Plan A Visit

The Museum is open from 10am - 5pm Monday through Saturday, Sunday 1-4pm

Changing Exhibits

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

Upcoming Events

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

A Night at the Museum, llamas in pajamas

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Some niche marketing and a little free association rhyming were the tools used by a local institution to build on an existing New Year’s Eve event.

“We’ve been doing the badge raising for five years now, and we’re always looking for a way to build on that,” said Matt Edwards, executive director of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.

The “badge raising” refers to a large, lighted sheriff’s badge that is levitated up the side of the museum’s clock tower at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, an event which references New York’s Times Square ball drop combined with an homage to “The Andy Griffith Show” and Mount Airy native Andy Griffith’s role as the sheriff of Mayberry on the show.

“Nine years ago, when we started with New Year’s Eve, we were the only thing in town,” said Edwards, “but this year there are seven or eight events just in Mount Airy, and even more as you go out into the county.”

Indeed, within a block or two of the museum, there was a black tie Gatsby party at Thirsty Souls Brewing, a masquerade at Soho Bar and Grill and an elegant dinner service at Old North State. Cross Creek Country Club was hosting a Habitat for Humanity gala and Edwards said the need for traditional New Year’s Eve events geared to adult revelry was being met.

“We can’t compete with the black-tie galas,” said Edwards. “We wanted something to tie in better with our badge raising, that was a good way to reach out to families.”

According to Edwards, there are plenty of things for adults to do on New Year’s Eve, and there are things for children, but there was nothing for families.

“That is the need that was not being met,” he said. “We wanted something for the people who would otherwise be home in their pajamas.”

“A pajama party,” suggested someone in a brainstorming session. Edwards doesn’t remember who had the original idea, but a little free-associating quickly led the group from pajamas to llamas, and it wasn’t long until they landed at llamas in pajamas, and they had a theme.

“It’s everywhere,” said museum administrative assistant Karen Nealis at the front desk, as she welcomed patrons and passed out party hats and paraphernalia at the beginning of the evening. “Everywhere,” she repeated.

From dance parties alternating with ghost stories in the museum’s brick-paved basement, a space perfect for both activities as the bricks on the floor (salvaged from a 1990s fire) gave the feelings of a medieval dungeon, to the top of the clock tower, from which balloons were dropped at ten o’clock for early bed-timers, and the badge was raised outside at midnight to cap off the night, the whole museum was in play for the evening.

The excitement crested earlier than expected when someone somewhere set off the fire alarm, and Edwards went outside to greet Mount Airy’s Bravest, saying, “All the fire trucks are here.” Shortly thereafter, the firefighters ascertained that the museum was not on fire, and the evening’s regularly scheduled events resumed.

A kid’s PJ contest at 9 p.m. in the children’s area on the third floor was won by four-year-old Addison Etringer. Activity quickly moved downstairs to the courtyard when Greg Hall arrived with Peepicheep and Sir Spotsalot Pongo, two llamas in pajamas who were the guests of honor for the evening. They began posing for llama selfies shortly before 9:30 p.m. and soon began to draw a crowd, as revelers exiting Old North State were drawn across the street for a photo and some “llama sugar,” as Hall called it.

When someone posed with one or both of the llamas, Hall would give the llamas a treat and say “sugar,” at which point the llamas would dutifully give the person beside them a sloppy llama kiss on the cheek, a process enjoyed by some folks more than others, but which never failed to bring loud cheers and laughter from everyone standing outside of llama-smooching range.

Peepicheep and Pongo later served as ceremonial badge raisers in their capacity as guests of honor. After the badge was raised, spontaneous dancing broke out in the courtyard, and 2019 was underway.

Volunteers continue tradition

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Volunteering is a fundamental American value. One that has built a nation from a ragtag group of loosely connected colonies populated by people from many nations, religions, languages, and ethnicities. A nation that has led and served the world for a hundred years.

It is a value the people of this region have embodied from the earliest settlements here.

This week the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History thanks and celebrates the many folks who’ve created a legacy of volunteerism that gave birth to and grew the museum and who continue the work in a multitude of ways.

It’s always dangerous to start ‘naming names’ in such conversations because every contribution is important and there is simply no way to mention everyone who’s given time, energy, and resources across three decades since the museum’s inception. But it’s important to recognize the vital role volunteers have played to make this institution possible.

