Mount Airy News

Local Youth Take History Awards

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For the ninth year in a row, local students brought home awards from the state Tar Heel Junior Historians Conference in Raleigh.

The Jesse Franklin Pioneers Tar Heel Junior Historians Club at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History traveled to the North Carolina State Museum of History recently for the competition. They participated in workshops on topics from the Freedom Riders to quilt-making and learned the outcome of the state-wide competitions.

In the end, Alexavier Pell, Walker York, and Kieran Slate, all sixth graders, and Brooks Harold, James Caudill and Tucker Keck, seventh graders, won the Group Exhibit Contest for their age division. Ava Thomason, sixth grade, Cora Branch, Ellie Edwards, and Savannah Allan, all seventh graders, took second place for Group Literary Contest for their division as well.

Individual awards were won by Ryan Harris, Evan Boyd, Ava Thomason, Cora Branch, James Caudill, and Savannah Allen.

Eighteen students, fourth- seventh grade, dug into various aspects of North Carolina History for the past eight months and created literary, artwork, scrapbook, video, or photographic entries with well-documented research on topics ranging from family links to the Surry tradition of “Breaking Up Christmas,” to the mystery of the Roanoke Colony to the colorful artistry of North Carolina painter Minnie Evans.

The winning entries will be on display in the state museum for the next year.

The club, begun in 2006, is part of the state-wide organization created by the state legislature in 1953 to promote youth interest and involvement in state and local history. Thousands of fourth-twelfth graders participate in nearly 200 clubs in 65 counties. The program is run by the state history museum which hosts about 350 students at the conference each year.

The local club has won multiple awards in its 14-year existence including chapter of the year, advisor of the year, and many group and individual accolades. The Mount Airy franchise of Chick-fil-A has been the club’s business sponsor for several years.

The club will spend the summer working on service projects and teaching visitors old-time games. They’ll begin meeting again in September. Call Kate Rauhauser-Smith, Guest Services Manager at the museum for information. (336) 786-4478.

Winning Entries

Jesse Franklin Pioneers, Intermediate (grades 6-8) Division boys, Alex Pell and Walker York, both sixth grade, Brooks Harold, seventh grade all at Millennium Charter Academy, and James Caudill and Tucker Keck, seventh grade homeschool students. First Place, Exhibit Contest – “Music Goes Civil: The 26th NC Regimental Band”

The group created a museum-style exhibit exploring the many ways music was used by Civil War infantry units and the specific involvement of the Moravian men from Salem’s brass band who became the regimental band for the NC 26th.

The band’s music books, filled with standards of the day as well as original compositions, are the only complete collection of any Confederate unit’s music. It is held by the Moravian Archives in Old Salem. The boys were struck by the use of popular music in the war but came to the conclusion that “hearing music from home might make them feel close to family, even while they were far away.”

Group Intermediate Division girls, Ava Thomason, sixth grade, and Cora Branch, Ellie Edwards, and Savannah Allen, seventh grade all from Millennium Charter Academy. Second Place, Literary Contest – “The Great War”

The girls researched different aspects of World War I and put together a magazine with advertisements, pictures and articles. From the light-hearted zig-zag “Bedazzled” camouflage on battleships to the disturbing effects of trench foot, they brought information together about the war that brought America to the international stage.

Cora Branch, seventh grade, Millennium Charter Academy – First Place, Video Documentary Contest, Intermediate Division – “A Salem Girl”

Written, filmed, produced, and performed by Cora, the 4-minute video shows her packing to go to Salem College in 1913 as we hear the voice-over of a letter she’s written to her dear friend, Bessie Smith. She discusses not only the history of the school, which was the first educational institution for women in America, but the costs and challenges she’d face once there.

This is the fourth year in a row Cora has won first-place with her entry.

Ryan Harris, fifth grade, Franklin Elementary – First Place, Exhibit/Art Context, Elementary Division (grades 4-5) – “Scottish Highlander”

Ryan crafted an 18-inch-tall clay-on-wire sculpture of man dressed in traditional Scots Highland garb, a léine shirt and great kilt. As detailed in his research, Highland Scots made up a significant portion of early North Carolina immigrants settling in the Cape Fear region and filling in the mountain regions after the failed Scottish uprising.

The other four winners were in the Artifact Search category which asks students to choose any item, photograph it, and research its history, composition, use, and significance. As with all entries, it must include an annotated bibliography.

