Mount Airy News

Salisbury Confederate Prison the topic for Mount Airy Museum history talk

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A old Confederacy-era prison will be the topic of the final history talk of the season for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on Saturday. The Salisbury Confederate Prison Association will be be giving a slide presentation about the confederate prison that once stood there.  “We felt this was a great way to close out the season,” said Matt Edwards, the museum executive director.

The goal of the association is the preservation of the prison and the site in Salisbury.  Together, Sue and Ed Curtis, heads of the prison association, promote the archaeological exploration of the historic site for educational purposes. At this event, the two also will share history of the prison and the known experiences between the Confederate guards and Union prisoners of war.

The history talk will be held on the third floor of the museum at 2 p.m. Saturday.  The idea for this lecture originated when a sword was loaned to the museum to use in a display. The sword belonged to a prison guard, Thomas Lenoir Gwyn.  Gwyn was a student at Jonesville Academy and enlisted in 1862 to a North Carolina infantry battalion, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant. After being wounded in the Battle of Cansbys Creek in Tennessee, he was reassigned to Company A, 5th Senior Reserves at the Prison.  Later in 1877 he co-founded the Elkin Woolen Mills and in 1899 served as a commissioner in Elkin. His image and Kenansville sword is on display at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.

Saturday’s event is free to the public.


Jim Frye donates $20 million to Mount Airy and Richmond, Va., agencies Jim Frye remembers Mount Airy in his will

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The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History has received a $30,000 endowment and could receive more thanks to the generosity of a Granite City native. Jim Frye, a career-long Phillip Morris executive, died in April and left behind $20 million in an endowment fund earmarked for a handful of agencies dear to his heart.

The $20 million bequest to The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia endows an unrestricted fund that will enhance local grant making, as well as restricted endowments that will provide support to more than 30 eligible organizations in Richmond, Virginia, and Mount Airy. The support will be ongoing as the funding comes from the interest earned on the $20 million deposit.

In addition to that lump sum, his estate provided direct charitable bequests of more than $2 million to a number of Richmond and Mount Airy organizations. The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is among those to benefit from his estate.“This truly was a tremendous gift for all of us,” said Matt Edwards, executive director for The Museum of Regional History. Upon receiving the $30,000 building gift, Edwards said, “The museum is honored to be one of the charities selected by Mr. Frye to benefit from grants made from his endowment bequest.” Edwards also said that this endowment will hopefully encourage others from and within the community to consider making similar philanthropic gift.

Surry Community College, Mount Valley Hospice and Palliative Care/Woltz Hospice home are among the beneficiaries who are eligible to apply and receive an annual gift from The Community Foundation. “Jim’s connection to the community showed that through his contribution, it really brought me a sense of pride,” said Marion Venable, executive director for the Surry Community College Foundation. Frye worked and retired in Richmond, where Phillip Morris is headquartered, but he came back home last year to accept his recognition in the Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame.

When talking about his induction at that time, Frye spoke little about his football career at Mount Airy and the University of Richmond. Instead, he spoke of his charity work like the many foundations and boards of directors on which he served. In the early 1970s he became involved with the Richmond Boys and Girls Club and the local Police Benevolent Association. Later he would add posts with the Salvation Army, YMCA, Junior League, the governor’s Youth Crime Task Force and the Virginia Council on Health and Medical Care.

That Frye donated to the Mount Airy museum isn’t surprising considering his thoughts on culture. From last year’s interview, Frye said: “Regardless of the accelerating change in our culture, which is driven by an explosion in technology and information, the human experience down through the centuries has remained essentially the same. “That’s why we read Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson. … That’s why we have museums and libraries. … While styles and trends may vary, you share with everyone in the world — and with everyone who came before you — the same basic emotions and the same abilities to experience the world and its wonders.”

Frye graduated from Mount Airy in 1948, part of the same class as longtime News editor R.J. Berrier, who died in 2000 with 52 years of service at the newspaper. Frye said his college graduation ceremony was on a Sunday in 1952, and he started work the next morning for Phillip Morris. Frye spent his entire 36-year career with Phillip Morris, the last 19 years as director of government relations. His only time away was for his two-year service in the U.S. Army after being drafted.

