Even in times of pandemics, Depot Park in downtown Sanford is a community focal point. This time of year usually includes tree & train lighting festivities and plenty of activities. Although social distancing has altered plans for 2020, we’re happy to share our Welcome to Sanford coverage from a year ago . . . complete with video highlights of Santa counting down to tree lighting time! We also want to take this opportunity to talk a little more about the history of Depot Park and the role its played in our community’s development.
Let’s start with this fact. Sanford was a “railroad town” before it was “Sanford.” Our next picture is of the Sanford Union Passenger Depot, which was built, along with the Railroad House, in 1872. North Carolina’s General Assembly approved construction of a railroad between Raleigh and Columbia, SC. It intersected with an existing east-west rail line in the place where Sanford now exists.
In 1874, Sanford (population 200), was incorporated. The depot accommodated passengers and the railroad house is where the railroad agent lived. The original depot was situated so that it could serve railroad lines on each side of the building. Here we see the depot in around 1903, along with a Chatham Street with less buildings than what we have today.
By 1910, Sanford was ready to replace its original wooden passenger depot, with this brick structure that looks a good deal like what is present today. Here is a look at the brick depot building in around 1923.
Another picture of the depot from a few years later also gives us a view of Moore Street in the mid-1920s. In the time after this picture was taken, the buildings across Carthage Street and facing the Carolina Hotel were torn down and replaced with the Southern Motor Inn.
Next is a look at the depot in 1937. In addition to passenger service, the depot was a frequent stop for mail trucks, because the mail delivery system at the time relied on train travel to help get much of the mail to its intended recipients.
Our final stop on the depot tour is a look at the structure in the 1950s, accompanied by a Seaboard diesel train, making its run with passengers and freight through downtown Sanford. Passenger travel from the Sanford depot ended on April 30, 1971. On the following day, Amtrak assumed control of all passenger travel on America’s railroads and our local service came to an end.
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 book proceeds go to Sanford’s Railroad House Historical Association, Inc.