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I've Endured: Women in Old-Time Music  May 17 - August 17 2024 

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Fri Jul 19 @ 8:00pm - 09:30pm
Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours
Mon Jul 22 @ 9:00am - 01:00pm
Arts and Animals Summer Camp for ages 6-9
Fri Aug 02 @ 8:00pm - 09:00pm
Historic Pilot Mountain Ghost Tours

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

Genealogy Swap Meet Draws a Crowd

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A genealogy swap meet this weekend helped many folks progress with their family histories.  “We’re making a small dent,” said Elder Billie King, of Mount Airy. Hosted by the Surry County Genealogical Association, the event was held Saturday at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.  King brought information about several of her family members who had worked at the North Carolina Granite Corp.  “They helped make and mold that rock,” she said.The granite quarry, a cornerstone of local history, served as a focal point for the third-annual swap meet.

Anyone with any family ties to the quarry was asked to attend as a special guest. “You can see a name of a person on a census record and see they worked there,” said Esther Johnson, president of the local association and event organizer. “This puts a face with those people.” At the swap meet, vendors set up booths with genealogical information to share from their own family trees as well as items such as books or maps. When working on genealogy, “You always have dead ends,” Johnson said. “Places like this might have all that information you’re fighting for.”

By about noon, the crowd had started to pick up at the meet on the museum’s third floor. Sandy Ayers and her son, Matthew Holder, of Reidsville, spent some time at the Patrick County Historical Society’s table, where she was provided with information about joining the Daughters of the American Revolution. “Tracing my family tree I discovered a great-grandfather that was in the Revolutionary War,” she said. “I’m trying to connect the roots.” Ayers said that the swap meet Saturday was her sixth and that she enjoys genealogy. “I know I enjoy it,” Holder added. “I enjoy helping my mom.” Jancie Poplin, of Mount Airy, sat at a table with Mary McGhee, of Pilot Mountian. Poplin sat out a list of last names on a placard in front of a computer. “I’m offering help if anybody has these last names in their family,” she said. Because those names appeared in her own family tree, it might help somebody find new information about their own. “I’ve had several people stop by,” she said. “I’ve got notes I’m going to follow up with later.” Poplin said she’s been involved with the Surry Genealogical Association since about 2010. “I love this,” she said. “This is my number one hobby and pastime.” Swap meets provide the opportunity for fellowship, she said, and to interact with those who share the same interest – some of whom may turn out to be family. “I’m hoping to find long-lost relatives,” Poplin said. “A lot of my family members are dying out. This gives me hope I can reconnect and make new friends.”

In a different area, Winnie Banner, of Mount Airy, had embarked on a similar mission. “I’m the only one left in my family,” she said. “I’m trying to find out about my grandfather. He used to work at the quarry years ago and I didn’t know too much about him.” Banner worked with Cheryl Mosely, a member of the genealogical association, to find some new information. Mosely was stationed at a table set up with computers connected to, where those experienced with the program could help those just starting. They discovered a couple of interesting tidbits, including that Banner’s grandfather’s mother had been named “Pokey.” Mosely noted that the Surry County Genealogical Association’s website has been recently revamped. “We’ve totally redone it so it’s easily accessible now,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of information on there,” that may be of use to those researching in Surry County.

A six-week introductory genealogy course, also led by the genealogical association, will kickoff at the museum next week. “We love doing events like this,” said museum director Matthew Edwards. “Part of our big picture mission is to collect and preserve local history. Events like this really help us achieve that goal on an institutional level but also for individuals and families.” History and genealogy are intertwined and can’t be separated, Edwards noted. “I guess they can be,” he said, “but then it’s just names.”

Swap Meet to feature "The Rock"

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An event next weekend will honor ‘The Rock’ — no, not the professional wrestler and action-movie actor with that nickname — but a big chunk of Mount Airy history, or make that many chunks.  To be exact, the world’s largest open-faced granite quarry — aka North Carolina Granite Corp., and also “The Rock” — is expected to take center stage during a family history and genealogy swap meet at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.

