Be at one with the universe. If you can't do that,
at least be at one with your bike.- Lennard Zinn


Sanford Riverwalk

Part #2 of 2

The Sanford Riverwalk Trail follows the shoreline of Lake Monroe along East Seminole Blvd from Mellonville Avenue to US 17-92 (French Avenue). The one mile MUT is one of the most scenic paved trails in the county, featuring views of Lake Monroe and convenient access to sights and restaurants in historic downtown Sanford, Fort Mellon Park, the Sanford Museum, Lake Monroe Wayside Park, and the Marina, Rivership Romance and Veterans Memorial Park along the waterfront.

On and off street parking is available along the sides of the trail, which offers benches, pavilions with swings, or places to just stop and enjoy the view, or go fishing. Fort Mellon Park is a community focal point, with restrooms, water fountains, a playground, picnic tables, baseball field, and basketball courts. The Sanford Museum is adjacent to Fort Mellon Park.

Fort Mellon was established during the Second Seminole War in 1836, and the town of Mellonville grew up around it. Its location on Lake Monroe (part of the St. John's River system) was advantageous and Mellonville became a commercial center with daily steamship service to Jacksonville in the 19th century. Mellonville was the original county seat of Orange County before Orlando emerged. The town merged with adjacent Sanford in 1883, and today's Sanford serves as county seat of Seminole County.

Sanford officials marked the start of a construction project that will extend the Riverwalk Trail more than half a mile west from U.S. Highway 17-92 (French Avenue) along West Seminole Blvd to the Central Florida Regional Hospital. The expected completion date is Spring of 2014. As of this writing (Nov 2013) traffic is being diverted along a short segment of East/West Seminole Blvd at US 17-92 (French Avenue) during construction.

During my outing I chose to bike further west along West Seminole Blvd to Lake Monroe Wayside Park, which is one mile north of Interstate 4 on US 17-92. The cumulative distance from Mellonville Avenue to Lake Monroe Wayside Park is approximately 4.7 miles. There are bike lanes along West Seminole Blvd, which is a two-way highway, and although vehicle traffic wasn't particularly heavy, the speed limit is moderate and trucks utilize the route, which make the ride both pleasant along the waterfront and slightly precarious if you're not a comfortable highway rider.

Sanford Riverwalk Trail Map

Sanford Riverwalk Trail to Lake Monroe Wayside Park Map

Lake Monroe Wayside Park (Mile 4.7)

This is a 3.5-acre park used as a boat launching facility into Lake Monroe, which is a 9,406 acre lake, and the St. Johns River basin. The park offers ample parking, pavilions and a historical swing bridge, which is now utilized as an overlook and fishing pier.

The Lake Monroe Bridge was the first electrically operated swing bridge in Florida. In 1932-33 the State used federal assistance to build this bridge, which replaced a wooden toll bridge that was manually operated.

The bridge was fabricated by Ingall's Iron Works of Birmingham, Alabama; the swing machinery manufactured by Earle Gear and Machine Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and it was erected by W. W. White Steel Construction of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Warren-type through truss construction had a central panel section peaked to accommodate the drive machinery. The design which is characterized by diagonals that alternate in direction is considered the most economical construction for continuous spans. The first diagonal beam starts at the base level and goes up to the top. The next diagonal starts at the top and goes down to the base level. To meet the heavy stresses of the swing span operation, the bridge arms were heavily reinforced and had riveted connections at all stress points. The harbor for Lake Monroe Park was created by fill taken for the approaches to the Lake Monroe Bridge.

At 627 feet long, it included a 235 foot swing-span, and carried the main route linking Daytona Beach and Tampa, via Deland, Sanford, Orlando, and Lakeland. It could pivot 360 degrees on its curved rack and two spur pinions.

Construction of the bridge provided economic relief to the region during the peak of the Great Depression, and the tourism it facilitated provided further relief after that period. When Interstate 4 was built in the late-1960s along with the original version of the nearby St. Johns River Veterans Memorial Bridge, it provided temporary relief for the Lake Monroe Bridge, which proved to be crucial after the opening of Walt Disney World southwest of Orlando.

In the latter portion of the 20th Century, the bridge proved to be inadequate to handle more modern traffic, and in 1994 was replaced by the Bill Benedict Bridge, a higher concrete slab bridge that has four lanes, and was built between this and a CSX Railroad drawbridge that originally served the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The Florida Department of Transportation and Seminole County cooperated in preserving the swing span as a fishing pier when the new Benedict Bridge was completed in 1994.

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Downtown Sanford

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Hotchkiss Block

The original 1886 brick block at this location was destroyed by the great fire of 1887. Local legend has it that rubble from the first building was embedded in the pediment on the corner of the roof of this Romanesque Revival building when it was constructed for Frederick Hotchkiss in 1887. For many years the building housed Manuel Jacobson's department store. Over time additional renovations have taken place and the structure currently appears to support a handful of commercial merchants.

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Magnolia Square

Known for its popular clock tower, fountain and Hollerbach's German deli and grocery.

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Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center

Built in 1922 by Frank L. Miller and Edward Lane who combined their name to form the Milane Amusement Co, the theatre is constructed of brick, hollow tile, and stucco, and the high multi-level roof was built to accommodate the lifting of stage backdrops.

