Did you ever wonder why a community the size of Sanford has large buildings like the former Wilrik Hotel in the downtown area? It’s because US 1 traveled right through the heart of the city and was the major north-south highway on the east coast before interstates were built. Sanford played a prominent role in east coast touring for a sizable part of the first half of the 20th century. As highway travel, business trips by car, and family vacations gained in popularity, Sanford’s hotels, department stores, restaurants, retailers and the like, all benefited from this out-of-town commerce.
Our second image in this week’s column features the lobby of the Wilrik in the 1930s. It gives you an idea of how hard downtown hotels worked to create an elegant atmosphere for their guests. The 6-story Wilrick Hotel was built by Wilkins, Ricks & Co, and opened in August 1925. As more roads became paved and cars became more commonplace in that era, landmark hotels like the Wilrik sprung up in strategically located spots near major highways throughout the entire country.
Within a year of the Wilrik’s debut, construction was started on the Carolina Hotel, which opened a block away right on US 1 in 1929. At 4 stories tall, the Carolina Hotel was a little shorter than the Wilrick, but an imposing and popular facility in its own right. The size of these two hotels and the presence of several department stores, retail outlets and dining establishments helped to make Sanford a much-anticipated and enjoyed stop off point for vacationers and other travelers.
Many restaurants in close proximity to US 1 made much of their living by appealing to highway travelers. Caddell’s Café was such a business, serving southern favorites like fried chicken and country ham from its location on the intersection of Endor (now Horner Boulevard) and Carthage Streets in the heart of Sanford from 1948 to 1954.
A popular marketing tactic for highway-based businesses in the 1950s was combo postcards. Here’s one for the Sir Walter Motor Court and Bill’s Bar B-Q House restaurant. These businesses flourished on the original US 1 from their location at its intersection with Deep River Road near Moncure.
Of course, road travel literally goes nowhere without access to fuel. There’s been at least 1 gas station at the corner of the current Horner Boulevard and Carthage Street for over 70 years. This version from 1954 flourished when US 1 traveled through the heart of downtown. It was owned and operated by Hank Nesselrode, who was a batting star for the Sanford Spinners baseball team in the 1940s.
(*-or at least much of the East Coast!)
Editorial content, pictures and research background, compliments of Jimmy Haire and Images of America: Sanford and Lee County, by Jimmy Haire & W.W. Seymour, Jr, available here for purchase.