PO BOX 3729
225 E Weatherspoon St
Sanford, NC 27331




Sanford (population 30,000) is located in the central Piedmont area of North Carolina, occupying the gently rolling hills of the state, which are flanked on each side by the mountain region of the west and the coastal area of the east. Several rivers and streams lace the region, providing opportunities for successful cash crops (primarily tobacco) and recreational facilities for activities such as waterskiing, camping, and hiking. Since its incorporation in 1874, Sanford has been an active railroad and industrial center, known as one of the nation’s largest producers of brick and pottery products. The Downtown Sanford Historic District is located in the geographical center of the city about 370 feet above sea level and is considered the major retail center of the city, county, and much of the surrounding area. Its 96 structures occupy an area of approximately 36 acres, roughly bounded by Gordon Street on the north, Chatham Street on the east, Cole Street on the south, and Horner Boulevard on the west.

The streets of Sanford basically follow a grid pattern, with the major arteries corresponding with the many highways that pass through the town and the district area. The angular and unsystematic placement of the streets in the eastern portion of the district is caused by the paths and crossings of the extensive railroad track system of the Atlantic, Southern and Seaboard Coast lines. The railroad tracks also serve as a natural division between the old and new sections of the downtown area, having served to develop the town in its early history and playing an important role even in today’s situation as an active rail center. Some major streets running perpendicular to the tracks change names after crossing over into the older area--Carthage becomes Charlotte and Wicker becomes Mclver. The principal streets running northwest to southeast in the district are Steele, Moore, and Chatham, the rear lot lines of whose buildings form the eastern boundary of the district. Horner Boulevard, the western boundary, is a major four-lane highway, running parallel to the downtown area and forming a boundary between the central business district and other activities and growth. The streets of the district are nearly all bordered with small holly trees, the result of a downtown development plan suggestion by Odell and Associates consulting firm in 1976.

Development in the district dates principally from the boom period of about 1895 to 1930, with a few significant buildings dating from an earlier or later time. Beyond the boundaries of the district are buildings of uniformly later date, different uses, different densities, and some strip development. Land uses within the district remain essentially unchanged since the principal period of development, with most structures dedicated to commercial uses. A few houses survive in residential use, while several others have been adapted for use as offices. Other land uses in the area include light industrial and public/institutional, such as municipal offices and post office/Federal office building. Changes in building use over time have included the conversion of an early hospital to rental apartments and the closing of major downtown hotels in favor of motels further from the city’s center.

For the most part, the buildings in the district are typical of late nineteenth and early twentieth century designs, one to three stories in height (with some taller buildings from the late l920s and early l930s), of solid masonry construction, and topped by flat or stepped roofs. Buildings are generally set flush with the sidewalk and have plate glass display windows and recessed entrances. Surviving ornamentation consists of decorative brick and stonework and molded terra cotta restricted on most buildings to the upper floors. Although later twentieth century infill buildings are of simpler design, and a number of early buildings have experienced some degree of alteration, the district retains much of the character and quality that it had achieved by 1930. It remains the“bricky—looking town” described by Bill Sharpe.

As one enters the district from Hawkins Street, the first structure encountered is the Railroad House (#80, individually listed in the National Register in 1973), the only building surviving in the district from the period of Sanford’s establishment. The frame Gothic Revival cottage, built by the Raleigh and Augusta Air Line for its first depot agent in the new town, W. T. Tucker, was originally located across Charlotte Avenue from its present site. After being given to the city; it was moved in 1962 and adapted for use as offices for the Lee County Chamber of Commerce. It is a fitting symbol for a town whose establishment and early development were a direct result of the construction of railroads, an activity which had a dramatic impact on the entire state in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Quite naturally, early commercial development in Sanford occurred adjacent to the rail lines which were the cause for the town’s existence, with a somewhat greater concentration of buildings to the east along what is now Chatham Street. Little is known of the buildings erected prior to 1900, but it can be surmised that many were of frame construction, of one or two stories in height, susceptible to destruction by fire and rapidly replaced by more substantial buildings of masonry construction. Branson’s Business Directories for the years between 1878 and 1896 reveal the rapid growth of the commercial life of the town, so that by the latter year, there were well over thirty merchants and tradesmen listed as operating businesses in the town. Specialization of merchandising had begun, as there were jewelers, druggists, milliners, and furniture stores. But the majority of concerns still were classified as general stores.

Unfortunately, few if any of the buildings associated with these early business ventures survived much beyond the turn of the twentieth century. The 1908 Sanborn Insurance Company maps show a brick furniture store and bank and a bottling works on the northeast side of the intersection of Chatham and Charlotte streets, a site on the southeast corner of that intersection to be occupied by the Sanford Buggy Manufacturing Company (#84), and a number of one and two story frame and brick structures ranged along Chatham Street. West of the tracks, there stood several buildings along Moore Street between Carthage and Wicker streets, including a post office and the Bank of Sanford Building, which also housed the Opera House (both destroyed). Along the same block of Steele Street were several frame dwellings, a stable, and a marble yard. Moving from west to east on the north side of Carthage Street at the time, one encountered the

Graded School and Baptist Church at Steele Street and the Episcopal Church at Moore Street. At the center of a triangle created by Chatham, Moore and Carthage/Charlotte streets and crisscrossed by the three rail lines stood the railroad passenger depot (#81), with a frame freight depot several hundred yards to the southeast. The passenger depot is a handsome brick building with the typical heavily bracketed, wide flared overhang on its red tile, hipped roof. Its facade is distinguished by a central gable with a palladian window. This building and the nearby Railroad House (#80) serve as a natural ‘focal point for the district.

