Charles Mellon was killed during an Indian attack, so the garrison was renamed in his honor.The community that grew up around the fort became known as Mellonville, and in 1845 was named the county seat of what was then Orange County. (Seminole County was carved out in 1913.)Because Lake Monroe provided easy access to the St. Johns River for shipping to other Florida markets, citrus growing developed as a major industry.In 1870, Gen. Henry S. Sanford, former minister to Belgium, purchased approximately 12,500 acres and laid out a town, which he named for himself, just west of Fort Mellon.Ten years later, ground was broken for the South Florida Railroad connecting Mellonville, Lake Mary, Longwood and Altamonte Springs with Jacksonville, the state’s most important port city. It seemed that big things were in store in 1883, when Mellonville was absorbed by Sanford.However, late in the decade a fire destroyed numerous buildings, and residents were hit with a yellow-fever epidemic.
Those disasters, on top of freezes that ravaged the citrus crops, caused Sanford’s population to dip from 5,000 to 2,000. Vegetables, especially cold-resistant celery, later became the city’s most important cash crop.Seminole County’s suburban growth in the 1960s and ’70s mostly passed Sanford by, and the once-beautiful city became a bit shabby.Today, however, Sanford is enjoying a resurgence that is in part tied to increased air travel at the Orlando-Sanford International Airport. The facility, located on Sanford’s east side, has a two-story international terminal, a separate domestic terminal, a U.S. Customs Office and three paved runways.In fact, airport adjacency was the catalyst behind Cameron Heights, a 261-acre master-planned community that was winding its way through the governmental approval process at press time. The proposed project will contain around 1,000 homes as well as commercial development and an office park.County officials are planning a number of road improvements around the airport that would open up even more land for development. An extension of Lake Mary Boulevard to S.R. 415, expected to be complete next year, would complete a loop around the airport and spark a building boom in an area that now contains woods, pastures and scattered homes.In historic downtown Sanford, work is complete on the $11 million Sanford Riverwalk, which includes sidewalks and bike trails along Lake Monroe between Mellonville and French avenues.Also downtown, a 24-story, 564-unit condominium development overlooking Lake Monroe is planned. The project, dubbed River’s Edge, would be by far the city’s largest multifamily residential complex.
One of the most important downtown attractions is the Helen Stairs Theater, a renovated movie house that hosts theatrical productions and live concerts.And work has recently finished on a streetscape project to enhance First Street, downtown’s main drag, between Oak and Sanford avenues. Under the $2.2 million project, the original brick beneath the asphalt was restored, sidewalks were being widened and parking spaces changed from angled to parallel.Relocators to Sanford can choose from an array of new subdivisions on the city’s outskirts, or they can latch on to a Victorian fixer-upper in the rapidly gentrifying city center.