From our founding members to the folks who staff the gift shop, board members to tour guides, hundreds of thousands of hours have been donated to tell the stories and preserve the treasures of the region. Some have been educators or historians, others retired lawyers, executives, retail workers, and housewives. One thing they all have in common has been their love of community and the museum.

There is a long tradition of working together in counties of this region. During the French and Indian War they sought shelter together, helping neighbors reach Fort Dobbs below Elkin or Bethabara near Winston-Salem. As communities grew people coordinated efforts for large tasks such as fighting fires.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with forming the first volunteer fire department in 1736. His model remains in force to this day as 70 percent of America’s fire fighters are still volunteers. Surry County has 16 volunteer fire departments.

Community service organizations such as the YMCA, the Red Cross, Rotary International, and ‘ladies’ aid societies’ were spawned by social movements in the 19th century. As members of such clubs, local residents coordinated efforts to improve education, medical care, and sanitation. During WWI they supplied canned goods and sweaters to the military and created a fund to ensure the families of soldiers would be taken care of in the absence of the primary breadwinners.

The ladies of the Mount Airy Presbyterian church, under the leadership of Mrs. J.L. Gilmer and Mrs. W.E. Merritt, organized a sewing circle to raise money to build their new church. Folks could pay a small fee to have “plain or fancy needlework, plain machine work, embroidery or button-holes” done as reported in the Mount Airy News Sept. 26, 1912.

“There are so many little ways to show kindness,” wrote Mrs. F.L. Townsend in the News on Mar. 2, 1904, encouraging people to do service in their neighborhoods in any way they could find. “I wonder that more of us do not spend time in these little things.”

Surry residents do spend time doing for their community, in large ways and small. From the libraries to Head Start, the Jones Family Resource Center to, yes, the museum, folks in this region work hard to help their neighbors and keep the community working.

My Grandma Rauhauser used to say, “Many hands make light work.” She was right. Thank you, with all our hearts, to the many, many hands who’ve done the work here, but most especially for the honor of your friendship and dedication.

Surry County Election Tradition

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I remember watching the election results with my great grandmother as President Richard M. Nixon trounced South Dakota Sen. George McGovern in the 1972 election. I felt sorry for the senator, he carried only one state, Massachusetts, not even his home state. Bless his heart.  Of course, at 10 I had no idea what was at stake or what motivated anyone to vote aside from the Vietnam War that was the backdrop of my life to that point. In my family there has never been any question about whether I would vote. It is simply what you do, an action as unquestioned in my family as breathing or eating Grandma Rauhauser’s pie.

As I’ve learned about our nation’s history, I’ve come to value that vote even more, and the people who fought for my right to do so. Voting is a privilege that hasn’t always been available to all citizens. Who gets to vote and when is largely decided by the states. When the nation was young, most states limited voting to white men who owned property. This was true in North Carolina until 1856, the last state to do away with property requirements.Voting was set in November during the 1800s when most Americans were farmers. This ensured the harvest was secure and beat winter storms that would make travel difficult. As in most of the country, Surry residents were spread across the county which meant people came to polling places in Mount Airy, Dobson, and Elkin on foot or by horse, a journey that might take all day and require an overnight stay.

Tuesday was chosen to allow travel on Monday with voting and travel home the next day which avoided Sunday worship and Wednesday market day. The requirement that it be “the first Tuesday after the first Monday” of the month was set in 1845 to give members of the Electoral College enough time to travel to the capital in time to finalize elections as laid out in law. Today, of course, voting is much less inconvenient, taking only a few minutes for most of us at locations within our neighborhoods or communities..

Surry County has a pretty reliable track record for voter turnout since 2000, according to the county Board of Elections; 66 to 70 percent in presidential years and 40 to 45 percent for the mid-terms like this year. Historically, the county (and state) seems to have been Democratic (called the Democratic Conservative Party at first) much to the concern of the Surry Weekly Visitor newspaper, a Republican-leaning publication in 1872. They warned readers to beware Democrats handing out ballots said to be Republican but with Democratic candidates listed to fool illiterate and partially literate men. The region was still mostly Democratic when they sent both John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to the White House in 1960 and ’64 but they followed the Southern shift to the Republican party in the mid-20th century going for Nixon in ’68 and ‘72. Watergate caused a backstep for Republicans, however, and the county “cleaned house” in 1976 with the election of Democrat Jimmy Carter to the Oval Office and local Democrats such as then-high school social studies teacher Dennis “Bud” Cameron to many local offices.

