Pictures, oral histories recall town's early days


A COUNTY TOWN IS symbolized by a surge of growth with houses being built, residents moving to the area and people from surrounding towns shopping there.

That sounds like Mount Airy today, where residents complain the small-town atmosphere is all but disappearing. But it isn't.

This was the Mount Airy of more than 100 years ago, when the railroad hauled five passenger trains a day to town, local mills were the big employers and new houses dotted the landscape.

The history of this Southwest Carroll community is on display at Mount Airy Museum, which is housed in a small corner of the old Town Hall building on Main Street. Treasured old photographs line the tiny museum's walls and trace the town's evolution. Antique furnishings have been donated by local residents.

But the greatest treasures here are the stories shared by local oral historians such as lifelong resident Travis Norwood.

"The railroad was really the making of this town back in the 1880s," says Norwood. "Entrepreneurs came and there was a building boom that saw much of downtown expand."

As he speaks, the former town postmaster, who traces his ancestors to Mount Airy's beginnings, draws visitors into the past. He tells of the railroad maintenance workers who moved their families to town, the Victorian houses that sprung up surrounded by small, immature trees and of the complaints about the noise from a bowling alley in the basement of a local cafe.

Norwood says Mount Airy's residents faced growth issues then. The little school in the basement of Pine Grove Chapel made way for a larger school farther down Main Street. But even before World War I, a larger school, the current Mount Airy Elementary, was built to house elementary through high school students.

"Keeping a record for the future," that's why Norwood says he and other members of the Mount Airy Historical Society wanted to establish a museum. The group collected so many photographs and memorabilia putting together the town's centennial celebration book, A Vision of Home, that they felt a permanent display was needed. The museum has been open since 1994.

"New residents come in to look around and ask about the town," says Norwood. "Some people want to look at the old newspapers and research their genealogy, but some people just want to find out what it was like to live here back then."

More about Mount Airy's past will be presented by Mount Airy Historical Society at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Mount Airy fire station, lower level. Local resident Oscar Baker will speak and give a slide presentation.

Mount Airy Museum is at 2 Park Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Halloween parade

Ghouls, goblins, witches and other costumed characters will be on the loose as Mount Airy youngsters parade in their Halloween finest tomorrow. The annual Halloween parade on Main Street is sponsored by the local Jaycees.

"I think it brings the community closer together," said co-chairwoman Nicole Eyler.

Parade registration will begin at 2:30 p.m. at the old train depot on Main Street. The parade will get under way at 3:30 p.m., with participants winding down Main Street to Park Avenue and ending at the town parking lot.

Prizes will be awarded for scariest, funniest, most original, judge's choice and mayor's choice. Children from infants through age 13 are invited to participate. Every participant will receive a ribbon and goody bag.

Kiwanis costume contest

A costume competition for the prettiest, funniest, ugliest and most unusual Halloween costume is being sponsored by Mount Airy Kiwanis Club.

The event, which is open to youngsters in elementary and middle school, will be held from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Airy Senior Center, 703 Ridge Ave.

Shirley Hunter, event organizer, asks children to bring a penny as a donation to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund, which Kiwanis sponsors.

Maryland author Edward Allan Faine, who has written several children's books, including The Little Ned Stories, has donated his books to be given to the first 80 children to arrive. He will be available to answer children's questions and sign books.

Harvest festival

Mount Airy Baptist Church is planning Harvest Festival for children from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday on the church grounds. This year's theme will be the Wild West, with pony rides, crafts, prizes and a hayride.

Children ages 1 through 12 are invited to dress in Wild West costumes and attend free of charge.

"We just wanted to offer children an alternative to trick-or-treating," said Laura Horn, who organized the annual event.

Activities, including a performance by a magician who will present a play based on the Bible, will be held on the church grounds at 1402 N. Main St., and will be moved inside in the event of rain.

Information: 301-829-2185.

Lesa Jansen's Southwest neighborhood column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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