Sanford, the seat of Seminole County, sits on the south shore of Lake Monroe at the head of navigation on the St. Johns River. During the 1830’s, the area was the site of the U.S. Army post Camp Monroe. In February 1837, during the Second Seminole War, Capt. Charles Mellon was killed during an engagement with the Seminoles at the camp. Soon after the post was renamed Fort Mellon. As the war ended, settlers arrived in the vicinity of Fort Mellon and the resulting community was named Mellonville.

    Commercial steamboat service reached Mellonville by the 1840’s and the town became a distribution point for goods essential for the growth of Central Florida. By the 1860’s tourists were beginning to come up the St. Johns River, “the Nile of America,” in search of exotic scenery, good fishing, and healing springs.

    In 1870, Henry S. Sanford, a distinguished lawyer and diplomat purchased 12,548 acres of land west of Mellonville. He planned a new city which he dubbed “the Gate City of South Florida,” in the belief that it would become the transportation hub for all of southern Florida. In 1877, the city of Sanford was incorporated. Mellonville was annexed into the new city six years later. In 1880, Henry Sanford formed the Florida Land and Colonization Company in London to encourage investment in the city. That same year construction began on the South Florida Railroad with a terminus in Sanford.

    Henry Sanford’s greatest interest in Florida was the development of Belair, a citrus grove and experimental garden near Sanford. Over one hundred varieties of citrus were tested at Belair for adaptability to the Florida climate.

    By 1884, Sanford was a prosperous town of 1000 people with wharves, a railroad station, and a large hotel. In the early morning of September 22, 1887, a bakery on First St. caught fire. The blaze quickly spread through wooden buildings on the east side of town. The volunteer fire department fought the blaze and eventually stopped it at the three story Sanford House Hotel which stood in the center of town. Merchants, who viewed the fire as a chance to build a better city, built large brick blocks in the commercial district, many of which still stand today.

    The citrus industry, upon which the economy of the area rested, received a serious blow in December 1894, when freezing temperatures destroyed the year’s entire crop. Just when it appeared the groves would recover, a killing freeze in February 1895 completed the devastation.

    Many citizens faced economic ruin as a result of the “Great Freeze” and left the area. Those who stayed on harnessed the artesian wells prevalent in the area and developed a subirrigation system which permitted commercial agriculture. By the first decade of the 20th century, Sanford was one of the largest vegetable shipping centers in the United States and, due to the success of one particular crop, received the nickname, “Celery City.”

    On April 25, 1913, Seminole County was officially established with Sanford as the county seat.

    From 1942 to 1968, Sanford was the site of a U.S. Naval Air Station which drew residents away from agriculture and brought new people to the city. During the 1950’s, Sanford was the spring training camp for the New York Giants’ farm teams.

    Today, with the growth of its municipal airport and continued success as the southern terminus of Amtrak’s Autotrain, Sanford is once again a transportation gateway for visitors to Florida. A Mainstreet City with two districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Sanford retains its historic character as it benefits from the booming growth of the metropolitan Orlando area.


    Henry Shelton Sanford was born in Woodbury, Connecticut in 1823. In 1836, his father, a wealthy manufacturer, moved the family to Derby, Connecticut. When Henry was 18, his father died, leaving him a fortune. That same year he developed an eye ailment and began to travel for his health. There followed a series of journeys abroad that were to lead him into a career in the diplomatic service. After intense study of European languages and law, Henry Sanford gained posts at several embassies before he was in his mid-twenties. In 1861, President Lincoln appointed him Minister Resident to the royal court of Belgium, the beginning of a thirty year connection with that country. It was while serving there that he met and married Gertrude Dupuy, a beautiful American socialite. In 1862, Henry Sanford was given a commission as a Major General in the militia of Minnesota in gratitude for a gift of cannons. Henry Sanford died in 1891 after a long illness during a winter stay as hi Florida home. In her will of 1901, Gertrude Sanford expressed the desire that the city of Sanford have her husband's library as his memorial. Her daughter, Carola Sanford Dow fulfilled this wish and in 1957 the Henry Shelton Sanford Memorial Library and Museum was built to house the books, papers, and decorative arts collection of Gen. Sanford. The museum was expanded in 1973 and again in 1993, at which time the name was changed to the Sanford Museum.


    The Sanford Museum is a division of the Recreation and Parks Department of the City of Sanford. Located in Fort Mellon Park on the Lake Monroe waterfront, the museum houses exhibits illustrating the history of the city of Sanford and the life and times of the city founder Henry S. Sanford.

    The Sanford Museum's collections include a local history archives containing historic photographs, maps, and city directories; the Sanford Papers, a manuscript collection of over 55,000 items encompassing the career of Henry S. Sanford; the Henry S. Sanford library, a collection of 18th and 19th century volumes; and a small research library covering historic preservation and local history.1

First Baptist Church