TSH: Sanford leaders plot demise of the city of Goldsboro

Today in Sanford history (TSH), the city commission approved a new city charter that would lead to the elimination of the city of Goldsboro, an independent municipality in its own right. It was April 6, 1911.

The town of Goldsboro was founded in 1891 by William Clark and a group of businessmen that also included John Hurston, father of the Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston. It was duly incorporated by the state of Florida, and operated as any other city would. Goldsboro had its own post office, schools, businesses and its residents paid taxes to support improvements and services like fire and police. Had the town survived, it would have been the second oldest city in America established by black citizens.

So why did Sanford want to eliminate Goldsboro? Greed, plain and simple.

I haven’t found any instance of a dispute between the governments of Sanford and Goldsboro. I mean, it was the Jim Crow South, so by no means did the white citizens of Sanford have any respect for the city of Goldsboro, but there wasn’t a specific dispute to point to.

It appears that Goldsboro got caught in the crossfire of a dispute between city of Sanford and the city of Sanford Heights.

You read that right – for about 3 weeks there was a city named Sanford Heights, although it was never recognized by the state of Florida.

In 1911, the Sanford city limits extended south to about 13th Street. Park Avenue was bricked to 10th Street, and was a dirt road south of that. In real estate advertisements printed in the Sanford Herald at the time, Sanford Heights, which generally starts about 15th Street and goes south, was promoted as being a suburb of Sanford.

At some point a dispute arose between the city of Sanford and the residents of Sanford Heights. The Herald doesn’t provide much background, but it seems the argument centered on sewers and taxes.

An ad for real estate in Sanford Heights published in the April 7, 1911 Sanford Herald.

Sanford residents were concerned about the development of Sanford Heights, specifically about where the sewer runoff would go. Because of Sanford Heights’ location on the hill, there was really only one place sewer runoff could go – into the city of Sanford.

There appears to have been at least an initial offer of extending Sanford sewer to the Heights, but the two sides could not come to an agreement on when the improvements would be made and how much it would cost.

There most likely were other issues, however I could not find any. If anyone has further background, I would love to hear it.

Regardless, on April 3, 1911, 26 residents of Sanford Heights voted to incorporate. Understandably, this lit a fuse for Sanford leaders, who saw their growing city about to be constrained by Lake Monroe on the north and Sanford Heights on the south. On April 6, they passed a resolution condemning the action and asking the state legislature to abolish the Sanford Heights.

Honestly, though, resolutions are just official pronouncements. It’s what Sanford leaders did next that led to the city of Goldsboro being eliminated.

The city commissioners – D.L. Thrasher, J.D. Davidson, S. Runge and W.D. Holden – asked the Florida Legislature to not only abolish the charter of the city of Sanford Heights, but to abolish the charters of the cities of Sanford and Goldsboro. They also asked the legislature to certify a new charter for the city of Sanford that extended the city limits to include Sanford Heights and Goldsboro.

I can see why city leaders would not want Sanford Heights to cut off Sanford’s growth to the south, but to take Goldsboro was pure greed and hubris. It was also a blatant disregard for the established rights of the residents of Goldsboro. Can you imagine Sanford, even in 1911, asking the legislature to abolish a 20-year-old city of white residents?

The Herald articles never mention who came up with the idea to take Goldsboro’s charter, but I see Forrest Lake’s fingerprints all over it. Admittedly, I’m biased on the subject. I have no proof that Lake hatched this plan, but he was an unscrupulous politician who would go to prison for misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. History has already proven that Lake lacked character.

Lake, who alternated between being Sanford mayor and a state representative, was a member of the state legislature at the time. He, along with Senator L.C. Massey and Representative S.A. Robinson, were in charge of shepherding Sanford’s request through the house and senate.

The leaders of Goldsboro tried to stop the abolishment of their city. Goldsboro Town Council President G.W. Benton, Mayor M.B. Bellamy, and Town Clerk T.T. Green wrote a letter that appeared on the front page of the April 14, 1911 Sanford Herald. It read in part:

“We are proud of the prosperity and development of your city, but it is no good reason that because you are big you should swallow up our town just because we are little. … To swallow us up in the corporate limits of Sanford will add very little to Sanford and take a great deal from us. It will impose upon us a part of the burden of your bonded and indebtedness and add heavily to our burden of taxation while we reap no material benefit.”

Not mentioned in the letter was the fact that the residents of Goldsboro, who had been voting for their own leaders for 20 years, could no longer participate in elections as new residents of Sanford.

Sanford Herald editor and owner R.J. Holly vigorously advocated for the new Sanford charter bill. The Orlando Sentinel also supported the measure and wrote:

“The Heights and Goldsboro people ought to be ashamed of themselves growing fat on Sanford’s enterprise and not wanting to support and become in every means a part of the growing city.”

Remember that the next time a Sentinel writer pens a condescending piece about Sanford’s unsavory history. The Sentinel’s editorial hands aren’t so clean, either.

Lake and his colleagues pushed the Sanford charter bill through the legislature in record time. On April 26, 1911, less than 3 weeks after Sanford approved its initial resolution, the legislature unanimously approved the bill.

For Goldsboro residents, the humiliation didn’t end with the abolishment of their city. The Sanford commission changed Goldsboro Street to 13th Street, and named Holly Avenue for the Herald editor. Worse still, they changed the name of Clark Street – named for Goldsboro town founder William Clark – to Lake Avenue, for Forrest Lake. The city of Sanford eventually renamed the road to honor Clark in 2012.

Zora Neale Hurston is most often associated with Eatonville, but like her father, she spent spent nearly as much time in Goldsboro and Georgetown. In 1936, she interviewed Clark for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Projects.

Clark was less concerned with the street names, and more troubled with the “mass of jumbled yellow papers” he, as Goldsboro’s former tax collector, continued to keep. They were bills owed by the city of Goldsboro totaling $10,375.90. Sanford promised to pay Goldsboro’s debts within 90 days of taking over the town.

Twenty five years after that promise, Clark noted those bills were way past due. I’m guessing they still are.

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2 Comments

  1. The facts in this story I heard all my life about the history of the community that my Daddy decided to live after moving his family from a hard to no life in South Alabama. He heard of a city in Florida where Colored Folks ran the town. He packed up his wife two children and move to Goldsboro, Florida. Thank Dan!

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