It’s the real Mayberry, Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The hometown of Andy Griffith and the inspiration for the award winning television show, The Andy Griffith Show. Originally filmed from 1960- 1967, the show produced 249 episodes in 7 years. TV land bought the rights, and now, more than sixty years later, the show is still running. The show runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week somewhere in the world.
I pulled off Interstate 77 in 2016 and headed east. In just 14 miles, I was in 1963. I could hear the whistling tune in my head. The intro song of the show. This is where it all began. This was Griffith’s hometown from his birth in 1935 until 1966, when this only child moved his parents to California to be closer to him.
Floyd’s Barber Shop, Opie’s Candy Store and Barney’s Café all greeted me on Main Street. My heart overflowed with warm memories of my early childhood watching the hit show on our black and white television. As authentic as it can get, it was difficult to tell if this was life imitating art or art imitating life. The entire series was filmed in Hollywood, but you will not believe it if you stroll through town. I reckon there’s not a hometown in America more proud of one of its successful citizens than Mt. Airy is of Andy Griffith.
Remembering the Andy Griffith Show
What did the Andy Griffith show teach us? How to take care of family, love thy neighbor, treat friends and strangers with warmth, help someone in need, and look for the good in people. The show taught us that every problem has a solution, and solving those problems is best done with a sense of humor.
Spending time in Mt. Airy, it is easy to see where Andy learned these values. As I walked down the street I was greeted with more than one smile and a, “Hi Sweetie, you from ‘round here?” More than 60 years after the run of the show, the people of Mt. Airy haven’t changed, and I hope they never do.
There is more to do in this tiny town of 10,000 residents than one might imagine.
10 Things To Do in 24 Hours in the Real Mayberry
Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast – 618 N Main Street
There are no big fancy hotels in Mt. Airy, and just a few hotel/motels on the outskirts of town. Many visitors stay at one of the 400+ campsites at seven areas campgrounds.
I chose to stay in town at the Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast. My hosts for the night were Pam and Chris Bastin. When I pulled up to the four room B&B, Pam and Chris were sitting on the porch, ready to greet their guests. Check-in is from 3-6 pm. If you arrive outside of that time, special arrangements need to be made.
After giving a tour of the house and my room Chris announced, “Breakfast is at 9 am Seein’ how nothing in town really gets going ‘til at least 10 am.” On my own, I decided to explore the town, and was on my way.
Barney’s Café – 206 North Main Street
Mostly a breakfast and lunch place, Barney’s offers two dinner specials. My choices were spaghetti with salad and a roll or chicken and dumplings with two sides and corn bread. For either option, the price was $6. Even the prices were from 1963. I opted for the chicken and dumplings with green beans and yams. There was no extra charge for all of the times the waitress called me “sweetie”.
I was too stuffed for dessert, but the choices of strawberry shortcake, chocolate pie, pineapple cake, coconut pie, peach cobbler or coconut sheet cake were tempting, especially at $2 a slice! It was delicious. I left feeling stuffed and loved! Mind you, supper is over at Barney’s at 6:30 pm, but that was OK with me, seein’ how my next stop was the Old Time Jam down the street at the historic Earle Theater.
Old Time Jam at the Historic Earle Theater-142 North Main Street
I just happened to be traveling through town on a Thursday night. All year long, every Thursday night at the Earle Theater, the old timers in the area get together for a couple of hours of pickin’ and grinnin’. Everyone is invited. “Come on in,” the greeter announced, as I entered the historic 250 seat theater, and obviously the center of much activity in town. He continued, “I don’t charge people to come in.” “I only charge them to leave. I make more money like that.”
Almost a dozen local musicians were on stage with their fiddles, guitars, and even a bass or two. There was a loose agenda, and each took turns leading a variety of gospel, country and bluegrass tunes. A variety of singers were called up on stage throughout the two hour program, which added to the character and entertainment of the evening. When the music inspired them, local gals clogged in front of the stage.
What’s not to love? Authentic, local musicians, free admission, and real mountain music! When it was over, I walked 4 blocks back to Heart and Soul, and made myself a cup of tea. A good meal, good music, a nice walk, and a cup of tea. Life doesn’t get any better.
The next morning, after a delicious Heart N Soul breakfast of poached pears with vanilla yogurt, almonds and gingersnap crumbs, followed by peach and blueberry crepes with fresh whipped cream, roasted butternut squash, redskin potatoes and sausage, I left my gracious hosts at Heart N Soul and walked a block to the Gertrude Smith House.
Gertrude Smith House-708 North Main Street
The Jefferson Davis Smith Family was the sole owner of the Gertrude Smith House, built in 1903. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places, thus adding to the historic value of my trip. Jefferson Davis Smith operated the local general store, owned several farms and numerous rental properties. He and his wife raised their seven children in the house. After his death, his daughter Gertrude Smith, an interior designer in New York, returned home to manage the family businesses. As adults, the unmarried Gertrude and two of her brothers lived in the home until Gertrude’s death at the age of 90 in 1981.
The Baptist church next door wanted to purchase the home and use the land for a parking lot. Not wanting her family home destroyed, Gertrude created a foundation to manage the home in perpetuity for all to enjoy for free. My favorite part of the tour was the opportunity to chat with two local ladies who were docents during my visit. There is no better way to learn what is really going on in a town that to chat with the locals.
