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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

Thu Jun 13 @ 9:00am - 01:00pm
Imagineering Camp for ages 6-9
Fri Jun 14 @ 8:00pm - 09:30pm
Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours
Wed Jun 19 @ 4:00pm - 07:00pm
Juneteenth Celebration

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

Cigar box guitar workshop set Saturday

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Consider it something of an encore for the “seegar geetar.”

Because of its success last year, officials at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History are bringing back a program designed to help preserve the musical heritage of the region — the cigar box guitar workshop.

This year’s second annual event, which will see attendees leave with their very own hand-crafted musical instrument, is set for Saturday, Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Registration is $100 for the general public and $75 for museum members, according to museum director Matt Edwards.

“The registration fee includes everything,” he said. “It includes all the materials, instruction, coursework and even lessons in how to play to wrap up the day.”

Last year, the museum hosted the workshop as a way to complement its Luthier’s Craft exhibit, which closed in the spring.

But the workshop’s success led Edwards to try it a second time.

“Last year’s event was fantastic,” he said. “We sold out the number of spaces available. Because it’s such a hands-on activity, we have to limit the class size to 10. It sold out last year and everyone had a fantastic time. I suspect some of the attendees last year will be back this time.”

Edwards said he is trying to create more annual programs at the museum.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been trying to add in more recurring programming,” he said. “This one has been very successful, and the other we’ve continued is the Batik egg workshop we host around Easter.”

The museum director said the current focus on traditional music makes the workshop a must-attend for music lovers.

“If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to experiment with the traditional music movement going on these days, this is a great first step,” he said, “and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than going out and buying an instrument, plus, you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve built your instrument yourself.”

The cigar box guitar came about out of necessity, according to the museum director.

“The cigar box instrument is a fairly old tradition,” he said. “People who couldn’t afford to purchase commercially-made instruments actually went out and made their own, and the cigar box made an easy conduit to build the body of these instruments. It was a ready-made component that many people had around.”

Edwards called the cigar box guitar a “gateway instrument.”

“Many of the luthiers we worked with for last year’s Luthier’s Craft exhibit actually started by building cigar box instruments,” he said. “This is a pretty common gateway craft that leads to the more refined instruments they’re building now as professionals.”

And in today’s breakneck world, many craftsmen are returning to their roots.

“Today, there has been a revival of interest in cigar box instrument making, and there are blues musicians out there who are playing them,” he said. “They’re really fascinating pieces of functional art.

“Cigar box guitars can even be fitted with pick-ups that will allow them to be played both electronic and acoustically,” Edwards said. “And one of the great things about them is they’re made with a minimal number of specialty parts. Other than the tuning keys and corner braces, pretty much everything you need to build one is readily available at the local hardware store.”

The workshop will be conducted by Mike Lowe, whom Edwards describes as a “local folklorist, musician and artist.”

“He’s the perfect person to instruct this workshop,” Edwards said.

Limited space is available, so Edwards said advance registration is encouraged.

For more information call the museum at 336-786-4478.

History talk opens new museum law enforcement exhibit

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The Surry County Law Enforcement History Exhibit opened at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History Saturday with a history talk titled “Countdown to Tragedy? 1972 Surry County Sheriff’s Department Hostage Standoff.” The event was an example of history shared is history remembered.

The talk included first-hand accounts of the standoff, which was featured by national news media. Hostages and officers in attendance were David Beal, C.R. “Ronnie” Davis, Mike Hensley, Wallace Creed, Mitchell Davis, Ila White and C.R. “Pete” Gillespie. Justin Stirewalt served as moderator for the history talk.

Museum Executive Director Matthew Edwards credited the work of Stirewalt’s own personal collection of law enforcement memorabilia for forming the bulk of the exhibit.

“Historically, a lot of the gear for law enforcement had to be purchased by the officers themselves,” said Stirewalt. “Up until the mid-1970s sheriff’s deputy’s had to buy their own cars. You’d be surprised what turns up in people’s closets.  Some departments have been holding on to items, but a great deal of the early history has been lost. What is here is a snapshot of the profession from the 1950s to late 1980s.”

He said law enforcement training early on was mostly what officers could learn on the street compared to training standards today. Stirewalt said Basic Law Enforcement Training now involves 600 hours of training. He opened the talk by thanking the packed room for “coming out to see what was in your closets.”

Panelists White, Davis, Creed and Hensley were hostages in the incident which occurred in October of 1972. Roy Duncan had returned to the office after filing a missing persons report for his wife, Faye.

White said he returned, casually carrying a shotgun as if he was going to register the weapon, which was a common practice then. She said Duncan pointed the gun at her and demanded help finding his wife. Staffer Karen Allen, who was also on duty, calmly pushed the alarm pedal. Creed heard the alarm dispatched and responded to the call, entering the office through a side door.

