Within the past year, Sanford and Lee County have been the beneficiaries of some major economic development plans. According to the Sanford Area Growth Alliance (SAGA) we’re home to six new business projects in the area that will create 1,300 new jobs and over $750 million in new investments. Expansions at Pfizer and the impending arrival of Bharat Forge were notable headliners. In truth, manufacturing has nearly always played an important role in our local economy. Cotton and textiles have been a pivotal part of the economy of central North Carolina as well, evidenced by this picture of the Sanford Cotton Mills, which was founded right around 1900. One of its most popular products was a bed sheeting line called Father George. At its peak, the company had approximately 250 employees. This building was lost to fire in 2002.
While our leading manufacturing sites’ are now distributed broadly throughout Lee County, factory work really got its start in the 19th century in downtown Sanford. Our next picture comes from the East Sanford Industrial District, home of the Moffitt Iron Works from 1888 into the first part of the 20th century. This is at the corner of Market and Maple. Years later, the property was taken over by the Roberts Company, a textile manufacturer.
A few years before Moffitt opened for business, the Sanford Sash and Blind Company was founded. Major John Scott and John Makepeace, who also played significant roles in the development and early growth of Sanford, were the founders in 1882. They used timber wood from the area to make blinds, sashes, doors and dressed lumber.
For a large part of the 20th century, this downtown Sanford building on the other side of the tracks was one of the region’s biggest employers. Founded as the Fitts-Crabtree company, this manufacturing plant became Sanford Furniture Company in the 1930s. In 1940, the company acquired the old buggy factory building. Shortly afterward, the buggy factory was converted to manufacture products needed for World War II. Today, of course, the Buggy Factory has earned awards for its renovation and is the home of the aforementioned SAGA, among other businesses and organizations.
Finally, here’s a look at the warehouse district in downtown Sanford in the early 1950s. In this bustling era, businesses were busy creating a wide range of goods, and these buildings stored the products. Endor Street and Wicker Street were the heart of the warehouse district.
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. All proceeds go to Sanford’s Railroad House Historical Association.