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This summer’s announcement that Mayo’s Island is again for sale prompted a look back at the history of of the most well-known of the James River islands.

Mayo’s Island is located at degrees 37˚31’45.47”N, 77˚25’59.14”W and can easily be viewed through Google Earth. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names officially registered “Mayo’s Island” as a feature name in 1979. The name also appears on earlier maps and atlases of Richmond, including the Beers (1877) and Baist (1889) atlases.

Richard Young, A Plan of the City of Richmond, Detail, 1809.

Going back even further, the land mass was unnamed on the Young (1809) and Baist (1835) maps of Richmond, identified only as number “314.” An untitled manuscript map of the city drawn circa 1838 merely labels the island as “Toll Gate,” and an 1873 office map of Richmond identifies present-day Mayo’s Island as two islands: Long Island and Confluence Island.

Plats and certificates from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are extant and they reveal that the islands were commonly known as Long and Confluence Islands; parcels of land were granted by the Virginia Land Office to John Mayo (Long Island) in 1792 and to Thomas Burfoot and Milton Clarke (Confluence Island) in 1830. Mayo had petitioned the General Assembly in November 1784 to build a bridge at his own expense and desired to levy a toll to recoup his costs. While John Mayo never saw his bridge built, his son, John Jr., took up the cause after similarly petitioning the legislature. After completion of the first bridge in 1788, a succession of Mayo’s Island toll bridges were destroyed or severely damaged by ice, flood, or war. The present Beaux Arts-style bridge was begun in 1910 and completed in 1913. The current arched span literally and figuratively linked Richmond and Manchester, as the localities merged in the same year.

It is unclear at what point the island(s) identified variously as island number “314,” Long Island, and Confluence Island became known as Mayo’s Island; it is possible that the island(s) were known by more than one name during the middle of the 19th century.  The earliest printed reference found was a 13 April 1853 Daily Dispatch article reporting that a man “took a boat from Mayo’s Island.” Whatever the date one might consider its official christening as “Mayo’s Island,” this outcropping in the James has long been a notable part of Richmond’s story and has been documented through the Library’s extensive map collection and other records.

–Cassandra Farrell, Map Specialist & Senior Reference Archivist

Cassandra Farrell

Senior Map Archivist


  • Jim Davis says:

    One resource I have enjoyed is an article published in Volume 34 of the Library of Virginia “Cavalcade” that describes the period in the 1920’s and 1930’s when professional baseball was played in a stadium on Mayo’s Island. Every time we crossed the Mayo Bridge my Dad would recount the day he watched Babe Ruth play ball there.

  • Marilyn Headley says:

    Not a big deal but a correction in the post: “The Island Formerly Known As 314”; November 14, 2014:
    “Going back even further, the land mass was unnamed on the Young (1809) and Baist (1835)” … Baist should be Bates (Micajah Bates).

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