Mayo Rock Quarry

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Mayo Rock Quarry

Many people recognize the rocks that built Duke University’s campus, but few know the land transfer tale that put the quarry and its stones into the school’s control.

Known as “New Quarry” – as it is now the quarry the university uses to harvest the distinctive stones featured in more than 100 campus buildings – the land originally belonged to the Mayo family in Hillsborough.

Men associated with the university “found” the stone on land in Hillsborough, according to a letter between Duke professor Frank Brown and architect Horace Trumbauer referenced in a 2018 Duke Today article. James B. Duke liked the stones, and the quarry could be “bought for a song,” according to the March 1925 letter.

The North Carolina governor had deeded this land to George Mayo (a free Black man) in the early 1800s, and the family owned a working quarry on the “mountain” at the time. However, family members said authorities placed tremendous pressure on George Mayo (a descendant of the original owner) to sell the tract of land.

After he was jailed for his refusal, George Mayo reluctantly agreed to sell the property.

A deed in the Orange County Courthouse showed Duke land agent, Murray Jones, paid the Mayo family $500 in March 1925 for the property. In April 1925, a newspaper article from the Chapel Hill Weekly congratulated white farmer Patrick Clayton for selling his adjacent property to Duke (presumably for access to the quarry) for a big profit at $4,000.

The Mayo family is not mentioned.

“Oral history has it that you know, back in those days, the people of color really didn’t have a lot of choice when someone wanted their property…  It was our family’s legacy. My understanding is the powers-that-be jailed him on a false charge so that he couldn’t work to feed his family. He finally decided to sign so that his family wouldn’t starve.
Rodney Mayo

“I have a cousin named Eugene Mayo, who has spent most of his life trying to get their land back. Out of all the property, they may have ended up with .98 acres, which is a graveyard that they have no access to. I just think it’s a disgusting thing that happened.”
Beverly Payne