Surviving commercial buildings from the first decade of the twentieth century are typical of those being built in small towns everywhere at the time Examples include the former bank and drug store (#91) at the corner of Chatham and Mclver streets, notable for its corbeled cornice and segmental arch window openings on the north elevation, and the adjacent five-bay commercial building (#92). with its coved metal cornice.

By 1915, the Sanborn maps were showing a strong shift in the direction of Sanford’s commercial development, perhaps influenced by the location of Little Buffalo Creek to the rear of the buildings on the east side of Chatham Street. In the preceding seven years, numerous buildings had been constructed along Moore, Wicker and Steele streets, while Chatham Street from Charlotte to Maple was fairly complete. A few dwellings survived in the area, but by then, it was given over almost entirely to commercial, light industrial, and civic structures. The town’s growth as a retail center for the surrounding rural areas necessitated the construction of buildings dedicated to sales of dry goods, drugs, hardware, furniture, and jewelry. There were also banks, undertakers, restaurants, barber shops, 5& lOç stores, insurance offices, a lodge hall, a hotel, livery stables, a bottling works, and a moving picture theater. As is true now, the majority of these buildings were one or two stories in height and of brick construction. Notable exceptions were the Sanford Buggy Company (#84) and the McCracken Building (#76), both three-story buildings which still stand. A handsome City Hall (#83), built about 1910 and 1 ated on the north side of Charlotte Street just east of Chatham, featured, the decorative brickwork which was to become a hallmark of the town’s commercial area, reflecting its debt to the important local brick- making industry. The building is most notable for its massive three-story central tower, covered by a convex four-slope roof and capped by a domed and columned lantern.

The 1925 Sanborn map shows the block bounded by Carthage, Moore,Wicker and Steele streets as almost fully developed with construction underway on numerous buildings in the area comprising the historic district, as Sanford participated in the construction boom which swept the nation during the l920s. During this period, the old bottling works building on the north side of the intersection of Chatham and Charlotte streets was probably remodeled to its present polychromed Art Deco appearance by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company (#82). Many of the district’s landmark buildings were constructed during the l920s, including the Masonic Lodge building (#4), the Makepeace Building (#75), and the Temple Theater (#6). The Lodge is a three-story structure in blond brick featuring granite pilasters rising to a horizontal band above the second floor windows with four raised medallions bearing the Masonic symbol; this treatment is repeated on the west elevation. The five bays of the Makepeace Building are divided by brick pilasters; at the roof line, these divisions are marked by spheres on plinths. Above the narrow central bay is a terra cotta name panel topped by a pediment and flanked by decorative brick inset panels. Finally, the facade of the Temple Theater is an eclective blend of classical and Art Deco details with handsome decorative brick panels, horizontal terra cotta bands and arches, and terra cotta relief panels.

Within the next few years, several other significant structures rose in the thriving central business district and remain important anchors in the area. The six-story Wilrick Hotel (#43), the area’s tallest structure, features restrained classical detail; its first two stories are distinguished by a stone surface capped by a molded cornice, while the sixth floor windows are topped by a bracketed skirt roof of ceramic tile. Representing the change from horse powered personal transportation to the automobile is the Cole Pontiac Building (#1) at the western edge of the district, the last remaining building in downtown Sanford of the early service stations and automobile sales and repair structures which replaced the livery stable and carriage and buggy shops. This extensive brick structure features a stepped and arched parapet with stone coping, two ranks of five large arched windows on the west elevation and a variety of terra cotta ornament. Molded terra cotta and cut stonework also ornament the commercial building which is home to Hubbard’s Shoe Store (#36), reflecting the Tudor Revival style so popular in the l920s. The contemporary structure (#63) on the southeast corner of Wicker and Steele streets, formerly used as a post office, also features terra cotta decoration, in this case of classical design, including egg and dart molding, modillion blocks, and a scrolled shield medallion above the main entrance. Simpler buildings also survive from the period, but all display some degree of decorative brickwork, including horizontal and vertical banding, patterned panels, and tapestry and varicolored bricks, reflecting the town’s growing status as a brick making center for the nation.

The fact that much of the area was already fully developed combined with the Great Depression to create a decline in the rate of construction in Sanford’s central business district during the l930s, a trend which continues to the present. New construction since 1940 has largely been the result of demolition or destruction by fire of already existing buildings, such as the circa 1950 structure (#69) which replaced the early twentieth century bank and opera house building which burned in 1947. Two significant buildings surviving from the Depression era are the 1930 Carolina Hotel (#8) with handsome brick arches decorating its four-story facade, and the former U S Post Office (#2), whose restrained classicism is typical of Works Projects Administration buildings constructed during the Depression. Post-Depression and post World War II construction generally has exhibited less architectural flair than earlier buildings, with little or no ornamentation and a fairly bland use of materials. Although most newer buildings continue in the traditional use of brick, some recent structures are concrete block, aggregate materials, and glass walls or screens. The commercial building (#69) at the north- west corner of Moore and Wicker streets is a windowless block covered in concrete, while the structure at 127 South Steele Street (#73) is a steel frame with glass wall building with a metal lattice screen covering the facade’s upper floors. Several early buildings in the district have been altered by the installation of screens or other coverings of metal, stucco or permastone, obscuring the facade details typical of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial buildings.

The overall visual impact of the area remains that of a pre-World War II commercial district which has undergone normal development since the period of signi- ficance. They are to the west of the rail lines is fairly densely developed, with most later buildings erected as infill or replacements for destroyed buildings. East of the rail lines, many buildings are detached from their neighbors, and there has been little infill. The creation of parking lots has had only a minor impact on the district’s visual character. Parking spaces at the rear of buildings, in the center of developed blocks, and adjacent to detached buildings have generally provided ample parking for the district.


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Liz Whitmore has been with the City since 2004. Liz became the HPC Planner in 2008.