In Mayodan, NC (pop. 2,500) a battle for survival is raging. A short walk from the partially demolished old Washington Mill, which used to provide power to the area’s residents, past the rows of former millworkers’s houses, you’ll find Melvin Dempsey Nelson.
The former Washington Mill – partially demolished for salvage value
Melvin’s property spans a few acres, with a few buildings and lots of white boxes set near the trees. Twelve years ago, Melvin started raising Honey Bees. He and his daughter named the enterprise St. Dominic’s Honey after the bee charming Irish saint by the same name. He has around 30 bee boxes and a small bee garage structure, just down from his house. It’s a labor of love and gives him something to do – from tending to the wooden boxes, checking on the bees and finally harvesting the honey.
St. Dominic’s Bee Farm in Mayodan, NC
He works on the farm when he has enough energy and feels like it, though he admits his age is starting to take a toll on him. He works with a handful of members of his church that want to help and learn about beekeeping. Though he prefers to just walk out and do what he wants to do, rather than coordinating several people to help.
A few years ago he was making 106 gallons of honey per year, last year he was down to 50 gallons. He is passionate about the plight of the honey bee. He blames skyrocketing farming demand which led to imported bees, mites, diseases, and pesticides. Last year he spent $2,000 fighting pests and diseases in his hives. There’s a lot of research on the topic from NC State Apiculture, NC State’s Honey Bee Research, NC Beekeepers, and even UK studies.
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Bee Box at St. Dominic’s Honey
St. Dominc’s charges $17 per quart or $9 per pint. Doing the math on 50 gallons, his revenue was roughly $3,500. In prior years it was $7,000. Subtracting out expenses and factoring in labor, there doest seem to be much profit if any. He was sold out on my most recent visit, he’d been out since November and wouldn’t have more honey until June. I’ll be back then to get some honey and enjoy another chat.
If you visit the area, a nice place to start is the Recreation Center at 300 S. 2nd Avenue (Hwy 220 and Hwy 135 intersection).
Madison Mayodan Recreation Center at 300 S. 2nd Ave in Mayodan, NC
Madison Mayodan Recreation
MM Rec Center Design in Brickwork
Bocce Ball Court at MM Rec
Game Room at MM Rec Center
From the Rec Center – you can walk next door to the Washington Mill site and see the demolition. To get to downtown, head North on 2nd Avenue.
Downtown Mayodan Coca Cola Mural
Deep Fried Everything
A shining entrepreneurial star in Mayodan is Charlie’s Soap, a natural cleaning agent. Charlie and I served on the Entrepreneurship board at UNCG. The Triad could use more entrepreneurs like Charlie.
From his website:
Charlie Sutherland Sr. rarely did anything without a purpose in mind. But even he couldn’t foresee what would come to pass when he stood in front of our North First Avenue building all those many years ago. In the photo at right, as he stares at the old Mayodan, N.C., fireman’s dance hall that he had plans to turn into an oil manufacturing facility, you can just about see his wheels turning. And turn they did. From 1976 until his passing in 1994, Charlie Sr. left his mark on this company: a legacy of dedication to excellence with a personal touch.
|Charlie Sutherland Jr.
Charlie Sr. is most certainly the “Charlie” of Charlie’s Soap, but his son, Charlie Jr., actually created first the oils and then the cleaner that would come to be known as Charlie’s Soap. While you may not be able to see the wheels turning in this photo (some prefer to think of it as a screw loose), you cannot deny the gumption of a man who, on his wife Jane’s birthday in 1983, quit his day job and took over the small company that had little chance for success.
Through scrimping and saving, a little blood and a whole lot of luck, people were finding out about us and starting to ask where they could pick up some of Charlie’s soap. It had grown beyond an industrial cleaner for machines and textile quality control; people were taking it home and using for literally everything from false teeth to diesel engines.
By 2002, Charlie Jr.’s boys joined the cause and started the long-overdue process of officially branding the product as Charlie’s Soap. They took their grandparents’ ideals, their father’s guts, their own dreams and experiences and turned a small-town shop into a world-class business with product sold to 50 states and 50 countries. So, we must be doing something right!
Charlie’s Soap in downtown Mayodan, NC
You can head West on Main St. past a small public park to Ayersville Rd. Go South on Ayersville a couple hundred feet between Long St. and Washintgon St. to find St. Dominic’s Honey and Melvin. From there you can walk South on Ayersville to Washington St. and go East on Washington passing the former mill workers houses.
Cacti on Washington St
Houses along Washington St
From there you’re just a couple hundred feet from where you started on 2nd Avenue so head back South to the Rec Center.
Walking around Mayodan, you can see the importance of Ruger’s new 220,000sf plant with 450 jobs (former Unifi plant) and planned expansion by 2017. Ruger’s CEO stated that the decision was based on the people of the area. Having met Melvin and Charlie, I’d agree.
There are lots of former mill towns across North Carolina. How to attract more entrepreneurs, farmers, industry, and tourism is something they’re all struggling to solve.
Ruger’s Mayodan Plant (former Unifi)
Aerial Map of Mayodan