There is a town where the local sheriff, Andy Taylor, patrols the city without a weapon and his deputy, Barney Fife, keeps the only bullet for his gun in his front shirt pocket. The sheriff’s rambunctious son, Opie, is usually shooting marbles with his friends or fishing with his dad near their favorite fishing hole. The town drunk, Otis, can be seen sleeping it off in his jail cell. Floyd the barber’s mouth moves faster than his fingers cuts hair. The lovable Aunt Bea is usually buying groceries from Mr. Foley or spreading gossip around town with the other ladies. There is only one gas station in town, Wally’s Filling Station, where the bumbling cousins, Goober and Goomer, stay pretty busy.
If this town sounds familiar, it’s because it is the fictional town of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show. I grew up watching this show with my parents and I have seen every episode multiple times. I wrote a paper on the show when I was in college and in my opinion it is the last wholesome television show left on television. The show really highlights the bond between father and son. Opie learns from his father about how to grow up to be a man and at the same time Opie teaches his father a thing or two about jumping to conclusions. More than once, Andy Taylor had to eat crow.
Since this was the first time that my son and I took a trip together, it was only fitting that we visit the town I grew up watching on television. Although Mayberry is fictitious, the town is loosely based on the real city of Mount Airy, the birthplace of Andy Griffith. Mount Airy is located in western North Carolina in Surry County bordering the Virginia State Line. The county is split between the Piedmont region of NC which consists of rolling hills and the Appalachian Mountain region. As we drove toward Mount Airy on US Highway 52, we passed by Pilot Mountain. Rising 2,421 feet, it is not the tallest peak in the county but it is the most famous. Pilot Mountain State Park has a visitor’s center and campgrounds with trails leading to the overlooks. In the show characters sometimes referred to a town called Mount Pilot, which is also fictional, but was named in honor of Pilot Mountain.
So although Mayberry doesn’t really exist, a section of Main Street in Mount Airy works to bring it to life. Our first stop was the Mayberry Courthouse and City Jail. My son got to sit behind the Sheriff’s desk and pretend if only for a short while, that he was Sheriff Andy Taylor. He even locked himself up in one of the two jail cells. The inside of the courthouse was just how I remembered it when I watched the show. I could picture Andy sitting behind the desk, Barney filing papers, and Otis stumbling in drunk to sleep it off in one of the jail cells. I was surprised to know that the Mayberry Courthouse was once the original jail for the town of Mount Airy before it moved into a bigger facility. Just goes to show that at one time Mount Airy was just like Mayberry.
Next door to the Courthouse is Mr. Foley’s Market, Fred’s Radio and TV repair, and the Mayberry Motel. Next to that is the famous Wally Service Station where Goober and Goomer worked and was featured prominently in the show. The gas station was originally built in 1937 and operated as a Gulf station before closing up for good in the mid 80’s. My son got a few photo ops with some of the Wally Service Station tow trucks. Also parked out front of the service station were two Ford Galaxie police cars just like the one used in the show. The cars are used to give tours to visitors and it cost $35 for a carload. The tour takes you by all of the Mayberry attractions including Floyd’s barber shop, the soda fountain, Andy Griffith’s birthplace, and many more.
After a few photo ops with the patrol cars, we drove over to the Andy Griffith Playhouse, less than a half mile away from Main Street. The building was built in 1920 and was the first public school in Mount Airy. Andy Griffith attended elementary school and performed on stage in the building during the 30’s and 40’s. In the 1970’s, it was renovated into a theater and arts center. Housed in the same building is the Andy Griffith Museum which has the world’s largest collection of Andy memorabilia. The museum was closed on the Sunday we visited; however, it is now open seven days a week. It wasn’t a wasted visit because I wanted to see the TV Land Landmark Statue outside. It was a statue of Andy and Opie walking and carrying their fishing poles just like they did so many times in the show. I had a great idea for a photo of my son and me with the statue. It turned out great and the picture now hangs by my bed.
The last weekend in September, Mount Airy holds the annual Mayberry Days festival. There are events for the whole family including a golf tournament, parade, concerts, and games. There is also a meet and greet with cast members who sign autographs. Although most of the cast members have since died, there are still a few that make the trip such as Betty Lou who was Barney’s girlfriend, Charlene Darling, Jim Lindsey and Goomer. Re enactors bring the other characters to life such as Otis, Barney, and Floyd.
The Andy Griffith Show has garnered a loyal following even after the last episode aired in 1968. Re-runs have allowed future generations to enjoy the show and Mount Airy has made sure that the spirit of Mayberry lives on.