A recent Post-Bulletin column on Mayo's Institute Hills animal farm in southwest Rochester brought back a flood of memories to this lifetime Rochester resident. Mayowood probably refers to the early 1900s 3,000-plus acre estate of Dr. Charles Mayo. But for most of us who grew up in Rochester, the boundaries were unknown and it was a lot more than just one mansion.
I kind of felt Mayowood began at the sprawling ranch behind Apache Mall, which is now home to many llamas. To me, it also included Mayo's Institute Hills and the surrounding Merrihills neighborhood full of other "mansions" built by Mayo Clinic docs who wanted more space than in-town "Pill Hill" provided.
And it included Bamber School, where first year Mayo High School basketball player Rob Brandenburg would sneak us in for Sunday basketball stuff-sessions on their 8-foot-high baskets.
My first memories as a youth were family drives through Mayowood, where we would see the small, spotted Japanese deer, or the herd of buffalo kept on the property. I think these animals were removed a few years later, after one of the buffalo was shot with an arrow. Later, my brother and I would bike out to Mayowood and sneak onto the mansion property to catch frogs in concrete ponds on the grounds.
My "animal farm" experiences were from trips made while working college summers at a local plumbing shop. When delivering pipe, I would see the colonies of rats and mice, including some hairless ones used for skin research. I also remember dogs and cats of Mayo families brought there to get vet care from Paul Zollman, or strays brought to be used for research. Then there was the cave where black bears were kept for hibernation studies related to possible future human space travel to Mars.
I most vividly remember getting into the area where chimpanzees were housed at the Institute. I think they had been used in a top-secret project at the med-science building. There, researchers put chimps on a huge centrifuge to study G-forces war pilots might sustain. We were warned about the female chimp we were watching and told not to turn our backs or she would spit water at us. Sure enough, I forgot, even after seeing her take a big swig from her water dish. Upon exiting the room, I got a good soaking.
On July 6, 1978, I woke up following a night of torrential rain listening to a radio report that speculated the wall of water coming from southwest Rochester might mean the dam at Mayowood had failed. Later I would see first-hand that it wasn't the dam that gave way in the big flood, but the road a quarter-mile away where the river decided flowing straight was easier than making a curve. Weeks after, with the river still following its new course, I recall walking on the bed of the former lake and being amazed the mud had dried into six sided columns just as lava often does.
With the road restored, and water flowing over the dam, I would often take students there for water studies below it. They netted fish, found clams, crayfish, and sometimes even freshwater sponges under rocks.
When I began at Quarry Hill, I had the Park Department haul a thousand-pound chunk of limestone with a "sunflower algae" fossil from the bridge embankment at Mayowood. And I recall sadly reading of a former student dying after sliding down the dam and not being found until hours later, behind Apache Mall.
My latest Mayowood memory is of a recent tour of the former Sullivan residence, Millstone, which gained notoriety with the release of the book "Thirty Rooms to Hide In." It highlighted the amazing memories — some good, some bad — the Sullivan boys had in Mayowood.
I'm sure not all of my memories are completely accurate, even though in my mind they are. I am guessing many other Rochester seniors have Mayowood memories, including some that may have been in the spacious backseat of one of those big cars from the '60s or '70s.