Greetings from the Real Mayberry - Carolina Country

Greetings from the Real Mayberry

60 years ago, Andy Griffith introduced the world to his hometown

By Marla Hardee Milling

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When “The Andy Griffith Show” debuted on October 3, 1960, viewers didn’t readily know they were getting a glimpse of Andy’s memories of growing up in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Andy wove the small-town character of his hometown into the fictional town of Mayberry, which was created on a Hollywood movie set.

Now, at the show’s 60th Anniversary, “Mayberry” is a household word and synonymous with a simpler, more wholesome time when a town’s problems could be solved within a half hour.

Names of people, businesses, streets, and nearby locations are the main ways Andy added touches of Mount Airy to give Mayberry an authentic flavor of a small town in North Carolina, and as a way to say ‘hey’ to folks back home.

The well-loved whistled theme song, strong storylines and memorable characters — Andy Taylor, Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, Opie, Gomer, Goober, Thelma Lou, Otis, Helen Crump, Floyd the Barber, Howard Sprague and all the rest — create a sense of calm among those who continue to faithfully enjoy reruns of the show. The storylines reflect an allegiance to the Golden Rule and looking after your neighbors.

It’s fun to recognize the “winks” that Andy gave folks back home. Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry County Arts Council, says there are Mount Airy references embedded throughout episodes of the show.

“He definitely took his hometown with him,” Tanya says. “Every street mentioned in the show is a street in Mount Airy. He also mentioned communities outside of Mount Airy — Toast, Flat Rock, Dobson, Bannertown — and Pilot Mountain is called Mount Pilot in the show. In one episode, he mentioned the cannon at the triangle. It’s not there now, but there was a cannon at a place called the triangle when he was growing up.”

Squad Car Tour

Mount Airy sports a small fleet of early 1960s Ford Galaxie squad cars. Photo by Craig Distl.

Tanya says one of her favorite photos at the Andy Griffith Museum is of Andy reading a newspaper.

“When you look closely, it’s the Mount Airy News,” she says. “He’s reading it on the set.”

Nashville writer Jim Clark, who co-founded The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club (TAGSRWC) in the late 1970s, says “names of people, businesses, streets, and nearby locations are the main ways Andy added touches of Mount Airy to give Mayberry an authentic flavor of a small town in North Carolina, and as a way to say ‘hey’ to folks back home.”

Some examples he provides includes episodes referring to watching the Mayberry Bears play ball, named after the Mount Airy Bears; a school crossing at Rockford and Haymore, which was a real location close to Andy’s boyhood home; and a character named Evin Moore, who was a real-life cousin of Andy’s. He also named characters for his first cousin Lorraine Beasley and her husband Earlie Gilley.

Snappy Lunch

Marla Milling

Double date at the Snappy Lunch

The Snappy Lunch at 125 N. Main Street is the oldest continuous eating establishment in Mount Airy (it opened in 1923). It’s also the only business still in operation that Andy mentioned by name on the show.

That reference was made in “Andy the Matchmaker” (filmed as Episode 9 but aired as Episode 7). Deputy Barney Fife became depressed about never having any crimes to investigate, so Sheriff Andy Taylor and Miss Ellie at Walker’s Drug Store faked a robbery to keep Barney busy. Barney took the task to heart and ultimately captured a real criminal. At the end of the episode, Barney excitedly races over to show Andy his picture on the front page with news of the arrest. Andy’s strumming his guitar and stops to compliment Barney and then he says: “You want to double date? I’m going to take Miss Ellie to the picture show Saturday night, do you and Miss Rosemary want to go with us? After the show we can go down to Snappy Lunch and get something to eat and some coffee. Want to?”

Mary Dowell, who still operates Snappy Lunch, says her late husband was watching the show when it originally aired on November 14, 1960.

“Charles told me when he heard him say that he almost fell off the couch,” Mary says. “That’s our claim to fame from Andy. He also mentioned Weiner Burger, but it’s been out of business.”

