Maywood: Memphis Mecca
of Summer Delight
The rushing water shoots into the sky from the iron tube with the force
of a geyser, and loud shouts ring out as the icy water falls in giant showers
of light on the sunburned skin of the children. Kids leap into the air,
propelled up from the sandy white bottom of the pool and reach for the tube,
eager to spray one another, while others dart away like frightened fish.
by Cathy Marcinko
In another part of the pool, older boys throw themselves in skin-popping
belly flops from the painted wooden dock in the center of the lake, while
swimmers hang breathless in anticipation of climbing the tiny wooden ladders
up out of the water. On the dock, pony-tailed girls stand poised for long
minutes contemplating the sparkling waves. They dive all at once, sleek
and effortless into the cold and silent reaches, down in a graceful swoosh
and back to the surface in a mirage of tiny bubbles and yellowish green light.
The girls in two-piece suits quickly yank up their bottoms before emerging
from the water, triumphant and eager for one more dive.
From across the blue concrete margins of the pool come excited shrieks as
a line of youngsters watched by their mothers make their one hundredth trip
down the tall metal water slide. It beckons each child again and again--the
giddy height, the thrill of speed, and the sudden drop!
The bright sun in the blue sky, the sparkling lake with white sandy beaches,
the oak-shaded picnic tables where heat-struck grownups sunbathe or doze in
the shade--this is Maywood. Maywood, Mississippi, mecca of Memphis in
the endless summer of youth.
Water is the element that enticed them here. Cold, pure, ever-changing water
with no hint of chlorine. So clear you can count your toes against the
white bottom. So cold even the hottest, most humid day is tolerable
in its shocking embrace. With a pool large enough to challenge parental
supervision and wide enough to tire the average swimmer, Maywood has long
been one of the best places a Mid-South kid could be in the summertime.
Maywood has changed a lot in some ways, none at all in others, since it
was opened by Maurice and May Woodson on July 4, 1931. The Woodsons were
Memphians who had a love of the country and a dream that they were fortunate
enough to make come true. Maurice Woodson was a cotton linter and president
of Woodson Brothers, Inc., a company that he owned with his brothers Edward
and R. Peyton Woodson. Some time in the late 1920s Maurice was told
by his doctor that he must give up his business for his health’s sake.
Soon after the couple purchased 400 acres of land in DeSoto County, just outside
the small town of Olive Branch. It was close enough at 17 miles for
Maurice and May to maintain contact with their family and friends in Memphis,
but far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The challenge was how to transform the rough tract of gullies and woods
into something that could be enjoyed. Maurice and May set about it in a big
way. In a short time they had built a modest house and soon after they
decided to build a natural lake beside their cottage. With the help
of a mule team they dug the hole and lined the bottom with several hundred
tons of white sand imported from Destin, Fla. Then, tapping down into
a natural artesian water basin below the ground, they filled it with cold,
clear water which eventually fed into four other lakes on the property.
Lake Shahkoka, as it was called, after a Chickasaw Indian who once lived
on the land, soon drew more than just family and friends to Maywood.
The Woodsons turned developers and began building summer and permanent
resort homes in a rustic vein around the picturesque lakes. To entice
buyers they added roads, picnic tables, barbecue pits, pavilions, a bowling
alley, and a miniature golf course, as well as playgrounds, a snack bar,
and tearoom at the Maywood swimming pool. Residents were given free
access to the Maywood Pool under the terms of their purchase. The other
lakes were also for residents’ use and were kept natural for fishing and
non-motorized recreational boating.
Over the years many Memphis businessmen chose to buy homes at Maywood and
some even lived there year round, sending their children to school in Olive
Branch while commuting to the city to work. The Maywood community eventually
numbered 100 residences, and though it remained unincorporated, there were
an active civic club, Sunday church services during the summer months, and
plenty of recreation opportunities including badminton, tennis, and horseback
The pool thrived as well, drawing folks from Memphis from opening day in
May to its close in September. It became a surrogate beach for Memphians
longing for the ocean and hosted TV commercials for Coppertone, publicity
photos for beauty queens, weddings, baptisms, church picnics, parachutists,
class reunions, and romantic encounters. The pavilion was a popular
dance arena from the 1930s on, and Elvis Presley played there early in his
career. The tearoom offered social amusements for the ladies, including hat
contests, and was known for its good food.
Over the years the pool has been enlarged but the character of Maywood has
essentially remained the same, though dancing isn’t seen anymore in the pavilion.
The stone retaining walls and the well-beaten paths to shaded picnic tables,
playground swings, and the wooden bathhouse still have the feeling of a 1930s
camp. The pool was integrated in 1969 under a consent order and since
then one can see skin tones of every hue happily soaking up sun or slathered
in layers of sunscreen.
For 70 years people of every age and kind have enjoyed Maywood--nubile,
fat, old, young, energetic, and oblivious to the world. Kids have spun
countless cartwheels into the water showing off for their friends as adults
played volleyball in the hot sand. Music still blares from the refreshment
stand where the hungry line up for soft ice cream, hamburgers, and drinks
as the noon hour approaches. Young boys still bury their friends in the sand,
and little girls still build sandcastles in the shade of Maywood’s trees.
Year after year the peaceful green lakes around the main pool reflect crepe
myrtle and weeping willow, while in the distance the lazy clang of the ice
cream truck sounds as a breeze stirs the air.
For more than half a century Memphis parents and children lucky enough to
know about Maywood have looked forward to a trip down Highway 78 for a day
of pure summertime pleasure. Sadly, 70 years after Maurice and May Woodson
inaugurated their dream, the unexpected news that Maywood is closing has come
from current owner Hugh Armistead. The lake and surrounding property will
be turned into a private residential development. The final closure
date is uncertain, but it will probably take place some time in July 2003.
This news will most certainly sadden anyone who has ever spent a blissful
summer’s day at Maywood Beach.
Maywood Beach and Pool is located just outside Olive Branch, Miss., off
old Highway 78, less than an hour’s drive from most corners of Memphis. The
hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday,
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, before planning a trip, call to confirm that the
facility is open. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for children. For information,
call (662) 895-2777.
This story was first published in Old Shelby County Magazine and is reprinted
and updated with permission of the publishers. Maywood’s owner, Hugh Armistead,
provided the original background information and historic photographs for