As regular readers know, I am a fan of roadside attractions. In addition to those in and near Mount Airy, I had the opportunity to visit some good ones in Winston-Salem while on my drive to Siler City on the way to Chapel Hill.
The Reynolds Building was completed in 1929. This 22-floor skyscraper made claim as the “Tallest Building in the South” until the 1960s when larger buildings were built that unquestionably negated the popular claim. The building is considered a roadside attraction as it was the design inspiration for the much larger Empire State Building in New York City. The Empire State Building consists of 102 stories and was completed in 1931.
Locals often tell the apocryphal story that the staff of the Empire State Building sends a “Father’s Day card” to the staff at the Reynolds Building annually due to the building being the predecessor to the New York City skyscraper. While that story is basically a local urban legend, it has been verified that the Empire State Building staff actually did send a 50th birthday card in 1979.
Winston-Salem has what looks to be an interesting “living museum,” a restored 18th Century Moravian community called the Old Salem Museums and Gardens. (Salem pre-dated the town of Winston and the two incorporated as one town in 1913.) While I only drove by the grounds, I did see another roadside attraction that originated in the village: a giant coffeepot.
Julius Mickey ran a grocery store in the mid-1800s in Salem and added a tin shop in the building’s loft as a side business. His craftsmanship was such that the tin shop soon took over as his primary source of income. Unfortunately, a rival tin shop opened up nearby run by an unscrupulous tinsmith who would steal Mickey’s business when people asked where Mickey’s tin shop was located.
To solve the problem and make it clear to all which shop was his, Mickey built what is now referred to as the Mickey Coffeepot in 1858. The coffeepot served as both an advertisement and as a way for all to know which tin shop was Mickey’s, even if they were illiterate.
The seven-foot, three-inch tin pot has a circumference of 16 feet. While it was only a prop, the pot could hold 740 gallons if it was the real thing. Even at the time, the pot was so large that it caused issues with passing traffic.
In the 1960s, it was moved to where it now stands. Mounted to a pole on a traffic island near the museum grounds, the pot and pole together are more than 12 feet tall.
Lots of large coffeepots and even buildings shaped like coffeepots exist as roadside attractions, but the Mickey Coffeepot is the oldest.
By the way, Mickey is a common last name in the Moravian community. When a young Andy Griffith wanted to learn to play the trombone, it was Rev. Ed Mickey of Mayberry’s Moravian Church who gave him lessons and served as a mentor to his musical development.