“He was sitting behind the desk with a shotgun when I came in,” recalled Creed. “He told me to give him my pistol and there was nothing else I could do.” Davis was the next deputy to arrive. Davis explained how Duncan later ordered him to “go get a pill to keep him awake” and then, suspecting a trick, made him take half the capsule with scalding hot coffee.

Frustration was evident as Davis recalled how he was powerless to help his partner, who later left and came back with balloons to comfort a 4-year-old girl who accompanied Duncan and made everyone nervous by playing with the cocked shotgun Duncan held. All agreed they were certain someone was going to be shot accidentally. Creed had been given another pistol he concealed in his back pocket.

Meanwhile, the area around the office filled with crowds, media, sharpshooters and officers from surrounding departments. Eventually, some hostages were released. Faye Duncan was located and brought to the scene. Prior to this Beal, who was a State Bureau of Investigation agent, heard the call and helped officers with his knowledge of Mount Airy to help direct the overall strategy.

Officers who had brought Faye Duncan from High Point arrived and in short order Duncan agreed to give up pistols and the shotgun. The two were allowed to talk and reportedly at 1:52 that afternoon, Duncan was escorted out to the patrol car and the standoff was over.

The exhibit includes items from Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Surry County Constable, Mount Airy Police Department, Elkin Police Department, Pilot Mountain Police Department, Dobson Police Department, Surry County E-911 Communications, Surry Community College Campus Police, Surry County Animal Control, and Boggs Patrol Service.

Thsi exhibit will run through mid February 2015. Interested persons may visit for museum hours.

Bringing History to Life-Junior historians club kicks off today

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Without looking at the past, it’s sometimes hard to understand the present, and the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History hopes to instill a love of the past in the area’s young people.

“What we want to do is get kids involved with and excited about our community’s history,” said museum Director Matt Edwards.

In an effort to accomplish that goal, the museum is kicking off this year’s season of the Jesse Franklin Pioneers, a chapter of the state’s Junior Historian Association. The club started up again for the school year this week, with an informational meeting for parents and interested young people.

Edwards said the local club has been in existence since 2005, and has already garnered the attention of other clubs in the state.  “The club is an extremely active part of our educational and outreach program here at the museum, and they’re very good at what they do,” he said. “We have twice been named the chapter of the year, and were the rookie chapter of the year the year it was founded.“From a track record of success standpoint, this club has been very successful in competing with other chapters in the state, and each year we participate in an annual conference in Raleigh,” Edwards added. “We’ve had either individual or group winners every year the club has been in existence.”

This year, the club’s activities will focus on a theme.  “For the past several years we’ve picked a theme that has ranged from cemetery history to old time radio,” he said. “This year we’re going with architectural history and how that ties into community development and the social growth of the community. It sounds very complicated, but it’s a great way for us to teach local history in the context of the buildings kids see every day and what was happening when they were being built.”

Club participants will also get the benefit of another first this year, Edwards said. “We’ve been able to bring in a community sponsor for the club,” he said. “Chick-Fil-A is going to be sponsoring the club this year, and I’m hoping that partnership will let us ratchet up the quality of the program even more than in the past.”

For the museum director, the club is just another way to share his love for community and its history.  “Part of my job is to share the passion that I have for local history and to find ways to make it fun and exciting for kids during their daily lives,” he said. “That’s what this is about. It’s about finding a kid and connecting them with a nugget of local history and getting them fired up about it.”  He smiled.“Engaging history and helping it come alive,” he said. “That was the goal from the beginning.”

For more information, contact Edwards or Amy Snyder at the museum at 336-786-4478.

Broadcast: A Man and His Dream

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From 88.5 WFDD Public Radio for the Piedmont:

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History: Broadcast: A Man and His Dream

Jordan Nance is a longtime radio and technology enthusiast and he’s also a filmmaker living with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy since a premature birth. He’s never allowed his physical or speech limitations to hinder him however, exhibit A: his new film documentary “Broadcast: A Man and His Dream”. It’s the story of Ralph Epperson, the son of tobacco farmers growing up in western NC in the 1920s and 30s with a passion for old time music, and the way to transmit it to a wider audience: radio. His dream is to leave the tobacco fields to have a radio station of his very own, and that dream became reality with WPAQ 740 AM, Mt. Airy, NC. “The Voice of the Blue Ridge” went on the air in 1948, and today, more than 150 radio stations around the country owe their existence to Ralph, and the hundreds of old time, and bluegrass musicians who filled and continue to fill the studios with sound.

On Saturday, September 13th at 2:00 PM at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, you can enjoy a screening of this fascinating documentary, music by some of the WPAQ old timers, a presentation by filmmaker Jordan Nance, and the unveiling of the original WPAQ station letters, carefully restored by neon sign maker Jantec, in the museum’s ongoing exhibition. Museum Executive Director Matt Edwards joined David Ford to talk about it.

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