The Mount Airy News ran a pointed front-page piece of satire on Sept. 16, 1876, meant as exaggeration but true at its core, then and today; “…my dear fellow-citizens, male and female, of every condition, the great day is coming and on that great day I want to see you march up, walk up, run up, roll up, tumble up, and crowd up to the ballot box. Never mind torn flounce, and muddied ruffies, and crumpled crinoline and mashed toes and skinned shins, never mind muddy boots and dirty shirts, never mind the sweet perfume, go forward in the exercise of your glorious rights of suffrage.”

for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with 22 years in journalism before joining the museum staff. She and her family moved to Mount Airy in 2005 from Pennsylvania where she was also involved with museums and history tours. She can be reached at or by calling 336-786-4478 x229

Masks out, harvest in, at Museum gala

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Mount Airy Museum of Regional History’s fall fundraising gala has a new take on what’s “in” and what’s “out.”

Out — masks and casino gambling.

In — the first of two 25th birthdays along with an inter-generational take on the fall harvest.

The museum has tried for the past few years to find the perfect replacement for its popular Casino Royale gala which was discontinued in 2016 when state authorities called museum director Matt Edwards days before the event to tell him the long-running event violated state law.

That year, the event proceeded without gaming. In 2017, the event was replaced by a masquerade ball.

“This year,” said Edwards, “we’re not so close to Halloween, so the board chose a Fall Harvest Gala as the theme for the fall fundraiser, which will also mark the museum’s first 25th anniversary.

The museum was established 25 years ago: in 1993, but the doors did not open to the public until 1995, thereby setting up 2025 for another silver anniversary.

Edwards said people have been inquiring what the dress code is going to be, to which he has been replying, “The word ‘gala’ in the name implies you should put a little effort into getting dressed up. I think it’s appropriate to do that.”

Unlike most area non-profits, the museum operates on a calendar fiscal year, according to Edwards, and this event is make or break to keep the museum’s finances on the black side of the ledger as the year ends, shoring up funds for operating expenses.

Two new things for 2018 will be Interlam taking on the mantle of title sponsor, and the day of the gala, which has been moved to Saturday from Friday.

“We constantly butt up with high school football on Friday. But on Saturday, there’s college football. We’re going with Saturday this year, so everybody doesn’t have to rush around after work on Friday, get here, have a cocktail, eat dinner, and rush home. We’re hoping Saturday will accommodate the schedules of some folks who might not have made it on Friday. And we hope they’ll relax and stay and dance and enjoy themselves after dinner.”

The music and dancing part of the equation has been successfully resolved. The band Continental Divide will return after a successful engagement in 2017.

“Everyone liked them so much, we brought them back,” said Edwards.

The band’s lead singer, Gene Pharr, was inducted into the Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame in 2016. But the band ventures out past beach music. According to Edwards, they play a balanced set that includes several genres, including covers of recent hits.

“They play a little jazz early in the evening, but as the night gets going, they play whatever makes the crowd get involved.”

Though Edwards freely concedes the Fall Harvest Gala doesn’t have much in the way of a gimmick — “It’s a dinner-dance; There’s nothing groundbreaking there” — he is counting on the museum’s inter-generational appeal to make it work.

“Our events are unique in the diversity in ages we get to them. We have been trying to attract a younger clientele. It’s part of our bigger program here at the museum. We want to capture kids’ attention when they’re about this big,” said Edwards, gesturing at a height somewhere waist and knee high.

“All of the programs we aim at children are focused on getting children accustomed to being museum patrons at a young age. Getting kids affiliated when they’re young will set them up to be comfortable in museums as they get older. And with kids, you get their parents, which are usually younger.”

Edwards said it’s sometimes challenging for folks on a budget — and younger people often have less disposable income — to get them to a charity fundraiser.

“But for folks who see the value of investing in the museum, it will work,” he said.

Event tickets are $65 and drawdown tickets are $100. A couples special is $200 and includes two event tickets and one drawdown tickets, a savings of $30.

The drawdown has a cash prize of $6,000 plus a few $100 prizes along the way. Drawdown ticket holders do not have to be present to win, but to split a ticket, the physical ticket must be present.

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History’s Fall Harvest Gala will be Saturday, Sept. 15, from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Dinner at 7:30, music and dancing at 8, and final drawdown drawing from 10:30 until 11. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are available at the museum. Call 336-786-4478.

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