Opie’s Candy Store- 135 North Main Street
I thought bubble gum and candy cigarettes were outlawed long ago. But, seein’ how I was just a stone’s throw from Winston-Salem, home to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco empire, in a time warp, and in a candy store named after the son of the town (only on TV) Sherriff, make believe cigarettes are still available at Opie’s candy store.
It is worth a stop in Opie’s for an ice cream cone, and to reminisce over your favorite childhood confections. Remember you are traveling back to the 1960’s. Opie’s, and many of the Main Street businesses in town, are still cash only operations.
Floyd’s Barber Shop-129 North Main Street
Andy Griffith created the character of Floyd the Barber after the beloved Mt. Airy barber, Russel Hiatt. Hiatt died recently at the age of 93 after barbering for 72 years. His son keeps his memory alive by opening the shop and chatting with tourists. He will even take your picture sitting in Floyd’s chair, with your camera.
Mount Airy Museum of Regional History-301 N Main Street
You can learn everything about the area not associated with Andy Griffith at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Located in the middle of town, this museum begins with Native Americans and tells the local story from early settlers, the turn of the century when the railroad came to town, segregation to integration, and modern times. The third floor “Hands on History” exhibit is a great space for children and adults to explore and play. Ghost tours of “The Haunted Mayberry” operate out of the museum on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, June-October.
The Loaded Goat-247 City Hall Street
Named after Episode 18 in Season 3, where Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney discover a local goat has eaten a case of dynamite, this pub is relatively new to the Mayberry scene. Opened about a year ago, owner Craig Deas left his radio broadcasting career in Cleveland to combine his love of sports with the ambiance of a Cleveland bar after he and his family attended Mayberry Days, and came to love this charming town.
Actress Betty Lynn played Barney’s girlfriend Thelma Lou in the show. She is now a Mt. Airy resident. Betty Lynn recently celebrated her 90th birthday at the Loaded Goat.
The restaurant has a simple menu of typical bar food. I enjoyed my Carolina Burger, a ½ pound burger smothered in house made chili on a brioche bun with a side of cole slaw.
Even the most enthusiastic tourists need a break to relax and refuel. The Loaded Goat is a great place to recharge for more Mayberry adventure.
Wally’s Service Station-625 South Main Street
One of the most unique ways to tour Mayberry and learn Mt. Airy’s history and all of the connections to the TV series is to take a Squad Car Tour beginning at Wally’s Service Station. Goober worked at Wally’s (only on TV, but I am sure there were plenty of real Goober’s that inspired Andy!) My tour guide Melvin and I hopped into the Sheriff’s 1967 Ford Galaxy and off we went to learn more.
Each year a local Ford dealer in California loaned the show squad cars. At the end of the taping season, the cars were returned to the dealer and re-painted for sale. You will ride through town in the same model care used in the show. None of the original cars were preserved. Who would have thought in the 1960’s, the early years of television, such items would be cherished into the next century? History doesn’t seem like history when you’re living it
Riding in the un air conditioned squad car on a hot summer day with the sirens blaring at every stop was a hoot worth havin’! Melvin showed me Andy’s boyhood home, the Wiener-Burger, where his mother worked and Andy would go after school every day, developing his life long love of the hot dog, and the Main Street sights. He also shared some Mt. Airy history not related to the Andy Griffith Show.
We visited the world’s largest open face white granite quarry. I learned about local girl and country singer Donna Fargo, whose song, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA” launched her singing career, and about Eng and Cheng Bunker, the Siamese twins who settled in Mt. Airy after a career of appearing in Freak Shows, married sisters from the area and fathered 22 children between them. It seems Andy Griffith wasn’t the only prosperous resident of Mt. Airy.
A replica of the Mayberry Court House, complete with two jail cells, sits next to Wally’s. A local pastor performs weddings in front of Sheriff Andy’s desk. My guide Melvin sometimes plays the deputy! Couples ride through town in a squad car with sirens blarin’ after the nuptials !
The Andy Griffith Museum – 218 Rockford Street
Griffith’s childhood buddy and lifelong friend Emmett Forest collected Andy Griffith memorabilia his entire life. It is on display at The Andy Griffith Museum. Treasures include items from The Andy Griffith Show, Matlock, movies, Broadway, comedy albums, and articles about Griffith’s many charitable ventures. Since the museum opened, others have donated items and the collection continues to grow. The Surry Art Council supports the one room museum. The collection is definitely worth a peek. You can view it in less than an hour.
From Mayberry to Merlot
Most people find Mt. Airy like I did, hearing somewhere that it is the real Mayberry, and hometown of Andy Griffith. They stop for one overnight out of curiosity, and because it is a convenient half way point from the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states driving south on I-77 to the southern Atlantic beaches. Once discovered, the second trip lasts two or three days, because as travelers familiarize themselves with the area they realize there are so many interesting things to see and do. The area is also becoming a popular retirement destination, because of its slow pace, beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and low cost of living.
I suggest binge watching old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show before your trip. There are so many subtle nuances of Mt. Airy embedded into the series, you won’t want to miss them. On my next stop in Mayberry I might explore the modern version, where the Yadkin Valley wine region is blooming, and the locals are expanding their entrepreneurial ventures from Mayberry to Merlot.
You will find reviews for Heart & Soul as well as other lodging options at Trip Advisor, a MilesGeek affiliate.