The event, a late-January fixture in recent years which is free and open to the public, is scheduled next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the third floor of the museum at 301 N. Main St. It is sponsored by the museum and the Surry County Genealogical Association.

Usually, it’s an occasion for area residents to compare notes on family links, access information for free via the database and pick up various other historical tidbits. It’s one geared toward experienced genealogists as well as those just getting started in building their trees.  All that will be included again, but next Saturday’s event offers the added attraction of focusing on a cornerstone of local history, literally, the granite quarry. “This year we are asking anyone who has ever had family that worked at our quarry … to come as our special guest that day,” explained Esther Johnson, president of the Surry Genealogical Association. “And we hope they will bring pictures of their family and the quarry and share them,” Johnson added.

Steadfast industry

As textiles have faded over the years locally, North Carolina Granite Corp. has remained an industry as durable as the material it produces. Its roots run deep in local history and have forged strong ties with the community and its people. The granite company site in Flat Rock once was considered a worthless piece of rocky land — but would become a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Records of early Moravian settlers indicate that their millstones came from the quarry, and the company itself dates to the late 1880s. After Thomas Woodruff bought the site, history shows that the versatile local businessman used his marketing expertise to grow the operation tremendously. It really boomed when a railroad line was established to the quarry. This allowed a reliable means for the heavy material to be shipped from the Granite City to distant locations. In the earlier years of North Carolina Granite Corp., master stonecutters from Italy were brought in to ply their skills here, and their descendants still live in the area. Meanwhile, many buildings around the state and nation, including in Washington, D.C., have been constructed with the unique white granite from Mount Airy. Over the years, the quarry has affectionately been known by local residents as “The Rock.”

Something for all

In addition to urging those with ties to North Carolina Granite Corp. to attend Saturday’s event at the museum, an invitation is being extended to anyone who has ever enrolled in a beginners genealogy class sponsored by the museum to come as a special guest. Organizers have sought to provide something of interest to everyone regarding local genealogy and history:

• This includes persons connected with any history or genealogy group being invited to set up at the swap meet to advertise their organizations and sell books, maps, etc. it might have.

. • Authors of books on local history also may offer them for sale. • A regular swap meet attraction in which someone will help attendees look up family names for free on is to be continued this year.

• Examples of DNA analysis, a growing genealogy trend, also are to be on hand to show attendees what’s involved with those.

Wanted: family info

No genealogy forum would be complete without the lifeblood of such events: compiled family histories that can be shared with others. “The big thing will be, everyone is invited and you are asked to bring your genealogy (information) and display it so everyone can make connections and find new family information,” Johnson stressed regarding a process often compared to filling in puzzle pieces. “Sometimes all it takes is one name or one date and it may have been something you have looked for, for years,” she added of how networking with others at a genealogy event can help bridge gaps. “Be sure and bring any old Bibles you have and old letters, and old pictures or diaries or scrapbooks — also old obituaries.”

Those attending are encouraged to use laptops to record information, with a copy machine also to be available for duplication of materials at a small fee. “If you do not know one thing about genealogy or your family, come anyway and what is going on,” Johnson urged in inviting everyone to attend.

A natural tie-in

Museum Director Matt Edwards says it is only natural for the museum to host an event furthering the field of genealogy as well as focusing on a colorful segment of local history.  “I think the inclusion of the granite quarry this year is fantastic,” Edwards said.  The museum is home to archives of North Carolina Granite Corp., including about 2,000 photographs from the company’s files.  “And they are a huge supporter of the museum,” Edwards said.  “So it’s a natural tie.”  Edwards said next Saturday’s event also serves as the kickoff for a six-week introductory genealogy course to be hosted by the museum.

