Maitland overpass marks the old town of Mayo

Hidden under the busy flyover intersection of Maitland Boulevard and US 17-92 are the reminders of a small town that once thrived here around 140 years ago.

Mayo Avenue betrays its secret. Rudolph Gustave Mayo (August 22, 1829 – December 15, 1911) was the first to settle on the northern shore of Lake Minnehaha. He was born in Saxony, a German province, and immigrated to Virginia in 1849. According to his 1854 passport application, he was 5 foot, 4.5 inches tall, with “hazel eyes, dark hair, round face, broad forehead, a rather healthy complexion, and an ordinary nose, mouth, and chin.”

Plat for Lake View, Florida

After an exhaustive search of Central Florida, the former banker arrived near Maitland by 1874 (possibly even 1872). He found the undulating hills overlooking beautiful lakes and pine land impossible to pass up. Nearby Lake Osceola in Winter Park was, for a time, named Lake Mayo.

He bought a sizeable property on the north side of Lake Minnehaha and west of a small creek leading to Lake of the Woods. Several primitive cabins were scattered across his new land, left over from previous squatters. During those years, the property laws were not well enforced.

Colonel Mayo’s home was on the northwestern shore, close to Shady Run Lane. The stately, single-story home was renowned for its unique decorative flair. It was situated on a rise overlooking the lake. Around the house, he planted a host of flowers and trailing vines.

The South Florida Railroad was constructed in 1880, kissing the western edge of Mayo’s property. This gave a significant boost to its valuation. Mayo recruited two Connecticut natives to fund industrial operations in the area: Russell Henry Nevins (October 12, 1852 – December 21, 1916) of Waterford and John A. Prentis (1861-?) of New London.

Nevins was a 27-year-old physician who moved to the Altamonte/Maitland area in 1879 with his wife, Alexandria Taylor Nevins. Their house was near Maitland Avenue, along the west side of Seminary Lake. The home was one of the finest in the county. It had wide hallways, high ceilings, and high-end finishes. The home’s second floor gave views in every direction, including lakes Seminary, Faith, Hope, and Charity.

The outside of the home had pillars, latticework, and broad courtyards covered with climbing jasmine. The doctor had horse stables and a citrus grove with over 700 trees northwest of the home.

Prentis moved to the area as a 20-year-old in November 1881 to run a local franchise of the Quinnipiac Fertilizer Company. He built a distribution warehouse to service the thriving citrus market with a fish bone and potash mixture. He had a grove of 1,400 orange trees.

Mayo Plat 1882

Nevins and Prentis partnered to open a large sawmill operation on the southeast shore of Seminary Lake. It had an expansive structure for planing the timber with a large mill yard filled with raw wood and ready-to-use planks. The mill had a capacity of 8,000 feet per day.

Nevis bought an ice machine for his family, but neighbors started clamoring for the luxury. He sensed he had landed on a booming business and purchased land south of the sawmill. He opened the facility in 1880, and demand multiplied. Two years later, he replaced it with an enormous factory near Maitland Boulevard that churned out up to 24,000 pounds of ice daily.

The three entrepreneurs petitioned the South Florida Railroad to grant them a depot, and a flag stop was added at Mayo in 1882. That February, Rudolph filed a plat with Orange County, laying out over 18 acres as a town site. He separated it into 24 lots, mostly 100×300 feet, with eastern corner lots being 135×300. It was north of his house and east of the railroad tracks.

Mayo, plat overlayed on modern satellite view
A rough layout of the town of Mayo in 1886

The town’s streets were covered with sawdust from the mill. This was considered a luxury, smoothing the ride for ox or horse-drawn wagons.

The main road through town was called Lake Jessup and Maitland Avenue–what is now Mayo Avenue. Just west of town, it intersected the Maitland and Altamonte Springs Road, which ran north and south, connecting those two towns (roughly today’s Maitland Avenue). Headed east, it meandered to Brantley’s Wharf on Lake Jesup by the Winter Springs Town Center. Sanford Avenue ran north, roughly today’s US Highway 17-92.

