I was traveling through North Carolina and about midnight decided to call it a night (hopefully) in Mount Airy. Luck was on my side because there were only two rooms left when I walked into the office. The hotel was reasonable and quite honestly at that time of the night didn’t much care how much it cost as long as I got a room and didn’t have to share it with bed bugs. The room was exceptionally clean and I slept like a baby and awoke to a beautiful, warm sunny day.
I decided to take a little detour and explore the small town of Mount Airy and a few surprises awaited me. I learned Mount Airy is nestled at the bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which explained the beautiful view of blue hills and home to the largest open-faced granite quarry in the world; hence the a.k.a. name Granite City. Onto my next discovery, I didn’t know Mount Airy was Andy Griffith’s hometown, although I thought how odd that Highway 52 bypass was also named Andy Griffith Parkway. The further I drove, noticed more references to his show; the Colonial Mayberry Mall occupied by small specialty shops, never know what you might find. Colonial Mayberry Mall claims a unique shopping experience. I never dropped in since I was basically on a time limit; self-imposed, however the shops hold a variety of items and the mall hosts special events pertaining to the past and simpler times.
I stopped in at a local grocery store for a bottle of water and fresh fruit. While standing in line I asked the cashier what there was to do there besides the sightseeing the landmarks and she rattled off quite a few different and interesting excursions. If you enjoy the outdoors you can ride a bike down the Blue Ridge Parkway, hike at Pilot Mountain State Park or if you’re adventurous, canoe on the Yadkin River or visit the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. For music enthusiasts of Bluegrass you can take in a jam session on Saturday morning and then go tour Shelton Vineyards with a bit of wine tasting thrown in.
Now onto some history of the small community, which I found fun and quite interesting:
1). Located on Andy Griffith Parkway, a Giant Milk Carton caught my eye. How could it not? I had to get some information on the very odd display. It is 12 feet tall and the total height of the Giant Container stands around 20 feet was built out of metal in the 1940’s by Coble Dairy. The sole purpose was to promote the sale of milk by Coble Dairy. Over the past years the Milk Carton has changed faces. Originally it was painted as Coble Dairy, Flavo-Rich and is now home to Pet Milk
2). Almost everyone has heard of the famous Siamese Twins with the Barnum circus, they lived in Mount Airy and are now buried 6 miles south of Mount Airy in White Plains. Eng and Chang were born in a fishing village in Siam (now Thailand), and it was their nationality that became the name for the condition in which two people are physically joined together. These twins however were joined by a band of cartilage at the chest (xiphopagus). Their birth place was a small village and the villiagers orginally feared them, but eventually the community accepted them and lived a relatively normal childhood. In 1829 Robert Hunter, a Scottish trader and Abel Coffin, a New England sea captain persuaded Eng and Chang to go abroad where they would be put on public display. Permission from the King of Siam had to be granted before the twins could leave their country, of course it was and for next eight years they toured the United States and Europe under the care of the sea captain and Scottish trader. Thereafter with P.T. Barnum, they were an oddity and drew large crowds as they performed feats of strength and dexterity. The medical prefession kept tabs them also conducting tests on them and speculated on how they come about being conjoined.
Eng and Chang had every intention of returning to their birthplace, but they grew to love the United States and became naturalized citizens. One requirement to becoming naturalized was to have a surname and they chose Bunker. They toured for a bit on their own and when the twins visited Wilkesboro in 1837 they liked the area, were financiallysuccessful and two years later decided to retire, opened a general store in Traphill, purchased land and raised corn crops and hogs.
The twins met two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Yates of North Carolina and became friends. In 1843, Eng married Sarah, and Chang married Adelaide, upon which they purchased two adjoining properties, built two houses west of Mount Airy and between the two families they had twenty-eight children, (accounts vary and many of the children died in early childhood). The families of each of the twins stayed at their respective homes, while Eng and Chang took turns visiting every three days. They followed this routine until their deaths.