New Twist on Old Artifacts

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Artifacts originating in the area that typically hide in storage away from the public eye have now obtained a new lease on life by inspiring art and being a part of their own exhibit.  Beginning Jan. 21, the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is hosting a special exhibit entitled Art-I-Fact. The purpose of Art-I-Fact is to allow local artists to create works inspired by the museum’s artifacts that aren’t usually on display. Though the pieces and the art they have influenced can be viewed by the public until Feb. 11, the artists were present to show off their work and demonstrate their art on the day of the exhibit’s opening.  In Martin’s opinion, the new exhibit is a great way for the museum to reach out to the community, adding “I love the fact that pieces are being shown that aren’t normally shown and that we can get people to the museum to be inspired by art.” 

Present with her work inspired by a plow, saw, and a photo of a train that once ran through Mount Airy was stained glass artist Gwen Jolley.  For the exhibit, Jolley devoted her talents to creating two pieces, one focused on a plow, and the other focused on a saw mill and the train.  Jolley has been making stained glass for around 20 years. Each creation takes her roughly ten hours. “It’s like a puzzle, but you know where the pieces go,” she joked.  Jolley said before she began working to create art inspired by the artifacts, she had no idea about the significance of the train in Mount Airy’s history. She hopes the new exhibit draws more people to the museum to learn about the city’s history through art, just as she did.

Also lending her talents to the Art-I-Fact exhibit was Glenda Edwards, a beadwork artist.  As stated by Edwards, she has been doing art with beads for about 20 years after picking up the skill from Choctaw Native Americans. Edwards created a necklace by using the Cellini spiral pattern that mimics the curl of an auger found in the museum’s storage.  Inspired by an empty frame, Edwards also fashioned a beaded portrait of a gentlemen which hung in a similar frame. “At some point in the past that frame would have held probably the only picture of someone’s family member, so to me, the frame was just as important as any artifact,” Edwards reflected.

Joe Allen, a practicing blacksmith for close to ten years, focused his skills toward creating a tripod for a kettle found in museum storage and the metal outline of a horse to go along with an antique x-ray machine used for veterinary purposes. “I hope to show that there’s still artists around; a lot is dying art. What I do is dying art,” explained Allen, optimistic the event will be an educational experience for all members of the community, especially local children, and that it will inspire them to participate in art themselves. “Everyone has an artist in them, they just have to find it,” he added.

The work of Aaron Blackwelder, who has been working with pottery since 2000, was also present. He crafted yellow dishes to complement antique kitchen furniture. The exhibit is complete with a station for kids and adults alike to make their own works of art inspired by additional artifacts there.

According to Matthew Edwards, executive director of the museum, the idea for Art-I-Fact came from a similar program held at a South Carolina museum where he worked in the past. “As with all exhibits, the goal [of Art-I-Fact] is to find new and innovative ways to capture people’s imaginations and teach them about history,” Edwards stated. The grant for the exhibit came from the North Carolina Arts Council through the Surry Arts Council, according to Amy Snyder, who serves as the museum’s curator of collections. Edwards is hopeful the museum will be able to add and expand to the program for next year. Though Jan. 21 was the last day all artists would be present together at the exhibit, each artist will be at the museum in weekends following until May to host workshops on the art of their expertise. For more information on the Art-I-Fact exhibit or the workshops hosted by the artists, call (336) 786-4478 or visit

Local residents honored in the spirit of MLK

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A former city employee was honored at a service in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday.  At an annual event at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on Saturday, Anise Hickman, who spent for 26 years in human resources for the city, received the 2017 Dreamer Award for the Mount Airy-Surry County branch of the National Association of University Women.  Past recipients of the award include Jimmy Stockton, who founded God’s Helping Hands free store, Faye Carter, the long-time president of the local NAACP chapter, and Melva Houston Tucker, who organized a decades-long tradition of serving a community Thanksgiving meal.  Hickman was also named an “In the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” honoree for leadership.  According to Cheryl Yellow Fawn Scott, who made one of the two presentations, Hickman was in charge of employee benefits for the city. She earned multiple degrees and certifications prior to and throughout her time with the city, and she managed to stay heavily involved with the Surry County branch of the NAACP throughout it all.  “I have to thank God first,” said Hickman. “He is the center of my life and the center of my joy.”  Hickman went on to thank her children, other family members and friends for their support throughout her life’s journey.  “They have always supported me,” said Hickman, recalling her days earning a degree while balancing school with a full-time job and a family.