After retiring in 1988, Frye continued his charity work while also doing some consulting. In 1997, Frye suffered a near-fatal heart attack, an experience that caused him to contemplate his legacy. According to The Community Foundation, Frye started donating anonymously (and generously) while he was alive, with plans for how his estate could best be put to use after the death of himself and his wife, Virginia Nash Frye. Then he fashioned a plan by which meaningful capital gifts would go to selected charities upon their deaths: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (his church), Virginia Home for Boys and Girls (where he was a board member for 15 years) and then groups back in his hometown.

The balance of his estate was gifted to The Community Foundation. Of particular importance to Frye was the duty of the Foundation to monitor the organizations selected and to move endowment support to other organizations if they failed to perform effectively or if the need being served dwindled.

When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, Frye told the crowd at the Andy Griffith playhouse, “Mount Airy is one of those towns that you never really leave.” Life might take someone away from town, but they find a way to come back. The Andy Griffith Playhouse was the Rockford Auditorium back when Frye was in school, four years behind Griffith himself. He recalled how there was a time when the school didn’t have a dedicated gymnasium. School dances were held on the stage of the auditorium. “There wasn’t space for a large band — there wasn’t even space for a small band — that didn’t matter, either, because we didn’t have money for any band,” he said. What the school did have was a 78 rpm Victrola record player playing big band music. Basketball goals were installed on the sides so that games could be played back and forth across the stage. Frye was proud to see how the old school was repurposed to serve the community.

Museum works to spur youth interest

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Mount Airy Museum of Regional History Executive Director Matt Edwards along with, from left) the winners of the teacher appreciation door prize, Nicole G. Scearce of Mount Airy Middle School and Melissa L. Martin of Jones Intermediate School
Hoping to spur more interest and use in the museum by local school children, officials with the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History held a teacher appreciation day on Wednesday. It didn’t turn out exactly as hoped, but Executive Director Matt Edwards said he is still optimistic about building stronger ties with area youth.The promotion was, at least in part, aimed at raising awareness about the museum and its programs among local teachers and school systems. Edwards explained museum staff had evaluated the number of student attendees over that past 10 years and noticing a significant drop.  Thus Wednesday event, during which he hoped a number of local teachers would stop in to see the museum’s offerings as well as to take part in a chance for a raffle prize.
Three teachers showed up before 2 p.m. when the event started and two teachers made their appearance around 4 p.m., near the end of the scheduled event.  Edwards said even though the audience was smaller than expected, “We know the number decrease we have seen over the years is not something that’s going to improve overnight. Hopefully we can get more students involved and we can continue to be a great resource to the schools.”  “It’s something that may take a few years to build back up,” he said.  Nicole Sceare, a teacher at Mount Airy Middle School, and Melissa Martin a third-grade teacher at Jones Intermediate School, were on hand at 4 p.m., winning the door prize and splitting the contents.

Museum plans events for Teacher Day

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The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is holding a Teacher Appreciation Day on Wednesday.  The museum is inviting all educators to come and explore the museum and the four programs they have to offer to students, next week, free of admission. Matt Edwards, museum executive director, said student attendance at the museum has slipped in recent years.  “This is our way of reaching and reconnecting with the schools and educators,” he said.  Edwards hopes that the educators see that the museum can offer a valuable addition to their classroom learning.  “We know we offer a great product for kids,” said Edwards.  “Our exhibits tell the same story as a museum in Raleigh, only it’s closer to home and more locally focused. It offers a great resource to Surry and surrounding counties,” said Edwards.

The event will be held from 2-5 p.m., with a drawing for door prizes at 4:30 p.m. for registered attendees.  Edwards added that docents would be on hand at each exhibit to answer any questions about the exhibit or the four programs the museum currently offers.  Those four programs are Moravian Christmas Traditions, A Country Family Goes to Town, Journey Through The Carolinas and Meet Me at Wigwam: A Native American Experience.

