Early Building Development & Styles

Development in the Downtown district dates principally from the boom period of about 1895 to 1930, with a few significant buildings dating from an earlier or later time. Beyond the boundaries of the district are buildings of uniformly later date, different uses, different densities, and some strip development.
Black and white photo of horse drawn carts in the streets

Land & Building Use

Land uses within the district remain essentially unchanged since the principal period of development, with most structures dedicated to commercial uses. A few houses survive in residential use, while several others have been adapted for use as offices.

Other land uses in the area include light industrial and public/institutional, such as municipal offices and post office/Federal office building.

Changes in building use over time have included the conversion of an early hospital to rental apartments and the closing of major downtown hotels in favor of motels further from the city's center.

Building Styles

For the most part, the buildings in the Downtown district are typical of late nineteenth and early twentieth century designs with characteristics such as:
  • One to three stories in height (with some taller buildings from the late 1920s and early 1930s)
  • Solid masonry construction
  • Topped by flat or stepped roofs
Buildings are generally set flush with the sidewalk and have plate glass display windows and recessed entrances. Surviving ornamentation consists of decorative brick and stonework, and molded terra cotta restricted on most buildings to the upper floors.

Although later twentieth century infill buildings are of simpler design, and a number of early buildings have experienced some degree of alteration, the district retains much of the character and quality that it had achieved by 1930. It remains the "bricky-looking town" described by Bill Sharpe.

Railroad House

As one enters the Downtown district from Hawkins Street, the first structure encountered is the Railroad House (#80, individually listed in the National Register in 1973), the only building surviving in the district from the period of Sanford's establishment.

The frame Gothic Revival cottage, built by the Raleigh and Augusta Air Line for its first depot agent in the new town, W T. Tucker, was originally located across Charlotte Avenue from its present site. After being given to the city; it was moved in 1962 and adapted for use as offices for the Lee County Chamber of Commerce.

It is a fitting symbol for a town whose establishment and early development were a direct result of the construction of railroads, an activity which had a dramatic impact on the entire state in the second half of the nineteenth century.