Andy Griffith with statue of Andy Taylor and Opie of The Andy Griffith Show, in front of the Andy Griffith Museum in Mt. Airy in 2005.
This article appeared in the Asheville, N.C. Citizen-Times on May 25.
By Mike McWilliams
The place: Mount Airy.
Getting there: From Asheville, take Interstate 40 east for about 100 miles until you get to Statesville. There you will take I-77 north toward Elkin. You will stay on I-77 for about 100 miles until you reach Exit 100, which is for N.C. 89. Follow this road into Mount Airy.
The story: Furniture, textiles and rock quarrying are the heart of Mount Airy's diverse history. After the town was incorporated in 1885, the granite quarry began large-scale production in 1889. The first furniture factory sprang up six years later, followed shortly by numerous tobacco factories. Mount Airy changed changed from being a town to a city in 1976. Its most famous resident, Andy Griffith, used his hometown as inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry featured in "The Andy Griffith Show." Much of Mount Airy's businesses and attractions cater to Mayberry fans.
Five things you've got to see here:
1. The Andy Griffith Museum. This museum features the largest collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia, including hundreds of items from his life and career in movies, television and music. There are props from "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock" donated by Griffith himself, as well as items donated by fellow cast members. You can stop by on certain days throughout the month and get an autograph from deputy Barney Fife's girlfriend Thelma Lou. Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou on the Andy Griffith Show, moved to Mount Airy a few years ago.
2. Pilot Mountain State Park. Rising more than 2,400 feet above sea level, you will not want to miss this unmistakable landmark. There's a great short hike around the base of the mountain's pinnacle. The park also features camping, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, fishing and more.
3. Vineyards. Touted as the largest, family-owned estate winery in North Carolina, Shelton Vineyards is in Dobson, which is 15 minutes from Mount Airy. In addition to a large selection of wines, Shelton offers Mayberry Grape Juice for those who would prefer nonalcoholic beverages. Also only a few miles from Mount Airy is Round Peak Vineyards, which is starting to brew its own beer. Old North State Winery can be found in downtown Mount Airy.
4. Squad Car Tours. This is perhaps the only time riding in the back of a police car could be fun. Squad Car Tours offers visitors a vehicle tour of Mount Airy/Mayberry in a vintage police car similar to what Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife drove while patrolling Mayberry. The tour starts off at Wally's Service Station, followed by a ride down Main Street past the Blue Bird Diner, Floyd's Barber Shop andAndy's original home.
5. Granite Quarry. Mount Airy is home to the world's largest open-face granite quarry. Shaped like an enormous oyster shell, the quarry covers about 90 acres and is currently in operation by North Carolina Granite Corp. The deposit is about 1 mile long and 1/3-mile wide, and is a favorite spot among visitors to Mount Airy. The Best time to visit: Tuesday through Saturday is the best time to visit Mount Airy, which is when most of the attractions are open.
A good place to eat: There are several great places to dine while visiting Mount Airy. Trio Restaurant in downtown Mount Airy and the Downtown Deli at Old North State Winery are a couple. For those looking for Mayberry themed places to eat, try Barney's, The Blue Bird Diner, The Snappy Lunch or Mayberry Soda Fountain. Along the way: The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the upper portion of Surry County, just a few miles north of Mount Airy. It's a picturesque stretch of the parkway where the Blue Ridge Mountains cascade down to the Yadkin Valley.