Over the past few years we’ve written several articles that detail Sanford’s origins as a “train town.” The beginnings of Sanford can be traced to the early 1870s, when a new railroad from Raleigh to Columbia, SC was constructed. Fortunately for us, the railroad wound up intersecting with a small regional line, basically where downtown Sanford resides today. It wasn’t long before land owners and entrepreneurs saw the potential to build a train station and overnight lodging accommodations for individuals traveling through the area. Our first picture is a very early look at the Sanford Union Passenger Depot, complete with lines for the 2 railroads appearing on either side of the building.
Sanford’s big population boom coincided closely with the railroads’ greatest era of popularity throughout the country. In the time from the 1920s through the 1940s, when manufacturing & distribution and passenger travel were both becoming established, 4 different railroad companies made regular stops in Sanford. They included The Seaboard, Southern, Atlantic Coast Line and Atlantic & Western. In this picture from the 1930s we see one of these countless numbers of trains making its stop in downtown Sanford.
It shouldn’t be surprising that this high volume of train activity would lead to other train-related business opportunities in the region. “Transportation” included people and products. The Edwards Company was founded in 1917 by Harry Edwards, the general manager of the Atlantic & Western, for the specific purpose of constructing passenger rail cars. The company’s long-standing plant was constructed in 1922, just off of Rose Street. Here we see the plant and a picture of 22 workers standing in front of one of their finished products.
In the first 75 years of Sanford’s history, the community was especially notable for its large number of factories and manufacturers — especially given its size and population. Easy railway access was a major reason why. This building, in close proximity to railroad tracks, was the home for many years of the Fitts-Crabtree factory, before becoming the Sanford Furniture Company.
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.