Moravian Christmas Traditions:  Learn about the Moravian Christmas traditions first brought to this area by the early settlers along the Great Wagon Road in the 1750s. Many of these traditions continue today in the Moravian Church, and in the community as a whole. Topics covered include the “Love Feast,” ornaments, and candlemaking. These tours will be offered ONLY during the first two weeks of December. (One hour and thirty minutes) A craft/materials fee of $5 applies. Group size is 50 students.

A Country Family Goes To Town:  Join a rural family as they head into town to visit the blacksmith shop and general store. Decide what things you hope to bring home. Barter eggs and butter with the storekeeper. Sample a stick of candy, learn to shoot marbles (and take them home with you) and catch up on the community news. (1 1/2 hours.) A craft/materials fee of $5 per student applies to this program. Group size limited to 50 students.

Journey Through The Carolinas:  Join a pioneer family as they travel down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road to the Hollows in Surry County. Select the items to take on your journey to survive in your new wilderness home as you help pack the wagon for the trip. Visit the family’s new log cabin home. Talk about the chores the children would have been responsible for and then make a corn husk doll like the ones back country children would have played with. (One hour and thirty minutes.) A craft/materials fee of $5 per student applies to this program. Group size is limited to 40 students.

Meet Me At The Wigwam: A Native American Experience:  View a typical Southeastern Native American dwelling as you learn about the culture of the Sauras, the Native Americans who inhabited this region. View the types of items inside and outside of their bark hut, and discuss the importance of these items for everyday use. Participate in games the children played, listen to stories and legends the Eastern Woodland Native Americans would tell their children and sing Native American songs. Create a Native American craft and taste traditional Native American foods such as popcorn, beef jerky, and raisins. (Two hours) A craft/materials fee of $5.00 per student applies to this program. Maximum group size is 50 students.

Reach Eva Queen at (336) 415-4739.

Museum readying for Casino Royale

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The Museum of Regional History is preparing for its fifth annual Casino Royale Fundraiser.  The event is held at Cross Creek Country Club, this year scheduled for Friday, Sept. 18.  The evening will start at 6;30 p.m. featuring an open bar and heavy horderves bar, followed by the gaming from 7-10 p.m., with a red carpet rolled out for guests.

The event is one of the most significant fundraisers the museum does each year; with an open bar and night of gambling with money that you don’t actually have to spend, it’s easy to see why.  A company comes in sets up several gaming tables such as roulette, craps and blackjack. 

“Once again this year, we’re working with a group of professionals who bring in professionally-trained dealers and croupiers. This isn’t like we have volunteers running the tables, these are professionals,” said museum Executive Director Matt Edwards.  “People do things they would never do in real life; betting $100,000 is not something the average person is able to do, and that excites people,” Edwards said. “We like to present a high-quality experience for our supporter,” he said.  Throughout the night a reverse raffle will be drawn with random winners of $100, and the last ticket drawn will win a $6,000 jack-pot. A cap of 300 tickets will be held for this portion of the night.

A silent auction will also be ongoing throughout the night with higher-end items such as vacation packages, electronics, a custom made quilt, Tour de’ Mayberry basket featuring gift certificates to every restaurant on Main Street and many more items.  “The fun is high stakes gambling with essentially free money. Who doesn’t like going all in with $50,000 and knowing you’re not going to lose a dime at the end of the night, except what you spend on the silent auction of course, ” said Jessica Bolick, a museum board member.

Tickets to both the draw-down raffle and the fundraiser can be purchased seperately or together. The price for just the event is $65 per person, the price for both the raffle and the event is $150 dollars. The raffle can also be purchased alone for $100 dollars.  “This is a critically important event for the museum,” said Edwards. The net profit was nearly $26,000 last year.    “It’s a great date night for the average couple. I’ve never had anyone tell me it’s not been fun,” Edwards said.

Photos taken by Maggie Nicholson Photography.

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