Mayo River State Park  »  History

The park is open and operating under normal conditions. ... details ±

Mayo River State Park was created in May 2003 when the North Carolina General Assembly authorized the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to set aside property along the Mayo River as a new unit of the state parks system. The river corridor park is being developed by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation through its New Parks for a New Century initiative.

The Mayo River

Picturesque. Scenic. Tranquil. Rugged. Thrilling. Awesome. The Mayo River has long been a draw for paddlers. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned paddler, your encounter with the Mayo River can be unforgettable. The river runs the gamut from a Sunday afternoon family float to a class III rapid thrill ride.

Beginning in Virginia as two small forks, the Mayo's confluence is just below the North Carolina state line. It flows roughly 16 miles south to just below the town of Mayodan in Rockingham County before joining the Dan River. A class III rapid on the upper section offers quite a challenging run as paddlers dodge large rocks dotting the rushing waters. As the river's descent becomes more gradual, the float becomes a more leisurely paced and scenic journey with just a hint here and there of faster moving water.

Paddlers need to exit the river north of Mayodan at the Highway 220 Business bridge. Two hydroelectric dams and their canals located below the bridge prevent paddlers from completing the entire run as there is no safe portage. These dams were originally built to generate power for two cotton mills-Mayo Mills in Mayodan (later Washington Mills) and Avalon Mills. The Avalon mill structure was destroyed by fire in 1911 and abandoned with village houses moved to Mayodan by hitching them to horses and rolling them on logs. Both mills had been established in the 1890s by Colonel Frances Fries of nearby Winston-Salem. Colonel Fries and his partners, including Washington Duke of the Duke tobacco empire, envisioned hydroelectric possibilities for their textile business venture due to the natural fall line of the river. They were also responsible for building a railroad along the river's bank. The dams and rail line are still in use today.

Several well-preserved fish weirs (fish traps) built by American Indians can be spotted while paddling the Mayo. Native settlements can be traced back thousands of years. Fragments of tobacco pipes, arrowheads and pottery have been found along the river banks and feeder streams.

At this time, there is no public river access managed by Mayo River State Park. For more information on paddling opportunities, visit the website for Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) or the Rockingham County's website on the "links" page from the left menu.

The Mayo River

Mayo River State Park's interim facilities opened to the public on April 1, 2010.

Historical artifacts offer evidence that there were once American Indian tribes living on this land near the river. Later, a plantation known as Shady Grove operated on the property owned by early settler Samuel Smith and his descendents. A classical school, Shady Grove Academy, was incorporated on the site in 1825. Two grist mills were built to serve settlers on both the east and west sides of the Mayo River. Several of the Smiths are buried in a family cemetery that still exists today.

From July 3, 1948 until the early 1970s, the site was operated as a community park. The original park owner, former textile giant Washington Mills Company, commissioned internationally renowned architect Antonin Raymond, a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright, to design the park and its recreational buildings. Raymond's architectural design was intended to blend with the densely wooded surroundings. After working in Japan for a number of years on projects such as the famous Imperial Hotel, Raymond returned to the United States and opened a firm with partner Ladislav Rado. The park's massive picnic shelter, historically renovated, reflects Raymond's Japanese-style architectural influence. Unfortunately, a second park building by Raymond that served as a bathhouse for the former park had to be demolished due to deterioration. In its place stands new restroom facilities in similar architectural style. Some of the original blue slate stones from the former bathhouse floor are incorporated into the new building's flooring.