Snappy Lunch is also known for its famous pork chop sandwich created by Charles Dowell, who began working at this eatery as a teen and ultimately became its owner. During his career, he was a visible presence in town as he prepared the grilled pork chops at the front window where passersby could watch. He topped the meat with chili, coleslaw, mustard, onion and tomato and served it in a bun, just as they continue to be sold today.

Walker’s Soda Fountain

Walker’s Soda Fountain. Photo by Craig Distl.

Modern-day Mayberry

“There’s a lot of Mount Airy in ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ but there’s a lot of Mayberry in the current Mount Airy,” Jim Clark points out. “It’s a fuzzy area and hard to tell which is which, but it’s all good. They had positive influences on each other.”

Tanya at the Arts Council credits Jim for planting the seed for the annual Mayberry Days Festival, which began 30 years ago. They both attended an auction in Raleigh for belongings of Francis Bavier, the actress who played Aunt Bee, where Jim asked Tanya if Mount Airy was planning anything special to commemorate the show’s 30th Anniversary.

That conversation sparked action and led to Mayberry Days, a multi-day event held in late September each year. Cast members like Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou and who lives in Mount Airy, take part and sign autographs. While many of the original cast have died, Clark says the event is like a family reunion for people who love “The Andy Griffith Show” and come to the festival every year.

Of course, you don’t have to be in town during this festival to experience the charm of Mount Airy and its connection to the show.

A fun way to explore is to begin at Wally’s Gas Station at 625 S. Main Street. Here, you’ll find candy and novelties in the former gas station as well as an adjacent replica of the Mayberry Courthouse and Jail to experience. There’s also a version of Wally’s Tow Truck, along with a re-creation of the Darlings’ mountain cabin and truck.

You’re likely to see one or more of the small fleet of early 1960s Ford Galaxie squad cars parked in front of Wally’s. These cars are replicated to look like the ones Andy and Barney drove on the show. Slide into the passenger’s seat (or back seat) and relax while a tour guide fills you in on Mount Airy/Mayberry history as you ride around, including a trek to an enormous, open-face granite quarry and a visit to the front of Andy’s childhood home at 711 E. Haymore Street.

If you’re staying the night, the Mayberry Motor Inn has a bounty of keepsakes in its “Aunt Bee Room.” The room is filled with a twin bedroom suit that belonged to actress Francis Bavier, as well as an assortment of her belongings: gloves, glasses, dress, hat, sewing materials and more.

Inn owner Alma Venable also dresses up to look like Aunt Bee during the Mayberry Days Festival.

Andy Griffith statue

Jon Eckard

Back to Mount Airy

Mayberry-themed stores line Main Street, including Opie’s Candy Store, Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Mayberry on Main gift shop, Barney’s Café, Mayberry Antique Mall, Mayberry Kitchen, Mayberry Country Store and more.

Next stop is a true “must-see” for show aficionados. The Andy Griffith Museum offers a variety of memorabilia — from audio and video recordings to show scripts, costumes, photographs and props. Emmett Forrest, a childhood friend of Andy’s, carefully collected, preserved, curated and donated the core of the museum’s contents.

Emmett was another one of those people who got a shoutout from Andy, who named show character Emmett Clark after his friend.

“We have an exhibit as part of the museum that’s called ‘Mount Airy to Mayberry and Back,’ ” Jones says. “We added the ‘and Back’ because of a frequently asked question: Did Andy ever come back? And yes, he did. We have added photos of him at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.”

The Playhouse building once housed the elementary school where student Andy performed on stage.

The Playhouse is adjacent to the Museum, and out front there’s a familiar scene: the TV Land life-size statues of Andy and Opie as they appeared in the show opener. The bronze figures, smiling at each other, depict Andy in his sheriff’s uniform beside his barefoot TV son. They appear headed to their favorite fishing hole, poles tossed back against their shoulders.

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About the Author

Marla Hardee Milling has written more than 900 published articles and four non-fiction books. She’s a native of Asheville, where she lives with her family (and faithfully watches “The Andy Griffith Show” reruns).

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