Elements of Urbanism: Sanford

December 29, 2011 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits the downtown of a Central Florida city that once served as the southern anchor of the St. Johns River steamship industry: Sanford

History of Sanford

The Mayaca or Jororo Indians inhabited the shores of Lake Monroe at the time of European contact. By 1760, however, war and disease had decimated the tribe, which would be replaced by the Seminole Indians. Florida was acquired by the United States from Spain in 1821, but the Seminole Wars would delay settlement. In 1835, the Seminoles burned the port of Palatka on the St. Johns River, then the major artery into Central Florida from the East Coast. Consequently, an army garrison was established upstream, on the southern side of Lake Monroe near a trading post. Called Camp Monroe, the log breastwork was attacked on February 8, 1837. It would be strengthened and renamed Fort Mellon in honor of Captain Charles Mellon, the sole American casualty.

General Zachary Taylor had a road built connecting a string of defenses from Lake Monroe to Fort Brooke (now Tampa). The town of Mellonville was founded around Fort Mellon in 1842 by Daniel Stewart. In 1845, Florida became a U.S. state, and Mellonville became county seat of Orange County, formerly called Mosquito County with its county seat across the lake at Enterprise. Orange groves were planted, with the first fruit packing plant built in 1869. In 1870, "General" Henry Shelton Sanford bought 12,548 acres (50.78 km2) to the west of Mellonville and laid out the community of Sanford. Believing it would become a transportation hub, he called it "The Gateway City to South Florida."

Several groups of Swedes were imported as indentured servants to do the back-breaking labor of establishing a new town and clearing the sub-tropical wilderness in advance of creating a citrus empire, arriving by steamboat in 1871.[5] Incorporated in 1877 with a population of 100, Sanford absorbed Mellonville in 1883. The South Florida Railroad ran a line from Tampa to Sanford, where the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad ran a line to Jacksonville, and the area became the largest shipper of oranges in the world. Arriving by steamer in April 1883, President Chester A. Arthur vacationed a week at the Sanford House, a lakeside hotel built in 1875 and expanded in 1882.

In 1887, the city suffered a devastating fire, followed the next year by a statewide epidemic of yellow fever. When the Great Freeze of 1894 and 1895 ruined the citrus industry, farmers diversified by growing vegetables as well. Celery was first planted in 1896, and until 1974 the community would be nicknamed Celery City. In 1913, Sanford became county seat of Seminole County, created from Orange County. Agriculture continued to dominate the economy until 1940, when it proved cheaper to cultivate produce in frost-free South Florida.

In 1942, Naval Air Station Sanford was established, which conducted operational training in the PV-1 Ventura, PBO Hudson, F4F/FM-1 Wildcat and the F6F Hellcat. At its peak in 1943-45, NAS Sanford was home to approximately 360 officers, 1500 enlisted men and 150 WAVES and included an auxiliary airfield to the east near Lake Harney known as Outlying Field Osceola. The base was inactivated and reduced to caretaker status in 1946, but was reactivated in 1950 in response to the Korean War and the Cold War. A major construction program ensued, with NAS Sanford redeveloped as a Master Jet Base for carrier-based A-3 Skywarrior and later A-5A and RA-5C Vigilante aircraft. At its peak in the mid-1960s, the base was home to nearly 4000 military personnel, comprising the air station personnel complement, an Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department, the Navy Dispensary, the Marine Barracks, a Replacement Air Group/Fleet Replacement Squadron for the RA-5C, and nine deployable Fleet RA-5C squadrons that routinely deployed aboard large aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean and the Pacific. The latter were heavily enagaged in combat operations during the Vietnam War.

As a result of the increasing costs of the Vietnam War and concurrent domestic federal social programs, NAS Sanford was one of several stateside military installations identified for closure by the Department of Defense in 1967. Flight operations were rapidly scaled down during 1968 as the squadrons of Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE transferred to the former Turner AFB, renamed NAS Albany, Georgia. This resulted in a significant economic downturn for the City of Sanford and Seminole County with the departure of all military personnel and their families. The airfield was conveyed to the City of Sanford via quitclaim deed by the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1969, renamed Sanford Airport and redeveloped as a general aviation facility. Subsequently renamed Sanford Regional Airport, then Central Florida Regional Airport, the airport commenced commercial airline service in 1995 and was renamed Orlando Sanford International Airport the following year. The Navy's presence is commemorated on the airport by two historical markers and the NAS Sanford Memorial Park, which was dedicated on Memorial Day in May 2003 and includes a restored RA-5C Vigilante on permanent static display.

The opening of Walt Disney World in October 1971 shifted the economy of Central Florida further toward tourism and residential development, the center of which is Orlando. But because of Sanford's former preeminence as a trade center, the city retains a significant collection of older commercial and residential architecture, on streets shaded by live oaks hung with Spanish moss. Its location on Lake Monroe and access to the navigable waterway of the St. Johns River has made it Central Florida's additional center for numerous marinas, allowing access for pleasure boats and commercial vessels to and from the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway via Jacksonville and Mayport to the north.

Off topic history is that Kenny Chesney's music video for Young was shot on the old bridge over the Saint John's River and on the banks of the river also.

Sanford has been the setting for several recent movies, including My Girl (1991), Passenger 57 (1992), Rosewood (1997), Wilder Napalm (1993), and Monster (2003). The Love Your Shorts Film Festival is held in Sanford.

