Historical Marker # 1632 in Johnson County remembers entrepreneur John Caldwell Calhoun Mayo as a "dreamer" and a "doer."
Born in Pike County on September 16, 1864, the Mayo family moved to Paintsville in Johnson County when John was five years old. Mayo attended school in a log cabin, where he read everything that was available to him. At age sixteen, he began teaching at the school before moving on to Kentucky Wesleyan College, which was then located in Millersburg.
While enrolled in college, Mayo became interested in geology, particularly the vast mineral resources of eastern Kentucky. After saving $150 from his teacher's salary, Mayo formed a trading company with two partners, whom he would buy out a short time later. Over time, Mayo became well versed in land laws, and was admitted to the bar.
Mayo's operation grew to a grand scale when he began borrowing money to acquire thousands of mineral rich acres in eastern Kentucky, becoming land poor in the process. His big break came when he sold his mineral rights to a Chicago businessman for five dollars an acre, while retaining a twenty-five percent interest. Mayo returned to Paintsville with $10,000 cash, and a desire to purchase more Kentucky backlands after paying his debts.
By 1905, Mayo had an estimated wealth of $250,000, a fantastic amount by Kentucky standards at the time. Mayo continued to develop landholdings in eastern Kentucky, and he organized and sold numerous companies that boasted prominent investors from across the United States. While never holding an office, Mayo was a major player in the Kentucky political scene, using his personality and money to promote candidates who supported the coal industry. Mayo was also instrumental in getting railroad companies to lay track in eastern Kentucky.
Mayo was deeply in involved in his community as he advocated "good schools, good roads, and good churches." Mayo was responsible for bringing the first paved roads in the Sandy Valley to Paintsville, establishing the Sandy Valley Seminary (later Mayo College and Mayo Vocational School), building the Mayo Memorial Methodist Church, and helping organize the first bank in Paintsville.
Mayo died on May 11, 1914, at age forty-nine at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. He was returned to his beloved Paintsville for burial.