Ava Thomason, sixth grade, Millennium Charter Academy – Family Geography Text Book, 1835

The small geography text has been in her family 185 years and belonged to her great-great-grandfather, Robert Joshua Morris. “My ancestors believed in having a good education …I will pass that belief to future generations.”

Evan Boyd, fourth grade, Jones Elementary – Dale Earnhardt Autograph for Car #15, 1982

This cherished family treasure belongs to Evan’s grandmother, Kaye Davis, matriarch of a family of NASCAR fans. Earnhardt is generally known for his association with the #3 Goodwrench car but this artifact came “during the 2 seasons he drove the #15 Wrangler Jeans car.”

Evan’s entry was chosen by the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame organization for the special Sports History Award.

James Caudill, seventh grade, homeschool – Biltmore Dairy Porch Milk Box

The squat, insulated metal box held home-delivered bottles of milk for his father grandparents, the Andrews of Sparta, North Carolina. His research involved not only his own family’s memories but the closing of the Biltmore Dairy which is now the estate winery.

Savannah Allen, seventh grade, Millennium Charter Academy – Harris Wrench by the Mount Airy Wrench Company, circa 1935

Patented by Mount Airy native Jason Harris in 1932, the adjustable pipe wrench was sold in Ohio and Canada at least. Savannah researched the business’ correspondence in the museum archives. Few are known to exist. The museum has one in collections. She and her family value it for its connection to Mount Airy.

Remember those who gave all

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Our History is a regular column submitted by Kate Rauhauser-Smith, visitor services manager at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, examining the region’s history and some related displays at the museum.

“It is with deep personal concern that I officially inform you that your son, Captain James H. Jones, has been missing in South Viet Nam since 17 Jun 1967.”

The letter every military family dreads was delivered by an officer to Buster and Myrtle Jones on Monday, June 19, 1967. Their son, an Air Force dentist, was one of 56 people aboard a turboprop C130 transport aircraft attempting a takeoff from the An Khê Army Airfield. It crashed at the end of the runway.

“Rescue personnel are on the scene and are checking names of survivors against the passenger manifest. Pending further information your son will be listed officially as missing …,” Major General G.B. Greene.

On Wednesday June 21 their worst fears were realized when they were told their son was among the 34 dead. He was the first Surry County fatality of the Vietnam War.

Born in Surry County, Dr. Jones was an honor graduate from each JJ Jones High School, A&T College, and Howard University. A member of the ROTC, he was commissioned an officer upon enlistment in 1964. At the time of the crash he was just a month shy of his 28th birthday. He left his wife, Gloria Jean Reynolds from Westfield, and their 4-year-old daughter, Icca Vonja, as well as his parents, a brother (Dallas), and several grandparents.

His father created a carefully maintained notebook of clippings, official paperwork, and his letters home. Letters filled with the mundane things that make life normal and connect families. “Jean (who lived near the New Jersey base from which he was deployed) said she was having a little trouble getting the car started.”

He worked with other military dentists and doctors, providing care to service members and South Vietnamese civilians. “How are you all doing? As for myself I am fine. It’s kind of hard to keep up with the days because we work from 7:30-4:30 seven days a week.”

He signed each letter the same way, “Love James.”

This region has a long tradition of military service from the earliest settlements here and it is as strong today as ever with local residents in all branches of the military.

We thank those people willing to stand guard at the door, today and in the past, protecting the interests of America and her allies but Memorial Day is not their day.

Memorial Day is, and has always been, specifically to remember the sacrifice made by those who have died in military service and to contemplate the cost of our freedoms.

The history of Memorial Day is tangled with ceremonies beginning across the country just after the American Civil War. Generally organized by women’s organizations they were solemn occasions with processions of veterans and community members to a cemetery or church where religious services were held and speeches given before wreaths and flowers were laid on graves.

The holiday, which might be held any time in May or early June, was as often called Decoration Day. Elkin tended to hold their observances the first or second weekend in May while Mount Airy’s was generally held in the first week of June.

WWI cost more than 100,000 American military lives. It was only natural for a new generation to became part of the already-established ceremonies. It was an official state holiday in every state by 1890. It wouldn’t be a national holiday until 1968 when it was declared to be the last Monday in May.

And so, tomorrow all Americans will pause in our busy lives as one nation to remember all those who have fallen in service to this country’s military, as is fitting and appropriate. We will remember, for at least a moment, that brave men and women have purchased our freedoms at great personal sacrifice.

The staff and volunteers of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History offer our undying gratitude to them all.

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

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