There are plenty of cities whose tourism is based on an historic figure or the cities place in history. But few have done so much with so little as Mount Airy, North Carolina. The town is the birthplace of Andy Griffith, a celebrity but hardly an historic figure, and the basis of their tourism is that the Andy Griffith show, and the fictional town of Mayberry it depicts is actually based on Mount Airy.
The community holds an annual “Mayberry Days” celebration during the last weekend of September; 30,000 attended in 2009, and 50,000 were expected for the show’s 50th Anniversary in 2010. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro estimates the town receives $5 million each year as a result.
There are a number of specific references – like the Blue Bird Café, Floyd’s Barber Shop and Snappy Lunch which are obvious and still remain in business all these years later. But the town has come a long way from the days of Andy’s youth in the 1930s. Today it’s really just a town-sized tourist trap, but a successful, quaint and actually pretty wonderful trap.
Andy Griffith Museum
Our first stop was the Andy Griffith Museum. Born in Mt. Airy in 1926, Griffith was quickly enamored by music and theater, but chose a more traditional path getting a music degree and teaching high school for a few years in neighboring Goldsboro, NC. But soon, the entertainment bug bit and he packed up and headed off to California to start a career as a comedian and actor. In time, he would become one of the most adored characters, Andy Taylor, on his own sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show,” and later as “Matlack.”
The museum is a large, not so well-lit, room filled with Andy Griffith memorabilia collected by his personal friend Emmett Forest over the last 25 years, and many of the items in the museum were personally donated by Andy himself. The items cover everything from his childhood in Mt. Airy to his final television role as Matlock, as well as a number of items donated by other stars on the show including Don Knotts.
After perusing the museum, we decided the best way to get the full “Mayberry experience” was to pay $35 for a Mayberry Squad Car tour. This exclusive driving tour begins at Wally’s Fillin’ Station and takes you around town to see all the “Mayberry” sites like the Blue Bird Diner, Floyds Barber shop, Snappy Lunch, Andy’s original home place as well as a great viewing spot to the Mt. Airy Granite Mine.
Mayberry Squad Car Tour
Our driver appropriately began the tour by sounding the old-fashioned siren and in his best off-key Barney Fife voice yelled “Citizens Arrest, Citizens Arrest!” – a line from one of our favorite episodes, and quickly shared with us that he is a lifelong resident of Mt. Airy and would never want to live anywhere else.
Our first stop was the North Carolina Granite Corporation mine, where our tour guide’s “daddy” worked for over forty years. There are larger pit quarries throughout the world but no larger open face quarries. In fact, the mine is over one mile long and, according to our guide, can seen from outer space.
Then we drove down “historic” Main Street and our guide pointed out many of the locations actually mentioned in the show – Bluebird Diner, Floyd’s Barber Shop and Snappy Lunch. Snappy was already closed for the day as they are only open for breakfast and lunch. Apparently Snappy is the place to go for pork chop sandwiches – maybe next time.
We finally drove through to Andy Griffith’s boyhood home, which has been restored as an authentic looking bed and breakfast. Andy did not live in the hose for very long, in fact it was for only a short time in his pre- and teen years when his family could finally afford to purchase a home. Today Griffith now lives in Mateo, SC (near the Outer Banks) with his second wife.
After our tour, we walked Main Street, checking out a few of their shops and stopped for a piece of pie at the Bluebird. We greatly suggest you visit Mt. Airy during Mayberry Days.