Residential Sanford

About Downtown Sanford

Sanford, one of Central Florida’s oldest incorporated cities, is home to bricklined streets, towering oaks, elegant store-fronts and large, nineteenth-century Victorian homes. The downtown, which once featured feed stores and dry good sellers, now showcases antique shops, restaurants and art galleries. Picturesque First Street, the center of downtown Sanford, is a vibrant, enticing destination. Events, such as the Saturday morning Farmers Market and jazz concerts in Magnolia Square; theatrical productions at the newly renovated Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center; and the monthly Alive After 5 street parties attract visitors from all over Central Florida. Sanford sits on the south shore of Lake Monroe, providing a waterfront backdrop for walking, jogging or just enjoying the natural beauty. RiverWalk, with its gazebos and swinging benches, has 1.2 miles of pedestrian walking paths. Along the way, you can visit Veterans Memorial Park, Marina Island, Ft. Mellon Park, the Sanford Museum or have lunch at one of the lakeside restaurants.

First Street

First Street is the epicenter of Sanford's downtown commercial district.

Various Downtown Sanford

Transportation in Sanford

The city of Sanford owes its existence to the St. John’s River, longest natural and navigable body of water within the state of Florida. The river, with its tributaries was the gateway to the interior of the state. The early Spanish colonists used the river to explore and gave out land grants along its banks to encourage settlement. By the time Florida became a part of the United States in 1821, most of the land along the St. John’s River had been given out as land grants either to encourage settlement or as repayment to veterans.  The land on the south side of Lake Monroe, the future site of Sanford, was the northern edge of a large parcel of one of these grants that, by the time of the American Civil War, had come into the possession of the Confederate General Joseph Finnegan.  

The rivers of Florida were the only ways to get around the rugged, swampy interior of Central Florida and allowed lumber and produce to be sent to Jacksonville on barges. The Florida was the first steamship on the rivers and started service on the St. John’s River in 1835.  By 1837, steamship service was available on the St. John’s down to the small town of Enterprise, southernmost port on the steamship line, on the north shore of Lake Monroe. It was on this steamship that General Sanford first traveled to Lake Monroe in 1870 and viewed the land on which the City of Sanford would be established, at the time occupied only by a small settlement called Mellonville surrounding a blockhouse named Fort Mellon on the south shore of the lake. Sanford purchased a large tract of this land from Finnegan and established the settlement of New Upsala with Swedish emigrants.  General Sanford also worked to bring the railroad to the area. Because of all of General Sanford efforts in the area of the town, the citizens of Mellonville renamed their town Sanford.


Sanford Waterfront

Sanford is one of the few inland Central Florida cities to have a navigable waterfront.

Railroads could transport faster and could handle heavier loads than the steamships. As settlement of the state continued, the rivers became insufficient in handling the amount of commerce and traffic across the state to the major ports on the coast so, by the 1920s, the steamships had all been replaced by a network of rail lines.  The first railroad in the area around Sanford was the South Florida Railroad from Longwood to Sanford in 1880.  Following this was completion of the Jacksonville in1886.  Around this time H.B. Plant’s railroad was completed from Tampa and bought out the South Florida Railroad.  In the early 1880s a Russian immigrant, named Petrovitch Demenscheff, began pushing a narrow gauge rail line to the west. This line, the Orange Belt Railway, ended in Demenscheff’s newly established city of St. Petersburg. This formed a 152-mile long main line from Sanford to the west coast of Florida.  The final piece of this network was started in 1885 in Enterprise. The Atlantic Coast, St. John’s, and Indian River Railroad extended a hub to Titusville and built a railroad wharf allowing transport down the Indian River to South Florida.   With this Sanford became the hub for the four major Florida ports of Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Titusville, making it one of the most important transportation centers in Florida.

Industrial Downtown Sanford

While once a hub for Central Florida transportation with its port on the St. Johns River, Sanford is now home to the Orlando Sanford International Airport (primarily flights to the United Kingdom, other US locations and the Republic of Ireland). Sanford is also home to the southern terminus, Sanford Station of the Auto Train which connects Eastern Seaboard travelers and their vehicles to Lorton, Virginia, which is about 25 miles away from Washington, D.C.

Sanford sits near the northern end of the I-4 Corridor between Daytona Beach and Orlando. The Central Florida GreeneWay (officially Seminole Expressway or simply SR 417 along its Seminole County portion) begins in Sanford at Interstate 4 and forms the Eastern Beltway around Orlando ending at Walt Disney World. When it opened it was the most expensive toll road in the United States costing $5 one way end-to-end.

Lynx bus service is another transportation option in Sanford, Florida with many bus stops located in a multitude of areas across Metro Orlando.

Future Transportation Projects: The sometimes controversial, but very long awaited Central Florida Commuter Rail System "Sun Rail" is currently scheduled to begin operation in 2012/2013 with a scheduled station to be located in Sanford, Florida.

Below is an excerpt from the Central Florida Commuter Rail project:

Located near the intersection of State Road 46 and Airport Boulevard, vacant property near the Sanford station presents unique development partnership opportunities for surrounding land owners, local residents and community leaders. The SunRail station also will provide direct connections to new residential development on the east side of the tracks. The station also is a short distance from historic downtown Sanford, with its charming mix of antique stores, restaurants, lakefront recreational activities, county services and Central Florida Regional Hospital, as well as to the Seminole Town Mall and surrounding residential development. The SunRail station site includes a park and ride lot with bus drop off area.

Article by Ennis Davis.