Museum a must-see for visitors and locals alike

First Posted: 9/4/2009

Sometimes life can be like that movie The Wizard of Oz not in the sense of folks being whisked off to a magical world filled with munchkins and witches, but in some of the lessons that classic story emphasizes.
To me, the movies main message is that sometimes in our quest for happiness, adventure or enlightenment which can take us to faraway locations we tend to overlook the happiness, adventure and enlightenment existing right in our own backyards.
The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is a great example of what Im talking about.
How many residents of our area have passed by the big building on North Main Street over the years, and wondered exactly what was behind its walls? And how many of those have never bothered to follow up on their curiosity?
I must admit that I had not visited the museum for about 10 years, before going there the other day to take photographs for an upcoming news story. This is despite the fact that the facility is just a short drive from The Mount Airy News offices and an even shorter walk considering you dont have to negotiate any traffic lights, while getting a little exercise in the process.
My visit was, in a word, IMPRESSIVE. The first thing coming to mind as I stood in the middle of one of the museums spacious exhibit halls was that the people passing by on the outside didnt know what they were missing. Thats the case for someone who has never been there before or people who like myself havent visited lately to check out new exhibits or to see how the facility has evolved overall.
A sense of awe accompanied me as I strode through the building, which literally does meet one of the museum officials chief objectives of making visitors believe theyre taking a trip through time.
That excursion begins with exhibits dedicated to the natural wildlife of this area, along with displays highlighting its Indian heritage and the life of early settlers. As the trail continues, one can view a log cabin, general store and other examples of rural existence leading into exhibits that allow visitors to gain an understanding of how our region became what it is today.
There are exhibits dedicated to communities such as Lowgap and Siloam, as well as perennial local industries including the granite quarry.
In addition to donated artifacts that are part of this history, the museum is adorned liberally with photographs that seem to make it come alive.
Another thing that caught my attention was the wealth of attractions this community boasts, as evidenced by exhibits on such notable figures as the Siamese twins, Andy Griffith and legendary fiddler Tommy Jarrell, with another dedicated to Donna Fargo to open soon. Everyone knows about those folks on an individual basis, of course, but having them all highlighted under one roof drives home the fact that this part of the country has produced some extraordinary people.
The heritage of these United States is being preserved through numerous ways, in terms of events in such places as Washington, D.C., but local history often is something overlooked around the country. Because of our museum, that is certainly not the case here.
And as an amateur historian, I appreciate the fact that that valuable examples of our heritage will be stored for generations in a safe, secure environment for others to learn about and enjoy in the future.
But the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is more than a storehouse of things that are old. It is also a living, breathing, ever-changing entity that richly illustrates what makes our life in the Foothills so special.
Not only is it a valuable resource for tourists wanting to learn more about interesting sites, people or traditions, but for locals like myself who either havent kept up with the museums evolution or simply taken it for granted. It is a must-see for everyone, especially students.
In tough economic times when tourism promoters stress the value of staycations of experiencing the natural, artistic and other resources available in ones own backyard our local museum allows us to take a magnificent journey without having to leave Mount Airy.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 719-1924.

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