During its early years, the theatre was home to vaudeville and Chataqua as well as movies. Rachmaninoff performed there in 1928 and Tom Mix came by in 1933. From 1941 to 1964 the theatre operated as the "Ritz" and was the heart of downtown Sanford. It was here that election returns and World Series games were announced. With the advent of shopping malls, the old theatre slowly declined until the 1990's when community efforts towards restoration began.

Restored and reopened in 2000 as the Helen Stairs Theatre, the grand structure was one of the few remaining silent movie houses in Central Florida. In 2001 it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Wayne Densch Charities donated the building next to the Helen Stairs Theatre, which was then used for rehearsals, community rentals and storage area. In 2007 a $250,000 fundraiser initiative began, which renovated the theatre, and turned it into the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center. The Center contains two theatres, the Helen Stairs Theatre and the Ritz Theatre.

Known for its beautiful décor, the center is equipped with two bars, seats 300 people, and currently hosts seasonal theater, music, dance and other entertainment.

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Historic Sanford Welcome Center

Currently, the Historic Sanford Welcome Center, the building was constructed in 1917 as a U.S. Post Office and has an intact original facade and two original lamp posts. James Westmore was the supervising architect for the building. In 1962, a new post office opened nearby and the building became the Sanford Library. In 1975 it became part of the Seminole County Library System and eventually outgrew the space. The Classical Revival building is constructed of red pressed brick trimmed in Georgia sandstone and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The mission of the center is to enrich the Sanford experience by serving as the communications hub, and by providing education and information showcasing Sanford as a cultural, recreational, and historic destination.

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PICO Hotel

The PICO Hotel was built in 1887 by Henry B. Plant, one of the city's earliest and most influential entrepreneurs.

It was back in the 1970s that the structure last received a major renovation. But its true grandeur dates much further back, to a time when Sanford was, literally, just getting on track, with the development of a railroad network to deliver supplies to Florida's vast interior.

Henry B. Plant was one of the pioneers who wanted to bring commerce to what was then an untamed, pristine wilderness. Plant created an empire that included rail and steamship lines, along with hotels to serve his customers, opening up the state to agriculture, development and tourism in the 1880s. Sanford became the home base for Plant's South Florida Railroad, which formed a vital link to the St. Johns waterway.

The Sanford PICO Hotel served as the terminal hotel for Plant's railroad lines, cutting a wide swath down what is now Oak Avenue, but then was appropriately known as Railroad Way. Located directly behind the railway depot, the PICO Hotel, whose name is an acronym for the Plant Investment Company, was intended from the start to be something special. Although the railroad passenger station is today a parking lot, the PICO building lives on, still occupying its unique place in history.

The two-story, 5,400-square-foot, red-brick building was built with Moorish influence and made to look like a Turkish palace, highlighted by an onion dome that was destroyed by storms in the late-1950s, replaced with a simple pyramid roof. However, the façade and interior still feature the original horseshoe-arch windows, made of cast iron with the distinctive crescent moon and star insignias, and plenty of other architectural flourishes. The building itself was a precursor for another of Plant's hotels that was fashioned to be bigger and bolder, the famed Tampa Bay Hotel.

The PICO Hotel was remodeled in 1906, making way for new ownership. The Takach family, which for years had operated the restaurant on behalf of the Plant Investment Company, bought the hotel in 1906 and presided over it for the next half century.

In its heyday, the hotel welcomed dignitaries from across the land, including inventor Thomas Edison and members of the industrial magnate Firestone family, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Calvin Coolidge.

The PICO survived as a hotel until after World War II, with a bar taking over the first floor. During its illustrious past, the building also has accommodated a theater, Red Cross office and headquarters for political candidates. In 1957, a group of preservationists led by A. B. Peterson Jr. bought the local landmark. But the bar closed in the 1960s and the building fell into disrepair, inviting calls for the building to be condemned and torn down. A local real estate agent took control and renovated the property, remodeling the upstairs for office space.

In 1969, the upstairs became the law offices of Mack Cleveland, a state senator, and Vernon Mize Jr. Joined by attorney and former City Commissioner Jack Bridges in 1976. Bridges and Cleveland purchased the building, staying there into the new millennium. After their deaths, their families continue as the current owners. Today, the building sits mostly vacant, save for the lone tenant upstairs, Keep Seminole Beautiful, who also serves a de facto role as caretaker of the building.

Christine Dalton, Sanford's preservation officer, said the potential restoration of the PICO building is a top priority of city officials. Although some of the original materials and finishes were stripped away during modifications made in the 1950s, the doors and transom windows have been stored away. Much of the inner beauty of the PICO building has been covered up, but its integrity is undeniable. Hidden behind the tacky veneer of green carpeting, generic paneling and drop ceilings are the original wood floors, four fireplaces and incredible ceiling heights that were lovingly assembled. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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First National Bank Building

This six story building, designed by Mowbray & Uffinger of New York was Sanford's first "skyscraper." Constructed in 1922 by George A. Fuller Co., the building is limestone, brick and hollow tile on a steel skeleton. The First National Bank was located here from 1923 to 1929. While the current resident is Wells Fargo, the building has served continuously as home to a number of banks since 1938.

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Sanford Riverwalk - End Main Index