Over the weekend we decided to take a jaunt up the road to visit Mount Airy, North Carolina, the home of NC’s prodigal son Andy Griffith, and the inspiration for the town of Mayberry on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
It was an interesting adventure. Parts of Surry County, leading up to Mt. Airy and “Mayberry,” have been hit hard with what I refer to as “the great Southern economic downturn,” or the closing of all the factories. Driving by the Spencer infant and children’s wear factory, attached to downtown, previously fueling its economy, one is confronted with the starkness of that new Southern reality. The hulking size and chipped, worn paint makes it a ghostly reminder of its industrious past.
Once you get into town, you’re thrown back, if just for the length of one winding main street, to Mayberry, where you expect Sheriff Andy and Barney to turn the corner. Folks walking down the street engaged in conversation, tourists snapped photos, and locals discussed the events of the day. As I browsed the local bookstore/coffee shop (my talent is in finding these in every town), I was able to take part of the local atmosphere and revel in what I miss about small town living. The accents are something I don’t hear often and reminded me of my childhood in the NC Foothills. Patrons sipped coffee while discussing property lines, the cold snap we’re having, and life in Small Town, USA. It was definitely a moment, whether it be reckoning or awareness, of what shaped me to into who I am today.
Mayberry is definitely a place to mark off the list of travels in North Carolina if you’re a pop culture fan. There are the definite touristy spots named after the characters of the show, which add to the charm. My son is 13 and doesn’t quite get how much my husband and I enjoyed taking goofy photos and acting out scenes from the Andy Griffith show, but I didn’t expect him to. Where we grew up with Opie on television, he’s growing up with Chris Griffin from Family Guy.
We arrived too late in the day to try the Barney Burger at Barney’s Cafe, but loved seeing the life-size image of Barney protecting his name sake on the window. There was even a gorgeous 50’s model Ford Fairlane parked outside, which belonged to a local who was in town for errands.
When discussing this quick adventure with my son, he summed it up by telling me “the outskirts of town were worn down and it’s definitely now set-up for tourists.” And he’s right. What I wonder is if Surry County and Mayberry are planning for the future. While Gen-X, Baby Boomers and The Greatest Generation loves shows like Andy Griffith, what is going to happen as future generations start seriously adding to travel and tourism dollars? Are they going to want to revel in something as innocent as a town named Mayberry and the iconic North Carolinian which helped put it on the map?
Only time will tell.
Here’s Andy singing “The Fishing Pole” which is the theme song whistled at the beginning of every episode.