nature lovers can stretch their legs at Westwood Park or play a round of disc golf or two, tour the quiet grounds of The Blue House, or head to Pilot Mountain – or as fans of the show might know it, Mount Pilot – which became a National Natural Landmark in 1976. Fans of more leisurely pursuits should note that Mount Airy is home to several wineries.
Of course fans of The Andy Griffith Show will find a lot to love in Mount Airy, too. They can pay homage to the sheriff and his son, Opie (played by future director Ron Howard) by stopping by the statue of them that stands on Rockford Street. The statue is identical to the statue of the fictional father and son that stands in Raleigh, the state capital. Why are there two Andy and Opie statues in one state? According to Roadside America, it’s because TVLand, who commissioned the work of art, slated the statue for the big city of Raleigh, but Andy Griffith fans raised such a ruckus about its rightful spot being in Mount Airy that TVLand made a second statue and placed it in Mount Airy in September 2004.
The other mandatory stop for fans of the TV show is The Andy Griffith Museum, which features the world’s largest collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia. Located next to the Andy Griffith Playhouse and a half-mile from Andy’s boyhood home, which is available to rent for the night, the museum houses items collected by childhood friend Emmett Forrest, including the iconic “Sheriff” and “Justice of the Peace” signs from the show.