Today in Sanford history (TSH), the founder of Bob Jones University visited Sanford to discuss relocating his evangelical college to the Celery City. It was April 9, 1946.
Bob Jones Sr. was born in 1883 to a devoutly Christian family in rural Alabama. He began preaching at 13 years old, and during the first half of the 20th century, Jones Sr. was arguably the most popular evangelist in America. His revivals always drew millions that earned front page news stories and radio coverage.
A discussion with his friend William Jennings Bryan in 1924 about the the secularization of higher education led Jones Sr. to create Bob Jones College (Bob Jones University today) in 1927 in Panama City. The school nearly went bankrupt and moved to Cleveland, Tenn. in 1933.
By 1946, the school had outgrown its East Tennessee campus and was searching for a new location.
Jones Sr. and his son, Bob Jr. were on their way to Orlando to scout sites and agreed to stop in Sanford at the invitation of the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce, as the Sanford Chamber of Commerce was known back then.
The Sanford Naval Air Station was decommissioned at end of World War II (it would be reactivated in 1950). The Navy’s presence had provided a huge economic boost to the Sanford community, so city leaders were searching for other institutions to fill the void.
The Joneses visited the air station during the day, and were honored guests of local business leaders during a dinner at the Hotel Mayfair, as The Sanford Herald referred to the hotel overlooking Lake Monroe. Dignitaries included, W.A. Leffler, Randall Chase, Mayor H. James Gut and Edward Higgins.
At dinner, Jones Sr. told those in attendance that he was searching for a minimum of 300 acres, and he hinted that Orlando and Asheville, N.C. were offering incentives to relocate to those communities.
I’m not sure if Sanford officials tried match those incentives, or if the recruitment was really that serious. The visit by the Joneses would’ve been within six months of the Navy decommissioning the air station. Plus, the Joneses had already made plans to visit Orlando when they agreed to visit Sanford, so city leaders may have been jumping at the first opportunity they saw.
Whatever the case, in 1947, Jones Sr. decided against Orlando, Asheville and Sanford. Instead, he moved the college to Greenville, S.C., where it remains today.
Now you know.