The town of Sanford, Florida is in the middle of the state, about 21 miles north of Orlando. For many travelers, it is best known as the southern terminal of Amtrak’s AutoTrain, a place where you wait for an hour or two for your car to be unloaded, and then hit the road on your way somewhere else. But there is more to Sanford’s history, and it worth taking the time to visit.
The area where Sanford is today was settled by European-Americans in 1836, at the start of the first war with the Seminole people. It was part of a chain of forts created by General Zackary Taylor across the territory. While the three wars with the Seminoles were mainly over control of land, another large issue was that the Seminole people took in enslaved people who sought their freedom in the Florida Territory. By 1858, when the third war had ended, the area had already been planted with orange groves, and in 1868, the first fruit packing plant in the area was built.
Sanford was founded in 1869 on the shore of Lake Monroe, which is the head waters of the St. Johns River, the longest navigable river in Florida. While Sanford never became a major metropolis, it served the area as a shipping and transportation hub. Today it is home to around 61,000 people and it serves as the county seat for Orange County.
A visit to the center of Sanford offers a chance to walk through some of its history. In the area south of the historic downtown, you will find many homes that were built in the early to mid 20th century. This neighborhood is centered around Centennial Park. The homes are beautiful, and have been well kept.
There are also two lovely churches. One is the First United Methodist Church, and red brick structure, with arched windows. On the other side of the block is the Holy Cross Episcopal Church, which is built in the style of Spanish colonial homes.
|First United Methodist Church|
|Holy Cross Episcopal Church|
Sanford Avenue, just to the east, was the edge of Sanford’s Georgetown neighborhood. Georgetown was an African-American neighborhood settled in 1885. It was a thriving community up until the 1950’s. As southern segregation decreased, families started to leave for newer homes, in areas with better opportunities. The area became more and more abandoned. Today businesses and restaurants are starting to move back onto the avenue.
While I cannot think of Sanford as a destination, it is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area. Especially if you have taken the AutoTrain, and want a place to eat and explore before heading on your way.