Aerial View of Mayo and Woodbridge in 1947

On the east side of the tracks, opposite the ice factory, John Prentis built a two-story packinghouse. This was another boon for the community, handling the sorting, wrapping, packing, branding, and shipment of thousands of oranges and lemons grown around Mayo.

W. S. Chappell (another transplant from New London, Connecticut) moved to the area to work with the Prentis packinghouse. He was responsible for securing buyers in New England for the produce.

North of the packing house was a small country store serving the growing local population with some essential foodstuffs and animal feed.

On March 1, 1883, Rudolph Mayo married a local girl named Clara P. Daggett (1855-?). She was 28 years old, and he was 54. They had a son named Rudolph Parsons Mayo (October 14, 1886 – March 20, 1971). The Daggetts also had significant land holdings in the area, and the couple continued to acquire more real estate throughout northern Orange County over the next decade.

A post office opened in 1886 (as “Woodbridge”), west of the South Florida Railroad train tracks and depot. John A. Prentis served as its first postmaster from 1886-1889, paid $208 per year for the responsibility. In 1890, Jane A. Turner took over the role and was paid $120. I guess we were many decades away from the equal pay movements!

One railroad is not enough.

In September 1885, Prentis, Ackerman, and W. D. Allen joined forces to incorporate the Apopka and Atlantic Railroad Company with $100,000 in capital. They aimed to build a line connecting the Atlantic Ocean along the Indian River with Apopka.

Other Mayo/Woodbridge landowners, Legh. O. Garrett and Hardy G. Garrett, were also on the executive board. Prominent investors from around Orlando joined as stockholders, including William A. White, Thomas J. Shine, John W. Weeks, Colonel R. H. C Drury-Lowe, William I McKee (Orlando), D. C. McCall (Apopka), and George Frost (Altamonte Springs).

Work began immediately and within months, they completed five miles of track that connected Mayo with Forest City. The narrow gauge line operated daily service with its stock of one locomotive, two passenger cars, one combo car, three platform cars, two box cars, and one observation car.

However, they had run out of money by 1887, and the line operated with only two stops. It connected with the South Florida Railroad at Mayo/Woodbridge and the Orange Belt Railroad in Forest City, but that served little value since those lines already connected in Sanford.

Prentiss announced the sale of the Apopka & Atlantic to the Alabama, Florida & Atlantic Railroad in July 1887. The larger company, led by wealthy railroad man John W. Brenson, had ambitious plans to extend a line from Miami to Montgomery, Alabama.

1890 Re-Plat

At the time, this was considered a massive deal, and folks in Orlando were jealous of Mayo/Woodbridge for securing a stop on this line. The following year, they constructed 15 miles of track between Eustis and Wekiva Springs. But they didn’t get any further. They never closed the gap to Forest City, much less to Alabama or the Atlantic Ocean.

Bronson sold the line in 1889 to an English company. Despite an 1890 re-plat filed in Orange County showing the railroad continuing past the South Florida Railroad to the east, the expansion does not appear to have materialized. It was shut down by 1894.

Is it Mayo or Woodbridge?

Throughout this article, I’ve sometimes said Mayo and sometimes said Woodbridge. What gives?

Mayo was platted first in 1882, and a plat for Woodbridge was filed in 1886. Generally, we should consider east of US 17-92 as “Mayo” and west of the highway as “Woodbridge.” The train station was usually called the Mayo station (though not always), while the post office was always called Woodbridge.

Maps would typically show one or the other, though sometimes they’d say “Mayo (or Woodbridge P.O.)” or something similar. In the long run, ” Woodbridge ” was longer lasting. As often is the case, the black laborers who worked in the area lived on the opposite side of the tracks from the white settlers. So Woodbridge became known as a town of black laborers. It held its identity well into the new century, while Mayo was pretty much forgotten after the Great Freeze of 1894-1895.

Today, the only lasting signs of Mayo are Mayo Avenue, the tiniest remainder of North Avenue, and the beautiful neighborhoods around the picturesque Mayo Community Park.

Look for part two, coming soon, where I’ll continue the story focusing on Woodbridge.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *