John C.C. Mayo
Class of 1879
"His vision and philanthropy modernized Eastern Kentucky"
John Caldwell Calhoun Mayo was one of the most remarkable men ever to come from the impoverished hills of Eastern Kentucky. Born in 1864, the son of a poor farmer, Mayo enrolled as a 'prep' student at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Millersburg. While there, he became intrigued by the potential of coal and mineral deposits in the Big Sandy Valley. In 1886, Mayo began teaching school in Paintsville. As his meager salary would permit, he began to purchase land in Eastern Kentucky. Mayo would eventually accumulate hundreds of thousands of acres of land, and mineral rights to many more. He convinced Eastern iron and coal companies to invest in exploration and mining of the region, selling his options to them for a considerable profit. Mayo continued to buy and sell land options, eventually becoming partner, agent, and representative for many large Eastern firms. By the 1890s he had accumulated considerable wealth.
Mayo's "Horatio Alger" career helped transform the economy of a poor region of the state and brought Mayo a personal fortune. He became Eastern Kentucky's first millionaire. Mayo was generous with his wealth. His vision and philanthropy modernized much of Eastern Kentucky. His friend, Daniel O'Sullivan, once wrote of him: "He has diverted millions into hitherto barren land. He has lined its valleys with railroads, peopled its desolate mountains with workmen, and brought the products of its forests and mines to the markets of the world."