Others in the community also were recognized.  Clinton Brim was recognized for the unity he has shown throughout his life. In Brim’s statement he recalled going into the U.S. Army during Vietnam. It was the Patrick County, Virginia, native’s first experience with racial integration.  After serving alongside black and white soldiers alike, Brim returned home to segregation, where, as he recalled, black people entered local establishments through the side or back door. That is, until one day, when some black men wanted “a cold one” and walked through the front door of a local bar.  Though some weren’t happy, according to Brim, that bar was no longer segregated. 

Vera Smith Reynolds, who recently made a run for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives, was the first African-American to graduate from Blue Ridge High School in Patrick County. Her life-long career in education led the group to name her an honoree in the area of mentorship.  In the area of character,

Ron Snow was recognized by the group. Snow, another army veteran, started the Meter Masters Track Club in Mount Airy and once served as NAACP president.  In Snow’s statement, he recalled attending the second march Dr. King led on Washington D.C. 

Clint Carter entered into the service of his country during the Korean War. He also served tours in Vietnam throughout his 23-year army career. The Purple Heart recipient was the group’s honoree in the area of sacrifice.

Scott called Dr. Carolyn Watkins a foundation builder as she announced the educator as an honoree. Watkins started Bright Beginnings Preschools, taught in the Surry County Schools and was a professor at Winston-Salem State University and Surry Community College.  Watkins recalled how unequal the theory of “separate but equal” was in education, noting at the black school she attended that students lacked appropriate supplies and studied from used, outdated books. However, innovative and concerned teachers at that school built a foundation for Watkins, allowing her to go out into the world and build foundations for youngsters in Surry County and the surrounding area.

Jackie Snow was named an “In the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” honoree for the perseverance he has shown throughout his lifetime. He, too, served in Vietnam; his clerical skills earned him an office position instead of being placed in the infantry.  He went on to work desk jobs throughout his civilian career, and he became the first African-American claims auditor at an insurance company in Columbia, South Carolina.  Snow said he once had a teacher who told him, “Never put yourself in a position where you’ll have to use the ignorance stick.” He took that advice, and rather than dig ditches, he armed himself with education throughout his life and advanced in his career.

“Bishop Tony Carter is the absolute finest man I know,” said Bill Hall as he presented the bishop’s award in the area of faith.  Hall said Carter has spent a lifetime in the service of others, and that’s exactly what he was doing on Saturday.  “Bishop Carter is attending to a friend in need,” said Hall as Eric Strickland accepted the award on Carter’s behalf.

The group also recognized the work of some youngsters. The group called attention to William and Sadiq Pilson’s work in the area of faith at their church and Dante Watson’s educational accomplishments. Those in attendance paid tribute to Keyshawn and Kendrick Oliver for their annual work at a community Thanksgiving dinner.

Scott drew inspiration from King as she explained the work of so many in civil rights.  “He (King) always prayed for the pilots when he was traveling,” said Scott. “He also said a prayer for the ground crew.”  Scott said there are a lot of members of the ground crew in the civil rights movement. While there work is important, they often go unrecognized.  While the accomplishments of locals were honored at the 12th-annual program, the 100 or so in attendance gathered to honor and celebrate the spirit of King. Brack Llewellyn provided a little history of the civil rights movement and King.  Llewellyn said King worked a farm job as a teenager in Connecticut. He was astonished to find a world, as King wrote, without racism north of Washington D.C. Many years later, the Montgomery bus boycott would jettison King into the spotlight, and he would eventually become one of the great faces associated with the civil rights movement in America.

The program also featured musical selections from multiple performers. Some selections were somber, and others moved the entire room to clap along.  Scott said in the past there has been more music at the annual event. However, the 2017 event featured more honorees, a trade-off Scott was happy to make in order to recognize more people making accomplishments in the local community.  A candle was lit for both Christ and in King’s honor. Refreshments followed the event, which was about two and a half hours in duration.

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