Eng and Chang’s financial success continued until the Civil War when, like many, they suffered financial hardship. They owned slaves before and during the American Civil War, Chang’s son Christopher and Eng’s son Stephen both fought for the Confederacy. To rebuild their fortune, they decided to tour again with P.T. Barnum. They returned to Europe and returned to the United States in 1871 having again accumulated their money once again.
I came across two different accounts how Chang and Eng died, one is Chang was a heavy drinker, became ill with pneumonia, his condition worsened and died in his sleep and Eng died a few hours later.
The other is during their return voyage across the Atlantic Chang suffered a stroke and partial paralysis, his condition worsened. From that time, his health began to fail and on January 17, 1874 died in his sleep. Eng woke to find Chang dead. A doctor was summoned to try to perform a desperate operation, but Eng died before the doctor arrived. Some speculate that Eng, learning of his twin’s death, died of sheer terror.
Their widows kept Eng and Chang’s bodies in the cellar for one year to protect them against grave robbers. They were later buried in the lawn of Chang’s house. In the late 1920s, their remains were moved to the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery. The twins had donated the land on which the church was built and helped with its construction. Many of their descendants still live in the Mount Airy area. There 1,500 descendants of Chang and Eng, among them are 11 sets of twins, none of which are conjoined.
Directions to the Grave Site: Take Highway 601 South from Mount Airy. After passing Wal-Mart on the left, take the next left onto Old Highway 601. You will travel about 2 miles. You will pass over I-74 just before reaching White Plains Baptist Church, which is on the right. The cemetery is behind the church at 506 Old Highway 601.
3). You can shop in an original old fashioned country general store with creaky wooden floors that has been in operation since 1890. You’ll find old fashioned candy jars, hoop cheese, Nehi and Crush soft drinks. I truly have never heard of Hoop cheese so I looked it up the following is what I found it to be and not something I would ever try, thank you very much. ( Hoop Cheese is a firm, dry cottage cheese similar to farmer’s cheese in that most of the liquid has been pressed out. It is different from farmer’s cheese in that farmer’s cheese is made with milk, cream and salt, while hoop cheese is made from milk alone).
4). The world’s largest open faced granite quarry is shaped like an enormous oyster shell and covers approximately 90 acres, which is currently under operation. The deposit is about 1 mile long and 1/3 mile wide. Geological mapping shows the total mass to be about 7 miles by 4 miles and 6,000 to 8,000 feet deep. Since 1889, the quarry has been in full operation, and the surface has only just been scratched according to depth tests. Geologists say the deposit can be quarried for approximately 500 more years without exhausting the supply.
Now back to the fans of Andy Griffith. The Andy Griffith Homeplace, you can stay in the home where he lived during his adolescence until he graduated high school. His parents bought the house for $600 on Oct. 31, 1935. They sold the house on May 31, 1966, for $6,000. The house contains antiques and is decorated 1930s-1940s style. Griffith memorabilia and stories can also be found at every turn.
Then there is Floyd’s City Barber Shop and the “Wall of Fame” (a collection of over 20,000 pictures. Owner Russell Hiatt has been cutting hair for more than 50 years, and he boasts “2 chairs-no waiting.”
Hours of Operation: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 7am-3pm. Thursday and Sunday Closed.
The community holds an annual Mayberry Days” celebration during the last weekend of September which regularly attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. Citizens of Mount Airy normally take pride in the Mayberry theme, but others are embarrassed by the association.
And if interested you can take the Squad Car Tour, a replica of Barney’s car and enjoy the cruise to Andy’s home, ride down Main Street past Floyd’s Barbershop and Snappy lunch, perhaps stop in for one of their famous porkchop sandwich. When you return to Wally’s Service station have your picture taken in front of the squad car.
One thing is certain; Mount Airy holds a surreal similarity to the fictional town of Mayberry. For those who just want to escape the big city life for a few hours, a day, or a weekend,where doors open a little wider, conversations last a little longer..