Isaac Harlen Mayo

Family Find for August

Isaac Harlen Mayo
Isaac Mayo


Isaac H. Mayo

Isaac H. Mayo (1881-1960) was a son of Harlan Lafayette Mayo (1836-1888) and Louise Watson Mayo (1841-1899) of Bois Brule, Missouri. Harlan Mayo joined the Civil War in 1862 as a private in the 29th Missouri Infantry, but his Union service was brief. According to military records available on, the young soldier deserted at Cape Girardeau less than three months later.

Whether Harlan’s desertion was due to disillusionment with the army, concern for his then pregnant wife, or a combination of the two, we may never know. Even so, it appears that he was home for the birth of his second child, Mary Louise. Harlan may have returned to the service thereafter, but records are inconclusive.

Harlan and Louise remained in Perry County, where they farmed and went on to have at least eight more children – a couple of which died in infancy. By the time Harlan passed away in 1888, Isaac was one of the last Mayo children still living at home.

When Isaac was growing up, most Americans either lived on farms, or relied heavily upon agriculture for their livelihood. About the time he posed for this photo, however, all that was changing. Advancing technologies, expanding industries, and better job opportunities were drawing more and more people to the cities. Isaac’s city happened to be St. Louis.

City directories for 1903 and 1904 indicate that Isaac began his professional life as a laborer, perhaps in the transportation sector. By 1910, according to the U.S. census, he was a streetcar conductor, and had been married five years to Arkansas-born Omey Robey Mayo (1887-1966). At that time, the couple had a three-year old daughter, Irene (1906-1927).

Data from subsequent census years indicates that Isaac drove, conducted and even built streetcars for perhaps the next 30 or more years. In all that time, he is sure to have had some harrowing experiences. One event occurred when he was serving as conductor. It was just after midnight, March 27, 1918, when, according to The St. Louis Star-Times, four masked men held him up at gunpoint. Allegedly, the robbers got nine dollars from his moneychanger before making their get-away. Thankfully, Isaac, the streetcar driver, and four passengers escaped the incident unhurt.

Besides Irene, who died at 21 from complications of epilepsy, Isaac and Omey had five more children. These included Arthur (1911-1984), Chester (1915-1943), Ruth (1920-1987), Alberta (1922-2002) and Willard (1928-1980). In July 1943, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Chester, an Air Force gunner, was missing in action and possibly taken prisoner after a raid over Rennes, France. Three long years later, the same newspaper related the sad news of his death. Chester was returned home and laid to rest close to Irene. Over the years, other members of his family would take their places nearby.

As early as the 1920s, streetcar service started to give way to private automobiles and other modes of transport. The trend only strengthened through the 1950s and ’60s, especially with the construction and expansion of highways and city streets. Similarly and almost simultaneously, Isaac’s employment with the streetcar service gave way to his retirement.

After years of raising children and moving around central St. Louis to be nearer the streetcar lines, Isaac and Omey relocated to the solitude and slower pace of nearby St. Mary. Here but a short time, Isaac entered a nursing home, where he passed away in 1960. Omey died in 1966, the same year that streetcar service ended in St. Louis.

Routes that Isaac once knew are now served by MetroBus and other operators. Streetcar service is also making a comeback in the city. Thanks to new projects such as Delmar Loop Trolley, contributions of Isaac Mayo, and countless other streetcar employees, live on in modern St. Louis.

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