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Sanford

Seminole County

History

Sanford sits on the south shore of Lake Monroe at the head of navigation on the St. Johns River. During the Second Seminole War in the 1830′s, the area was the site of a U.S. Army post named Fort Mellon. As settlers moved into the area, the town of Mellonville was established. With the advent of commercial steamboat service, the town became a distribution point for goods essential to the growth of Central Florida. When Orange County was created in 1845, Mellonville became the first county seat.

In 1870, Henry Shelton Sanford purchased land to the west of Mellonville. He planned “the Gate City of South Florida,” which he believed would become the transportation hub for all of southern Florida. In 1877, the city of Sanford was incorporated. In 1880, Henry Sanford formed the Florida Land and Colonization Company in London to encourage investments in Florida. That same year construction began on the South Florida Railroad with a terminus in Sanford. Mellonville was annexed by the booming new city in 1883. By 1884, Henry Sanford’s greatest interest in Florida was the development of Belair, a citrus grove and experimental garden near Sanford. More than 140 varieties of citrus were tested for adaptability to the Florida climate.

In September 1887, a bakery on First Street caught fire. The blaze spread rapidly through the wooden buildings on the east side of town until stopped by the local fire department. Large brick buildings replaced many of the destroyed structures and the city continued to grow.

In 1891, the nearby African-American town of Goldsboro was incorporated. The town was annexed by Sanford in 1911.
During the winter of 1894-95, the citrus industry received a serious blow when freezing temperatures destroyed the year’s entire crop. Many citizens faced economic ruin and left the area. Those who stayed harnessed artesian wells and employed a sub-irrigation system that permitted commercial agriculture. By the first decade of the 20th century, Sanford was one of the largest vegetable shipping centers in the United States, and received the nickname “Celery City” for the most successful crop.

On April 25, 1913, Seminole County was officially established with Sanford as the county seat. In the boom years that followed, Sanford shared in the growth of Central Florida. Always a baseball town, Sanford was home to the farm team operations of the New York Giants from 1947 to the early 1960s.

In 1942, Naval Air Station Sanford was built for the training of carrier pilots for the war in the Pacific. The station was home to Navy reconnaissance operations during the wars in Korea and Vietnam. The station closed in 1968 and was later transformed into the Orlando Sanford International Airport. The Auto Train came to Sanford in 1971 and continues to make its express run to Lorton, Virginia. In 2002 the Greenway (417) connected to I-4 at Sanford. With visitors arriving by road, air, and rail, Sanford is truly a gateway to Central Florida.

Story of City's Founding

In 1869 Henry S. Sanford heard there were outstanding investment opportunities in Florida. He purchased a house and an orange grove in St. Augustine sight unseen. In February 1870 he and his wife Gertrude journeyed from their home in Brussels Belgium to Florida to view the property. Jacksonville at that time had only 6,000 residents and the southern portion of the state was mostly frontier. They decided to travel up the St. Johns River, just like many other tourists. They enjoyed the sights and the thrill of shooting alligators and birds off the stern of their riverboat. They landed at Palatka and then Mellonville. Mellonville was a thriving river port and had been the first county seat of Orange County. The Sanfords saw a town with stores, fine homes, churches, a school, a Masonic lodge, and a telegraph office. Henry Sanford immediately recognized the potential of the southern shore of Lake Monroe. At the head of navigation on the St. Johns River this area presented the ideal location for what he would call “the Gate City of South Florida.” Through his attorney Eleazer K. Foster, he purchased 12,547 acres of land from Gen. Joseph Finegan for $18,200 in May of 1870 and began to build his city. From the start Henry Sanford envisioned his city as the “New York harbor” of South Florida. There was no Central Florida then. The St. Johns was the entryway to the southern portion of the state. Orlando was an emerging cattle and citrus center and Tampa was a booming port, but there were few other communities of any size. Henry Sanford hired surveyors and civil engineers to map his city. The city was laid out on a grid with the streets running towards the lake named for trees and the cross streets being numbered. A sawmill, wharf, store, hotel and a slaughterhouse were soon constructed. As Henry Sanford sought to make his city the county seat the people of Mellonville and Orlando became increasingly annoyed. Jacob Summerlin of Orlando squashed the efforts to move the county seat and the residents of Mellonville incorporated their city in 1875. Sanford continued to grow and soon Mellonville was joined to the new city by Union Avenue (now Second Street). The economic base of Sanford in the early years was tourism, immigration, commerce, and citrus. Everyone living in the area came to Sanford to buy supplies or receive shipments off of the riverboats. From the beginning Henry Sanford planned on making most of his profit from the emerging citrus industry. He established two groves: St. Gertrude on the waterfront and Belair outside of town. At Belair he established an experiment station. He imported 145 varieties of citrus and also various other exotic plants like cinnamon and pineapples. Due to these efforts he is today considered one of the founders of Florida’s citrus industry.

Key Historical Events

Event: 1837 – During the Second Seminole War, Camp Monroe is established by the U.S. Army
Event Description:

1837 – During the Second Seminole War, Camp Monroe is established by the U.S. Army at the head of navigation on the St. Johns River.

Event: 1837 – Fort Mellon named.
Event Description:

February 8, 1837 – Capt. Charles Mellon is killed during the Battle of Camp Monroe and the camp is immediately renamed Fort Mellon.

Event: 1845 – Orange County is formed with the new town of Mellonville as the county seat.
Event Description:

1845 – Orange County is formed with the new town of Mellonville as the county seat. Mellonville has grown up around Fort Mellon and is the southern terminus of traffic on the St. Johns River.

Event: 1870 – Henry Shelton Sanford purchases 12,548 acres west of Mellonville to develop what he calls “The Gate City of South Florida.”
Event Description:

1870 – Henry Shelton Sanford purchases 12,548 acres west of Mellonville to develop what he calls “The Gate City of South Florida.”

Event: 1871 – The first immigrants from Sweden arrive in Sanford.
Event Description:

1871 – The first immigrants from Sweden arrive in Sanford. More Swedes, hired as contract laborers by Henry Sanford, will arrive during the next few years.

Event: 1875 – The town of Mellonville is incorporated.
Event Description:

1875 – The town of Mellonville is incorporated.

Event: September 29, 1877 – The city of Sanford is incorporated.
Event Description:

September 29, 1877 – The city of Sanford is incorporated.

Event: 1883 – Mellonville is annexed by Sanford.
Event Description:

1883 – Mellonville is annexed by Sanford.

Event: 1887 – The Big Fire destroys the east side of Sanford’s commercial district.
Event Description:

1887 – The Big Fire destroys the east side of Sanford’s commercial district. Large brick blocks replace the burned wooden structures.

Event: 1891 – The African American city of Goldsboro is incorporated.
Event Description:

1891 – The African American city of Goldsboro is incorporated.

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