By Debi Lander
North Carolinians may call it Mount Airy, but it’s still Mayberry to me. Imagine cruising down Main Street in a 1962 Ford Galaxie squad car. That memory lane transported me into a 1960s time capsule. Siren blaring, we cruised past white-stone buildings, the old Earle Movie Theater, a hardware store, Floyd’s barbershop, and Snappy Lunch. My driver, Allen Burton, a life-long resident of Mount Airy, points out that Andy Griffith actually grew up here. “The Andy Griffith Show,” a popular ‘60s television show starring Griffith, was set in Mayberry, a fictitious Mount Airy, N.C.
The town offers nostalgic scenes — manicured neighborhoods with pretty postcard homes, where children can still bike safely to a friend’s house. Why I bet you could still borrow a cup of sugar to bake a batch of homemade cookies served up like Aunt Bea’s.
The childhood home of Griffith, a small, one-story bungalow is available as an overnight rental. His parents lived there until Andy moved them to Hollywood. Griffith kept a lifelong friendship with childhood pal Emmett Forrest. Forrest returned the favor with the town highlight, the Andy Griffith Museum.
Allen relays bits of history about the town and its famous landmark, the world’s largest open-face granite quarry that still operates today.
Jumping out of the squad car, a bit less fidgety that Deputy Fife, brings you to photo-worthy Wally’s Service Station, built in 1937. Wally’s stands next to a replica of the Mayberry Courthouse. Visitors can sit behind Andy’s desk, type on the vintage typewriter, and pretend to place phone calls through the operator. The two memorable jail cells (town drunk Otis’s home away from home) still stand across from the room. Like Otis, you can lock yourself in.
Floating in Mayberry’s easy atmosphere took me all the way back to childhood. Don’t count the years, but Baby Boomers like me grew up with Opie — Andy’s son on the show, played by Ron Howard, who left Mayberry behind to become an acclaimed movie director and producer. I still recall the nervous, ineffective antics of Don Knotts as Barney Fife, girlfriend Thelma Lou, Floyd the barber, and, of course, Goober and Gomer Pyle, the mechanics.
The Andy Griffith Museum offers a small gem packed with memorabilia. A bronze statue of Andy and Opie heading for the fishing hole stands outside. It’ll get you whistling the show’s theme song. The inside features original cast costumes and set props. Iconic signs from the show’s courthouse doors read “Sheriff” and “Justice of the Peace” and the original items from Sheriff Taylor’s office remain on display, with video clips as background. The museum memorializes Andy’s career from his early radio days to his role as Matlock in a 1986 – 95 television series
Rerun Fan Club members descend upon Mount Airy each September for Mayberry Days to celebrate the down-home town and show. They spend hours in the museum, which the less dedicated can do in 45 – 60 minutes.
Other sites of note include the Mayberry Distillery, run by Van McCoy, surprisingly a retired monk and another hometown boy. I found his tour a hoot, and not just for the generous moonshine tastings. The Mayberry Motor Inn dedicates a room to the late Frances Bavier — “Aunt Bee.” A window inside the inn provides the portal to the “warm and fuzzy” she brought to every situation.
Remember Mt. Pilot? Actual Pilot Mountain State Park, nearby, invites a drive to the top and a hike around “the Knob.” Views of the Yadkin Valley, a booming wine region, are spectacular. A getaway to the area featuring mountains, bluegrass music, Mayberry, and Merlot makes a budget-friendly but memorable escape.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander
Andy Griffith’s original in desk in the museum