The city of Sanford owes its existence to the St. John’s River, longest natural and navigable body of water within the state of Florida. The river, with its tributaries was the gateway to the interior of the state. The early Spanish colonists used the river to explore and gave out land grants along its banks to encourage settlement. By the time Florida became a part of the United States in 1821, most of the land along the St. John’s River had been given out as land grants either to encourage settlement or as repayment to veterans.  The land on the south side of Lake Monroe, the future site of Sanford, was the northern edge of a large parcel of one of these grants that, by the time of the American Civil War, had come into the possession of the Confederate General Joseph Finnegan. 

    The rivers of Florida were the only ways to get around the rugged, swampy interior of Central Florida and allowed lumber and produce to be sent to Jacksonville on barges. The Florida was the first steamship on the rivers and started service on the St. John’s River in 1835.  By 1837, steamship service was available on the St. John’s down to the small town of Enterprise, southernmost port on the steamship line, on the north shore of Lake Monroe. It was on this steamship that General Sanford first traveled to Lake Monroe in 1870 and viewed the land on which the City of Sanford would be established, at the time occupied only by a small settlement called Mellonville surrounding a blockhouse named Fort Mellon on the south shore of the lake. Sanford purchased a large tract of this land from Finnegan and established the settlement of New Upsala with Swedish emigrants.  General Sanford also worked to bring the railroad to the area. Because of all of General Sanford efforts in the area of the town, the citizens of Mellonville renamed their town Sanford. 

    Railroads could transport faster and could handle heavier loads than the steamships. As settlement of the state continued, the rivers became insufficient in handling the amount of commerce and traffic across the state to the major ports on the coast so, by the 1920s, the steamships had all been replaced by a network of rail lines.  The first railroad in the area around Sanford was the South Florida Railroad from Longwood to Sanford in 1880.  Following this was completion of the Jacksonville in1886.  Around this time H.B. Plant’s railroad was completed from Tampa and bought out the South Florida Railroad.  In the early 1880s a Russian immigrant, named Petrovitch Demenscheff, began pushing a narrow gauge rail line to the west. This line, the Orange Belt Railway, ended in Demenscheff’s newly established city of St. Petersburg. This formed a 152-mile long main line from Sanford to the west coast of Florida.  The final piece of this network was started in 1885 in Enterprise. The Atlantic Coast, St. John’s, and Indian River Railroad extended a hub to Titusville and built a railroad wharf allowing transport down the Indian River to South Florida.   With this Sanford became the hub for the four major Florida ports of Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Titusville, making it one of the most important transportation centers in Florida.

+Image: Ferry to Sanford    +Map of Orange Belt Railway
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