Sanford’s 20th Century Travel Trade

This week’s Throwback feature continues our summer theme of revisiting the role that Sanford played in regional tourism for several years in the 20th Century. Have you ever wondered why we have large buildings like the former Wilrik Hotel in downtown Sanford? It seems a little out of character for a community of our size. It’s because US 1 traveled right through the heart of the city and was the major north-south highway on the entire east coast before interstates were built. This look at the lobby of the Wilrik in the 1930s gives you an idea of how downtown hotels worked hard to create an elegant atmosphere for their guests. The 6-story Wilrick Hotel was built by Wilkins, Ricks & Co, and opened in August 1925.

The influx of travelers into Lee County created a vibrant local economy that included several department stores. Retailers, restaurants and the like all benefited from this out-of-town commerce. Within a year of the Wilrick opening, 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 was an large and popular facility in its own right.

Many restaurants made much of their living by appealing to these 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 Street 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.

Of course road travel literally goes nowhere without access to fuel. Did you know that 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.

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 from the sale of this book are donated to Sanford’s Railroad House Historical Association, Inc.