When Sanford Was “#1” For East Coast Travel

From a traditional standpoint, we’re now fully headed into the dog days of summer and a time when many families are planning or enjoying a well-earned summer vacation.  For much of the the first half of the 20th century, Sanford was a major stop for national north- and south-bound traffic. Interstates and limited access bypasses didn’t exist, so US Highway 1 was heavily traveled and the major thoroughfare for vacationers from the tip of Maine, to the Florida Keys.

Because of its centralized location and a good distance from larger cities and attractions in either direction, the area around Sanford was a popular destination for restaurants and overnight stays. In the 1920s, 30s and 40s, as cars became popular and roads became paved, Americans traveled much farther distances for business and pleasure. Vacation travelers often stayed in peoples’ homes that were marketed as “tourist homes.” Here we see the Red Brick Tourist Home, operated by Mrs. W.R. Makepeace at Hawkins Avenue & Chisholm Street.

For many long-distance travelers before World War II, cabins and cottages were preferred overnight destinations. In the mid-1930s, local resident Bobby Burns operated a gas station, a restaurant called the Three Points Café, and added tourist cabins, which you can see in the distance of this picture.

Folks heading out of Sanford in a southerly direction on Route 1, could enjoy staying at the Richmahr Cottages. Like many operations in its time, Richmahr offered overnight accommodations as well as dining – and they had a reputation for serving delicious food.

A little farther south, where US 15 – 501 branched off of US 1 and headed toward Carthage, was the Green Gables Motel. Motels boomed in the 1950s. Operated by Mr. & Mrs. Herman Andrews, for many years this was one of the distinctive landmarks regular travelers got used to seeing. It closed in 1987 and was demolished a few years after that.

The interstate highway system was initiated in the 1950s. and within a quarter century most of its major arteries were completed. Interstate 95, the dominant east coast limited access roadway, was completed and traverses North Carolina a few hundred miles east of Lee County. This development, and the bypass around Sanford that opened on January 17, 1957 forever changed travel and tourism in our area.